Regional | Hastings

'What is the Crown going to do about Oranga Tamariki?' - lawyer asks tribunal

It was the second day of the Oranga Tamariki Urgent Inquiry (Wai 2915) hearings in Hastings, and witnesses continued to put evidence before the Waitangi Tribunal, with some of those in attendance calling for the disestablishment of Oranga Tamariki.

Dr Rawiri Waretini-Karena traced the genealogy of abuse to colonisation, to the punishment administered in the native schools, and the context of The Neglected and Criminal Children Act 1867.

"When you understand Oranga Tamariki and the Oranga Tamariki Act (1989), you have to go back to its originator, which is the [The Neglected and] Criminal Children's Act 1867, its role and its purpose was this, to remove children and to assimilate them to western worldviews, and when you look at the Oranga Tamariki act, what's difference? Nothing is different. Same outcome," says Waretini-Karena said.

At the helm of Ngā Māia Māori Midwives is Jean Te Huia, who initiated the urgent inquiry into Oranga Tamariki, and David Stone is acting as legal counsel.

“This has the potential to be transformative, or not, but that depends on the will and good faith of the people down in Wellington. That's ultimately what this thing comes down to because I'm absolutely positive that the tribunal will find that what Oranga Tamariki and continues to do, does amount to a breach of the Treaty (of Waitangi), but the issue from there is: What is the Crown going to do about it?”, Stone says.

'Cannot be repaired'

This is the fifth inquiry into Oranga Tamariki since a story about newborn uplifts by the state agency went viral 18 months ago.

The Whānau Ora Commissioning Agency is one of those groups that investigated, and chair Merepeka Raukawa Tait has been a strong presence at the hearings.

“What we're hearing are the true effects of having a government organisation in the lives of Māori whānau for years, actually decades, which have actually been quite horrific," Raukawa Tait said.

Echoing those concerns are those who have direct experience working on the ground in the health industry and with families impacted by child uplifts.

NZ Nurses Organisation president kaiwhakahaere Kerri Nuku: “When Oranga Tamariki changed its name from Child Youth and Family, we were always skeptical .... When you use a Māori kupu, it isn't just a transliteration of a system that's broken. It was supposed to be aspirational, it was supposed to give our tamariki a vision and a future, and it was supposed to care and protect.

"We've always advocated there must be something different. The system that currently exists that chooses to uplift Māori babies at a higher proportionate rate than non-Māori, shows that there's something wrong with the system. So we've always said that it's broken. The system, for Māori, cannot be repaired. What must be shaped is a new system that allows Māori to aspire in a kaupapa Māori nurturing environment. Oranga Tamariki in its present form doesn't do that.”

Te Kaunihera o Te Tairāwhiti chair Owen Lloyd says a tikanga Māori approach needs to be implemented. “The mother and the child need to stay together. They need support, and education, not to be judged, but to be supported, nurtured and protected.”

More witnesses will speak on Thursday although much of the hearing will be confidential.