Politics | Kelvin Davis

Oranga Tamariki chief's days are numbered

Controversial Oranga Tamariki chief executive Grainne Moss is believed to be poised to depart from the troubled welfare agency.

Several sources have said she is leaving, with an announcement imminent, and today, when Whānau Ora Minister Peeni Henare was asked, he didn't deny reports the Irishwoman was about to vacate the position.

Oranga Tamariki declined to comment on a potential departure today.

Māori leaders, including Dame Naida Glavish, Dame Iritana Tawhiwhirangi, Lady Tureiti Moxon and Whānau Ora Commissioning Agency chair Merepeka Raukawa-Tait have been critical of the way the welfare department has dealt with Māori children and families under Moss' leadership. Labour deputy leader Kelvin Davis has just taken over as the Minister for Children.

"For a long time, Māori and communities all over have told MPs, if we want to move forward, we need to look at the people running these organisations. So this isn't surprising. I support the work of my tuakana Kelvin Davis."

Asked if the impending departure was a sign the government was listening, Henare said: "Yes, we are listening to the complaints, grievances and hurt of Māori over the years. For a long time, Kelvin has said we need to create a new path, so the unjust of early years won't affect us today. I want to say, there is still a lot to do. Let's not think that this will fix everything, no. If we follow a new path, we will need to start at step one."

Change the head

Henare said what was most important was the well-being of tamariki.

"That's why I said before the election if we want to change things, we must look at the head. We've seen my tuakana is following a new path and it's underway."

Asked if State Services Commissioner Peter Hughes, who appoints the chief executive of Oranga Tamariki should also leave, Henare said no, because Hughes was the head of all the heads of government departments

"To get rid of this person because of another head, who allegedly may be vacating in a couple of hours, I don't believe that's right. I say forget that and let's look at who will be filling these shoes. That's the main question."

Was he concerned that someone like Grainne Moss would be appointed to replace her?

"That's perhaps our most important job. Let's not repeat our mistakes. That's why I'm saying we need to look for the right person to lead this government department. A few ministers and I will talk to him about what Māori want."

Passionate Māori leader

Should the CEO of Oranga Tamariki be Māori?

"If you are asking me as a Māori, I will say yes. However, no doubt there is a lot to do. The government will be there instructing him on how to select new person. But I've heard the complaints from Māori, so it should be Māori.

"For a long time, iwi have said by applying Māori initiatives, our children will benefit. So we aim to appoint a Māori to lead these initiatives, someone passionate about Māori initiatives, and someone who has seen and heard Māori all over the country. For a long time, I have believed in that.

Asked if he agreed with the Children's Commissioner, Andrew Becroft, who has said the powers of Oranga Tamariki needs to be handed back to Māori, he said yes. "That's why I believe we must follow Māori initiatives. I've seen it in the initiative I ran called Whārau Ora. We must uplift each other."

Moss, who was the first Irishwoman to swim the English Channel at age 17, went on to build a career in the UK National Health Service. A practising Cahtolic, Moss emigrated to New Zealand in the 1990s.

She worked at Carter Holt Harvey Forests in the central North Island as the regional operations manager for forests before getting her MBA in 2003, then in 2007 was hired at Bupa, eventually becoming managing director.

Bupa is a London-based multinational company with tentacles in insurance, care homes, health services and hospitals. In 2007, Bupa bought New Zealand’s Guardian Health Care rest homes, hospitals and retirements villages.

Moss was appointed to lead Oranga Tamarikli in late 2016.