18 Apr 2024

Crown lawyers attempt to block Waitangi Tribunal summons to Minister for Children

6:30 pm on 18 April 2024
ACT Party MP Karen Chhour

Minister for Children Karen Chhour has been summonsed by the Waitangi Tribunal to provide evidence at an urgent inquiry into the repeal of Section 7AA of the Oranga Tamariki Act. Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

Crown lawyers have filed judicial proceedings in the High Court to block a Waitangi Tribunal summons issued to Minister for Children Karen Chhour.

The Tribunal had called on Chhour to provide evidence at an urgent inquiry into the repeal of Section 7AA of the Oranga Tamariki Act.

Specific questions outlined in the summons asked the minister how many caregivers working with Oranga Tamariki had raised concern over the impact of Section 7AA.

It also asked the minister to provide examples of children being placed in unsafe conditions because of Section 7AA.

Crown lawyers filed papers with the High Court on Wednesday, with a hearing expected on Monday.

Evidence submitted last week by claimants at the urgent inquiry showed correspondence and advice provided to Chhour by Oranga Tamariki.

It warned repealing Section 7AA would diminish the unique rights, needs and voices of tamariki Māori and elicit a strong reaction from communities.

The minister was also told the Coalition government's tight timeframe prevented a comprehensive review of evidence to better understand the true impact of a repeal.

Te Puni Kōkiri advised against the repeal, saying the government decision to remove it was based on anecdotal evidence as opposed to facts.

Section 7AA introduced a legal obligation on Oranga Tamariki to improve outcomes for tamariki Māori and demonstrate adherence to the principles of Te Tiriti o Waitangi.

It stipulated that all Oranga Tamariki policy and practice acknowledge mana tamaiti, whakapapa and whanaungatanga and the development of relationships with iwi be prioritised

Accountability was placed on the chief executive and annual reports on progress in addressing disparity were required.

Read more:

ACT hits back: 'They're buying a fight with someone with much greater mana'

David Seymour announcing pet bonds

ACT leader David Seymour says the Waitangi Tribunal's attempt to summons Karen Chhour made him "deeply fearful for them". Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

ACT leader David Seymour has hit back at the Tribunal, suggesting they may be "wound up for their own good".

In a media release, Seymour said the Waitangi Tribunal's attempt to summons Chhour made him "deeply fearful for them".

"I'm worried they haven't thought about who they're dealing with. Karen is a Māori woman who survived the state care system. By their own standards, they are buying a fight with someone of much greater mana."

The introduction of section 7AA had led to Māori children being uplifted from loving homes because of the ethnicity of their carers, Seymour said.

"The Tribunal summonsed the wrong woman, on the wrong issue, at the wrong time. No wonder some people think they're past their use-by date."

Insulting and aggressive - Tupua Urlich

Tupua Urlich, who endured years of abuse in state care, believed his whakapapa and connecting with his identity was what saved him.

Youth advocate Tupua Urlich spent time in police cells when he was younger, and says they're not a healthy environment for a young person to be in

VOYCE national care experienced lead Tupua Urlich. Photo: RNZ/ Samuel Rillstone

He is using the trauma he suffered to empower tamariki and rangatahi in care as the national care experienced lead of VOYCE, an independent advocacy organisation.

"The only thing that got me through all that trauma and hardship was the sense of belonging and the connection through whakapapa, through tikanga and te ao Māori, it gave me the chance to connect with something greater than myself."

Urlich has labelled the government's plans and the rhetoric being used as an insulting and aggressive display of systemic racism.

"[Section] 7AA is the only piece of legislation in the OT Act that actually references Te Tiriti o Waitangi and that fact that's being repealed shows where their heads are at."

He firmly supported the Tribunal calling on the minister to provide evidence and believed the minister should step up and take accountability.

"I tautoko the tribunal. The state has had plenty of time and generations to prove [themselves but] they do not know how to take care of and understand our people.

"Her whole rationale around repealing 7AA is saying we don't want to remove kids from comfortable homes, 7AA doesn't say they have to do that, it recognises the importance of whakapapa and understanding who we are and our world view.

"I really feel for all tamariki in the state care system, you know speaking from experience and hearing from our young ones today, this move is not going to make anything better."

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