24 Aug 2022

Labour passes Oranga Tamariki reforms despite opposition from other parties

3:44 pm on 24 August 2022

Labour has pushed through two bills to reform Oranga Tamariki and state care monitoring through Parliament, in spite of widespread opposition from other parties and sector proponents.

Oranga Tamariki Sign

Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

The Oversight of Oranga Tamariki System Bill and the Children and Young People's Commission Bill passed their third readings in Parliament simultaneously last night.

Labour, having rejected a call from the Greens to refer the bills back to the select committee, was the only party in support of the bills; National, ACT, the Greens and Te Pāti Māori were all opposed.

National's social development spokesperson Louise Upston said the system Labour was bringing in had not been designed with children at its heart.

"They've made it incredibly complicated and separated out advocacy, monitoring, and complaints, and they think that's going to solve the problem - but what does it actually do, it creates an even greater risk of children falling through the cracks.

"When we heard their voices in the select committee, it was harrowing - it was absolutely harrowing - and this bill does not serve them.

"It's more complicated. It's more difficult for children to access. We now have three organisations instead of one. How does that serve children?"

She said that was the reason every other party in Parliament was so opposed to the bill, and the reason the Greens called for a delay.

She referred to the submitters who opposed the bills at select committee: Lawyers, judges, academics, public policy experts, teachers, social workers, iwi leaders, former police officers; children's advocates like Child Matters, the Save the Children organisation, Social Justice Aotearoa.

"But, no, Labour knows best. They know better than the children that have experienced care ... they have not listened.

"I can't believe the timing of it - that the chief executive of Oranga Tamariki was before the commission today and yesterday ... absolutely ironic. Appalling. Revolting. Disgusting. Because this piece of legislation does not do what it should do."

The Green Party's children, disability and public services spokesperson Jan Logie said it was "'with great disappointment" she was opposing the bills.

She referred to the evidence and views of those who presented to the Royal Commission of Inquiry into Abuse in State Care

"Precious time that should have been about honestly fronting up to the past in detail and committing to working with survivors to prevent future abuses was spent, again, telling survivors that their concerns don't matter, that the government knows better," she said.

She referred to a recent example, where the chief executive of MSD was questioned over a man still working at a youth justice facility with 26 allegations of abuse against him dating back as far as 2006, three of them upheld.

"It's complex because it's an employment issue. Now, this is the kind of thing that triggers survivors and their families ... the response we've had from officials has been assurances that, actually, there's 'nothing to see here, this was an aberration, a one-off event, it is not systemic'.

"I'm not putting all of this on officials, because we have to acknowledge that this is not about them solely. This is about the interaction between the political decisions and the system."

She said submitters had been clear the bill did not reflect their submissions at all.

"They do not support this, and they find this bill is a further incursion of Crown influence into Māori tino rangatiratanga over kāinga, exactly the opposite of what the Waitangi Tribunal has recommended. This bill does not deliver what is needed. It disrespects and undermines the trust of people who have been hurt by our institutions far too many times."

She urged instead more funding for the children's commissioner to enable the monitoring role, saying such a solution had the support of all submitters.

"Why can't that be our action now, while we wait for the royal commission to report just next year, in less than a year's time?

"It is a shame on Labour that ... this government would choose to make the same mistakes that have been made again and again. And it's going to be our children and our whānau and our communities who pay."

ACT's social development spokesperson Karen Chhour said to those who submitted she was sorry the government had been "so arrogant that they are not listening".

"If we really, really cared about our young people's future and wanted to make sure that not one more baby was lost, this would be the second part of the change that we would be doing. The first part would be making sure that they don't get to this place in the first place.

"Our children are going from one bad house to another bad house, and then when they try and voice that they're not safe in a place that our system put them in, we're creating more barriers with this complicated bill. How insulting."

She said she was disgusted at the Labour MPs who heard from submitters, but still said they were happy with the bill.

"If your consultation was so wonderful, when they heard there was so much opposition to this, why didn't they put their hands up and say, 'yes, Labour did come talk to us and we think this is a fantastic idea?'

Te Paati Māori co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer also expressed "huge sadness and resolve" over the bill.

"I know that tangata whenua do not accept the passage of this legislation, do not consent, and that has been made clear to this government time and time again. As such, we must stop at nothing to see these reforms overturned."

She said Labour had ignored those with lived experience, "who know what it's like to be stuck in a system, to feel unsafe and desperate. You've told them you know better", and the government should instead be seeking as broad support as possible.

"Not just from parties in this House but, more importantly, from the advocate frontline workers who dedicate their lives to caring for and protecting whakapapa of tamariki and mokopuna. Instead, what we have seen is Ministers belittling Māori and community organisations by implying that they don't understand the bill.

"How many more babies do we have to bury before systemic change happens?"

In defence of the bill, Associate Minister Priyanca Radhakrishnan rose to speak on Minister of Social Development Carmel Sepuloni's behalf.

"Some of the proposals in the bills are different to what we have now and some are different to what stakeholders want. But what I do know is that we are all working towards the same goal. We all want our children and young people to be safe and well and cared for, and these bills will help us achieve that," she said.

She said it was "simply not the case" that the changes would diminish the power of the children's commissioner.

"This bill adds to the power of the children's commissioner so that they have more voices at the table. The commission will be required to have input from a kaupapa Māori perspective and there will be the opportunity for other voices to have a seat at the table, like Pacific and disabilities, as well as care-experienced young people themselves.

"We heard the sector when they said that we needed to retain a chief Children's commissioner, and that's what we've done."

She said an independent monitor to oversee the system was needed to ensure the horrors of abuse that occurred would never happen again.

"This bill makes it a legal requirement for the monitor to act independently and makes it unlawful for the government or anyone else to interfere with their monitoring."