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Turia - Coroners Bill: Second Reading

Coroners Bill: Second Reading Tuesday 2 May 2006

Tariana Turia, Co-leader, Maori Party

Tena koe Madam Speaker, tënä tätou te whare.

Last Sunday marked six years since the tragic, unnecessary and preventable death of Steven Wallace. He was shot and killed by a police officer in Waitara on 30 April 2000. It also marked the point, one year ago, when Chief High Court Judge, Justice Anthony Randerson, ruled to the effect that Coroner Gordon Matenga could restart the much-delayed inquest into Steven's death.

An inquest, which was originally scheduled to start on 21 May 2001.

I can imagine the trauma for that family having to wait for so long, an not being able to put their son to rest properly because bureaucracy kept him entwined in this world. With that background in mind therefore, the Maori Party was poised to see how this new Coroner's Bill would advance Maori interests for the benefit of the nation. The aim of the Bill, to reform the coronial system to improve its effectiveness and to ensure that the system responds better to the needs of bereaved families, including their cultural and spiritual needs, is somewhere along the track.

I have to say that we were a bit disappointed that we had the Law Commissioners who presented a discussion paper, recommending a whole heap of things that would address the inadequacies of the current system and they weren't given the consideration that they should have.

We are still concerned about some things, such as the reduction in the number of coroners to twenty, which means it is highly likely that those positions will be regionalised.

At a time of death, families are often very traumatised, because one only has a coroner if one is in a traumatic situation. So to have to have a coroner whom the family may not know, who lives in another town, and the family will not have the opportunity to have somebody who is advocating for them who is able to ring the coroner as someone whom they know will I think create some difficulties for people who are in that situation. We hope that when these people are appointed, our people will be able to have some input into the appointment of these coroners.

We only have two Maori coroners at present. We believe that if Maori people are not going to play a part as coroners, then it is very important that these coroners have cultural competency.

We know from our experience where I come from how much power the police have in advising coroners to carry out post-mortems or to do whatever is required. We have had some tragic situations.

I listened to Ron [Mark] and I mihi to him for the loss of his daughter.

We had a niece from our marae, who lost her child to cot death, where the police decided that she must have shaken that baby. I had to go to the Hospital to support her while the police were interrogating her as she held her baby in her arms.

They took her child, and said it had to have a forensic pathologist's report. Without the family knowing, the baby's eyes were removed and flown to Auckland. We, as a whanau, had to wait for those eyes to be returned to Whanganui to be put back with the child so that we could carry on with the tangihanga and there was absolutely no evidence, whatsoever, that the baby had been shaken at all.

That is what I mean when I say the police have a huge amount of power and we've seen it on more than one occasion at home.

We as a Party, have talked about tikanga Maori being incorporated into the whole proceedings, and I know that there has been a lot of talk about people being present at post-mortems.

Of course, there has been an agreement that only certain people will be admitted. I think that is an issue for the whanau. Although I agree that the circumstances and what happens during post mortem can be very, very distressing, I still believe that families should have the right to determine who it is that represents them during the post mortem process

We know how important it is to our families when somebody dies. It does not matter what the circumstances are, but in our culture, it is most important that the tüpäpaku is not left alone. The way in which the process has worked to date, where families have not been able to access their loved ones to be able to carry out karakia and to do all of those things that are really important, creates trauma for families.

We are saying that with this piece of legislation we hope we will see a huge change in the attitudes of coroners but also of police.

We also hope that this particular piece of legislation will be sent to every police station throughout the country so that the police can make sure these issues are addressed - and addressed in a culturally appropriate way.

I think Ron is right. It does not matter what the culture is; these issues impact on all cultures.

We all have different values, and we have different ways of expressing our culture. Those should be taken into consideration. Last week I had a very sad young woman come to my office to tell me that she had lost a daughter more than a year ago and that before Christmas almost a year later the body parts that had been taken at the time of her death were returned to her and her family. It was quite devastating for the family, because they did not know what to do with them.

They were traumatised further by that experience.

I think it is really important that coroners do notify whanau if a post-mortem is required and if the removal of body parts is required. Whanau should be informed of absolutely everything during that procedure. If we want people to cooperate, and if we want them to believe that all these things are being done in their best interests, then I would expect that they be fully informed.

Also, they need to know that if they want to, they can challenge the right to a post-mortem in the High Court. They need a good lawyer and they need to know what their rights are in a situation like that. We look forward to seeing this bill come to fruition. We also look forward to seeing who the coroners will be, and we would expect that Maori people particularly will be able to have a say on who the coroner in their region will be. Nö reira, tena koutou. Tënä koutou, tënä koutou katoa.


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