28 Oct 2022

No loss of momentum despite exit of Abuse in Care Inquiry commissioner, Minister says

5:48 am on 28 October 2022
Julia Steenson, former Abuse in Care Inquiry commissioner

Julia Steenson says it has been a privilege to listen to survivors' abuse stories. Photo: Abuse in Care - Royal Commission of Inquiry

One of the five commissioners investigating historical abuse in care has left the inquiry just eight months before it is expected to wrap up and will not be replaced.

Julia Steenson was appointed to the Abuse in Care Royal Commission of Inquiry in June 2020, following the resignation of Sir Anand Satyanand as its chair.

Steenson resigned on 17 October and left the Royal Commission yesterday.

News of her resignation was quietly shared on the government and inquiry's websites on Wednesday.

A statement posted by the Royal Commission said Steenson had quit to take up another job, and Steenson said the role of commissioner had been an honour and a privilege.

"Listening to survivors of abuse share their experiences of harm and trauma has been both difficult but privileged mahi.

"To lead and participate in engagements, most recently across diverse communities including Māori - as the most disproportionately affected cohort - has been a humbling experience."

During her time as a commissioner, she spoke to about 100 survivors in private sessions about their experiences of abuse in care.

In March, Steenson also co-chaired the hearing into experiences of Māori in state-and faith-based care with commissioner Anaru Erueti.

In the statement, he assured survivors Steenson's "contribution and whakaaro will be evident in the case studies, and the final report and recommendations."

Labour MP Jan Tinetti

Jan Tinetti Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

The minister responsible for the inquiry, Jan Tinetti, told RNZ she was not concerned by Steenson's departure.

"I would be concerned if we had further disruption along the way. And that's not just around commissioners. It's just things that we've been through this year.

"But now that the public hearings are finished, we're right at the pointy end of the commission, that we just need to get that report written. And I know that the commissioners who are remaining and Judge Shaw, all believe that we're well and truly on target."

Tinetti said Steenson had "left all of her institutional knowledge" with the Royal Commission.

"I have been reassured that the momentum is not going to be lost, or any survivors' stories are going to be lost because of this departure."

Steenson would not be replaced, Tinetti said.

Tinetti said prior to Steenson's departure, she had sought assurances the commissioners understood "the importance of this commission".

"We're coming into that last pointy end of the commission, and I want to ensure that we get that through and we get a final report written because we need that as a country and our survivors absolutely need that.

"So it was in my mind making certain that commissioners understand that we're right at that pointy end and that we do want to see this right through and get a really good outcome."

In the statement posted on the inquiry's website, the commissioners said the Royal Commission was in a "strong position" to finish its final report.

Chair Coral Shaw said the four remaining commissioners were "confident" they could complete the inquiry's investigation.

"There is still a lot of work to complete in drafting the case studies, reports and refining the recommendations, and the Commission is in a good position to finish this by 30 June 2023."

The Royal Commission, which began in 2018, is due to report back to the Governor General on that date.

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