23 May 2024

Repeal of Section 7AA fuels fiery debate in Parliament

5:07 pm on 23 May 2024
Labour MP Willow-Jean Prime in Select Committee

Labour's spokesperson for children Willow-Jean Prime. Photo: ©VNP / Phil Smith

The government's decision to repeal Section 7AA of the Oranga Tamariki Act has triggered tense debate in Parliament.

The bill, which removes the obligation for Oranga Tamariki to honour Te Tiriti o Waitangi, passed its first reading on Tuesday and has now moved to the Social Services Select Committee.

Labour's spokesperson for children Willow-Jean Prime said the lack of evidence supporting the government's reasoning for the repeal was disturbing.

"From my perspective, and the evidence supports my perspective, the minister cannot demonstrate that an actual problem exists with 7AA. Every example she gives is not connected to 7AA."

Prime told RNZ the level of frustration was building and concern was mounting over what the government will set its sights on next.

"The view that whakapapa, culture, connection to whānau, and whanaungatanga are not in the best interests of the child. We believe that it is, they believe that it isn't. They think it should be colour blind. I'm worried about how far they will go with their colour blind agenda."

ACT Party MP Karen Chhour

Children's Minister Karen Chhour. Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

Children's Minister Karen Chhour defended the repeal, claiming Section 7AA was having a negative impact on children's safety and decision-making within Oranga Tamariki.

"During my time in opposition and before coming to Parliament, I heard devastating stories about how some Oranga Tamariki staff prioritised cultural considerations and the desires of a child's family over the individual need of the child. This sometimes led to unsafe care decisions and disruption for both the children and the caregivers."

Chhour said the commitment to building strategic partnerships with iwi would not be affected by the repeal and collaboration with iwi would remain a priority.

However, Prime dismissed the minister's assurance, claiming her words and actions were inconsistent.

"It is very hard to have any confidence in the minister when she, on the one hand, says she wants to work with Māori, yet on the other hand, she is repealing Section 7AA which is all about working with Māori and honouring Te Tiriti o Waitangi."

Te Pāti Māori MP Mariameno Kapa-Kingi reiterated her vehement opposition to the repeal, labelling it a form of "extermination."

"The repeal of Section 7AA is a targeted extermination of our babies - exterminating any ounce of culture, identity, and any sense of their Māori selves."

The debate turned personal online, with Te Pāti Māori taking aim at Chhour's "Pākehā" upbringing in a recent social media post, saying she had been raised with a "disdain for her own people".

"If Section 7AA were around in Karen Chhour's time, she would have been raised Māori, she would have been raised being connected to her whakapapa and having a knowingness of her Māoritanga.

"Instead, she was raised Pākehā with a disconnection and disdain for her own people."

In response, one of Chhour's ACT party colleagues Nicole McKee told RNZ the attack were based on assumptions about Chhour's background.

"Maybe they should ask the question of who she was actually raised by, because they don't know," McKee said.

"It's personal, it's unnecessary, it's lazy. Let's get back to talking about how we can make New Zealand a better place for everybody, unite everybody, and leave the personal attacks aside."

In a series of posts on X, formerly known as Twitter, ACT leader David Seymour said it was hard to believe Te Pāti Māori could sink any lower.

"They think it's okay for them to tell Karen Chhour's story with no knowledge of it. They assume she was raised by unfit Pākehā, and imply she should have been uplifted and placed somewhere else so she could comply with what they think a Māori should be.

"That's why they're fighting to keep Section 7AA. To prevent Māori kids from growing up to be like Karen.

"Karen is one of the most inspiring people I know. She rose above a tough childhood in the foster system, learning firsthand that it was the love and care of the home, not the race of the foster parents, that mattered."

A spokesperson for Te Pāti Māori said the party stood by its social media comments.

"[Chhour] has said she feels disconnected from her Māoritanga, and that is exactly what Te Pāti Māori is trying to ensure doesn't happen to any other mokopuna Māori through her government's repeal of Section 7AA, and the right tamariki Māori have to be with whakapapa."

Labour's Prime said the government was causing irreparable damage to current and future partnerships with iwi.

"This is shattering Māori crown relationships; I think the fact that we have a record number of urgent applications to the Waitangi Tribunal demonstrates Māori are not happy with what the government is doing and how they're doing it and what we are seeing form government is a refusal to even participate in the process."

The National Iwi Chairs Forum and the Pou Tangata Iwi Leaders Group also expressed their opposition to the minister.

Lead advisor Robyn Rauna highlighted the level of disappointment over the government's approach.

"The request to remove 7AA didn't come from us. It only came from one party and one party alone - and I'm speaking specifically about the ACT Party."

The bill's referral to the Social Services Select Committee opens a six-week period for public submissions.

Prime urged the public to participate and ensure their views were heard.

"It's really important that people take this opportunity to share their views with the select committee. What I would say finally is that there was no consultation with Māori on the repeal of 7AA and the minister said Māori could submit their views through the select committee. That was offensive."

Prime said the outcome of this bill will be a defining moment for the future of child welfare and Māori-Crown relations in New Zealand.

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