28 Sep 2022

Oranga Tamariki minister challenges ACT MP to enter Māori world

8:01 pm on 28 September 2022
ACT Party MP Karen Chhour flanked by leader David Seymour

ACT's spokesperson for Children Karen Chhour with leader David Seymour Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

Accusations of nastiness and race-based attacks have been flying at Parliament, in a clash between ACT and Labour over Oranga Tamariki (OT), the Children's Ministry.

Minister Kelvin Davis is standing by his challenge to ACT's Karen Chhour to "enter the Māori world" and stop looking at the world through a "vanilla lens"; she says he has taken away her mana, leaving her distressed.

The tense exchange in the debating chamber began with questions from Chhour over OT's relationships - including whether Davis would reassess the relationship between the ministry and Te Whānau o Waipareira Trust.

It followed a report from the New Zealand Herald that revealed the Trust was under investigation over nearly $500,000 in charitable funds allegedly used to bankroll chief executive John Tamihere's political campaigns.

Tamihere ran unsuccessful campaigns for the Auckland mayoralty in 2019 and as a Māori Party co-leader and candidate in the general election in 2020.

Davis said he was present at the signing of a partnership agreement between OT and the Trust on Friday which would support "wraparound holistic services for whānau on a by-Māori, for-Māori approach".

Kelvin Davis

Minister for Children and Māori-Crown Relations, Kelvin Davis Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

"I'd also just like to thank her for allowing me to raise the issue of how much funding Oranga Tamariki has received since 2017 - by the way, the relationship has been in place since 2008, so through the previous National/ACT government as well - but Oranga Tamariki have received since 2017 a measly 2.8 million dollars when other providers have received tens of millions of dollars a year," he said.

Chhour asked whether he agreed with Tamihere that the two were in a partnership, not a contract, and whether he would end this partnership if Te Whānau o Waipareira was struck off the charities register.

"What the member needs to do," Davis responded, "is cross the bridge that is Te Tiriti o Waitangi from her Pākehā world into the Māori world and understand exactly how the Māori world operates. It's no good looking at the world from a vanilla lens."

Speaking to reporters outside the debating chamber, Chhour said she was offended.

"When you have to resort to attacking someone on a race-based issue like that I find it quite offensive. I am a Māori woman and I've been through the care system and I can tell you Māori children aren't that different to any other child, they just want to feel loved and feel safe," she said.

"I'm here trying to make a difference for those children and I think looking at the world from just one point of view is actually quite destructive, and attacking me like that and basically taking away my mana - from a party that stands up and says they want to give Māori back their mana - is actually quite distressing for me."

ACT's leader David Seymour described the minister's comments as "nasty" and "totally racist".

Davis, however, stood by his comments.

"She whakapapas to Māori but she was raised in a Pākehā world, she needs to cross the bridge that is Te Tiriti o Waitangi so she gets to understand her Māori world better," he told reporters.

"I'm saying their attitude towards anything that's Māori is actually nasty," he said.

Given what the Waipareira Trust had done to support communities, he said, the party needed to look at its own attitudes.

"They struggle to engage on kaupapa Māori ... they say that the Māori Party for example is racist, I think they need to look at themselves."

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs