Politics | Oranga Tamariki

‘Not a good look’ - legal expert on Minister Karen Chhour’s Oranga Tamariki Act change

AUT law dean Khylee Quince believes for Childrens Minister Karen Chhour to not be “transparent” about the reasons for and likely impacts of her recently proposed changes to the Oranga Tamariki Act, is “not a good look”.

Chhour has turned down a request from the Waitangi Tribunal which is holding an urgent inquiry into the change, to appear to explain why she is doing so. The tribunal then decided to summons her but the Crown has now asked the High Court to review that.

Inviting a minister to provide evidence for their decisions isn’t a new concept but summonsing one to appear before a court is.

Quince believes the purpose of Chhour’s summonsing falls back on the lack of evidence needed to push the repeal of Section 7AA.

“Oranga Tamariki and Te Puni Kōkiri have both come out and said: ‘Actually we don’t have the information, you haven’t taken the time to review the evidence as to what the impacts of section 7AA have been so far’.

“Your government’s timeline to get these things through as quickly as possible isn’t going to allow for that to happen before the bill is introduced probably by mid-May.”

‘Crown consulted with partnerships on proposed repeal’

Chhour didn’t appear in the Wellington High Court yesterday.

Crown Lawyer Jason Varuhas, represented the minister and told the court her position on the topic.

“Under the heading section 7AA repeal, assurance was given that strategic partnerships are safe and that the minister wants to continue down this path as beneficial for tamariki and whānau.

“On Page 36 there is a note from a further meeting, a file note, and you will see in the bullet points there, Minister Chhour outlined that she had campaigned on. One of the bullet points is ‘likes partnership agreements and would like more’.

“So we think that evidence answers the question: Has the Crown consulted with partnerships on proposed repeal,” he said.

Quince pointed out that section 7AA is the only part of the act in which Te Tiriti is mentioned, and if it were to be repealed, the shortcomings that affected Māori children would remain.

“It provides a clear direction for Oranga Tamariki and its chief executive to be answerable to whānau, hapū and iwi by building appropriate relationships with them to help remedy those downfalls or shortcomings of the past in terms of the way in which tamariki Māori and their whānau have been treated by state care,” she told Te Ao Māori News.

The outcome of the judicial review application may come on Wednesday evening but, if the judge decides to take longer, the decision might be moot since the law change is planned for mid-May.