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Pita Sharples Speech: Additional Ombudsman

Notice of Motion: Additional Ombudsman

Dr Pita Sharples, Co-leader, Maori Party

Thursday 7 December 2006; 4pm

I am pleased today, to stand in support of the Notice of Motion to appoint Mel Smith as an additional ombudsman, Nga Kaitiaki Mana Tangata, for Aotearoa.

The distinctive role that the Ombudsman plays in our community, was brought home to me in various roles that I have played in chairing Maori cultural committees on prisons, or sitting on review committee reviewing the security within prisons; and now of course as a Member of Parliament, through complaints received.

The role of being at the receiving end of complaints is an incredibly challenging role. Particularly so, when we know the Ombudsmen's office receives up to 6000 complaints a year.

It is a role which is disproportionately, but absolutely vital for the protection and safe-guarding of indigenous rights.

And if you need any evidence why, one only needs to look at the raft of reports we, the Maori Party, have presented in this House which describes the status of Maori people in all spheres.

Earlier this year, the United States Department Report on Human Rights Practices in New Zealand, was issued by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labour.

The Human Rights report lists the following issues under prison and detention centre conditions as occurring during the twelve-month period ending June 2005:

- Prison over-crowding was a problem;

- Juveniles spent more than 600 detention nights in police cells;

- Eleven inmates from the Paremoremo Prison Behavioural Management Regime (BMR) were awarded compensation for ‘breaches of their rights under the Bill of Rights Act’;

- Management failings in the ‘Goon Squad’ allowed the unit to develop an ‘inappropriate militaristic culture’.

The report concluded that Aotearoa was in particularly bad shape as a result of the “disproportionate societal problems for indigenous people”.

This is the bread and butter work that our Ombudsmen are faced with day in, day out.

But we know too, that there are many and varied reasons for why a person would go to the Office of the Ombudsman for support.

And there are many examples where the Ombudsman have investigated complaints for whanau, hapu and iwi, runanga and so on.

And I recall the Analysis of the Police Report into the Fatal Wounding of Steven James Wallace at Waitara, Sunday 30 April 2000; which referred to the role of the Ombudsman as being vital for the ongoing Maori/Police relationship. Kahungunu academic, Moana Jackson, suggested that the Ombusdman could be both an appeal body and an Ombudsman for Maori in their dealings with the Police.

As well as that the Ombudsman will deal with Maori in the context of school boards of trustees, tertiary students, social service agencies and any number and nature of government organisations.

Madam Speaker, I come today, as the bearer of Good News.

For when I started preparing for this debate, my research took me to the report of the Ombudsman for the year 30 June 2006.

In the very first section of that report, indeed the editorial, it states, and I quote:

“It is very pleasing to note that the office is at last making some substantive progress in developing our ongoing interface with Mäori. We have received strong support from a number of Mäori organisations. We are attempting as opportunity permits to make formal Marae visits to be followed up by informal advice and discussion with individual Mäori on matters of concern”.

The focus that the Ombudsman’s office promotes is not about power over or control at all costs. The emphasis is on ensuring that the office is not an alien institution, another agency which helps those who already know how to get help while excluding those who don’t.

This is an office with a difference – an office of the state that seems to genuinely care about the way in which they can relate to a diverse range of New Zealanders.

The Maori Party is happy to endorse the appointment of Mel Smith on two counts.

Transparency and Accountability

Firstly, we are pleased to act in a way to facilitate any processes which support the core values of transparency and accountability.

Although the Ombudsman’s office lacks legal powers of enforcement, their reports indicate that 90% of their findings are acted upon. Such outcomes give us confidence as to the value of this role. The view of Mel Smith is that public confidence would be maintained and perhaps enhanced by having an independent body.

Responsiveness to Maori

The second aspect which has encouraged us to look favourably at this appointment, is the commitment of Chief Ombudsman John Belgrave; the movements made within the office to demonstrate strategic support; and the longstanding involvement that Mr Smith himself is associated with in Maori Affairs.

Madam Speaker, I started this speech by saying I was the bearer of good news. And indeed, it is a pleasure to be able to give praise where praise is due for the initiatives that the Ombudsman’s office is leading in trying to deliver the best service they can to support the widest spectrum of citizens who live here in Aotearoa.

It is through our confidence in this regard, that the Maori Party supports the proposal to appoint the additional ombudsman.

ends

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