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Te Ururoa Flavell Speech - General Debate - 23 October 2013

Wednesday 23rd October 2013; 3.30pm

General Debate; Parliament Buildings, Wellington

Tēnā koe, Mr Speaker.  Kia ora tātou.

Mr O’Rourke talked about a lot of suffering. This morning, listening to three bills that came to this House, followed pretty much followed the same theme.

We have been fortunate—or unfortunate—today to have traversed a lot of history for the people of  Tūhoe,  Ngāti Hauā, Ngāti Koroki Kahukura, and, of course, the descendants of  Mokomoko. Their legacies are relived; their experiences arrived here in Parliament today.

It is in the spirit of that sort of sorrow that I wanted to focus this contribution on this afternoon, and on our  tamariki and our mokopuna, and, indeed, the mokopuna of Tūhoe. In this morning’s paper under the heading “Child abuse is rising in NZ”,  Children’s Commissioner  Russell Wills revealed that the public’s tolerance for violence against children still had a way to go. I ask the question how we as a nation can hold our heads high when our child abuse statistics are such an indictment on our reputation.

Our focus as members of Parliament should rightly and properly be on what we are doing as agents of the State. As such, I would implore all members of this House to read the statement released just three days ago on  Marae Investigates by a leading paediatric specialist,  Professor Innes Asher. I referred to that in a speech this morning. Professor Asher—a clinician at the  Starship hospital, a paediatrician for over thirty years, and the head of the paediatrics department at  Auckland University—has spent her life investing in the well-being of children. So when she described the treatment of children during the Tūhoe raids six years ago as “one of the worst cases of child abuse by the State in recent years”, one would think that this House would listen.

Of course, it is not the first time that the children of  Ruātoki have been raised in public attention. A mere five months ago a report from the  Independent Police Conduct Authority recommended that changes to policy and practice needed to be introduced that would reflect better planning for children and vulnerable people. Aside from that, I am still waiting for the Human Rights Commission report to come out, and hopefully that will be soon.

At the time of this recent release the local school teacher  Gaylene Collier reflected that her pupils had already been frightened when they were detained in their homes during the operation. Her conclusions were pretty clear: “It was tough on the families and it should never ever have happened.”

I have relentlessly brought the issues of these families to this House, but we are still a far way away from seeing any resolution to the lasting trauma that Professor Asher speaks off. On public television on Sunday she told New Zealand “if these children had been held by armed offenders in the same way, the state would have immediately rescued those children and given them some help and assistance. And the children would have been on the front page of the papers and on your lead news item,”.

So why is it that we cannot face up to the wrongs done to the innocent children caught up in  Operation Eight? Why are we so reluctant to admit that the events of that day represent, as Professor Asher states, the most profound abuse of power in our memory?

In a letter written to former Police Commissioner  Howard Broad,  Queen’s Counsel   Peter Williams described the extent of the terror raids as being “a great show of force by the police who have been accompanied by military-type vehicles, helicopters, fire arms, dogs, and various other adjuncts. Most of these police officers were dressed in military battle uniform, consisting of black clothing, balaclavas, and carrying what appears to be loaded weapons—in particular, rifles and revolvers.” One of the interviewees said he counted 43 police officers surrounding the house where he lived with his partner, his four young children, his father, and his father’s partner. All of these police had guns trained on this house. These prisoners, mainly women and children, were kept under armed guard and detained for varying periods between three and six hours. The children, particularly, were terrified, he said.

I do not understand how we can receive that sort of information and we can hear the horrific experiences our State forced upon children and not feel motivated to change or to act. We could go to the Ruātoki valley. We could sit with the people of Tūhoe. We could share with the whānau our acknowledgment of what happened on 15 October 2007; that they had a truly traumatic effect on the children that will affect them for the rest of their lives. Our job as a Parliament is to represent the best interests of our people. This is beyond party politics. It is beyond bureaucracy. This is about our children.


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