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The Nation: Lisa Owen interviews Tracey Martin

On The Nation: Lisa Owen interviews Tracey Martin

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Minister for Children Tracey Martin says there’s a need for a permanent independent authority like the IPCA to monitor the treatment of children in state care and handle complaints.
Martin says she can’t commit to an apology from the government, but says the prime minister should probably be the one to apologise. “I think if we’re going to take responsibility for what is actually going to come out in this inquiry, and we have a very clear idea of the sort of the incidents that are going to be exposed, then it’s very serious, and I think it needs to be dealt with at the highest level.”

Lisa Owen: Now, the new government’s committed to an inquiry into the abuse of children in state care. The move’s been welcomed, but there are few details that have been released so far. So how will it all work? We’re joined now by the new Minister for Children, New Zealand First’s Tracey Martin. Good morning, Minister.

Tracey Martin: Morena.
So, the inquiry — what are you thinking? Will it have the power to compel witnesses?
And all of these details, unfortunately, are still to be worked through. So I’ve had two meetings with officials to clarify what are our options, what sort of inquiry will it be, will it have those sort of powers, who will we consult before we even scope out the cabinet paper, for example, to take it to cabinet. So at this stage, I can’t answer that question 100%.
It’s on your 100 day plan.
It’s on the Labour Party’s 100 day plan that this government will deliver, yes.
Yeah, and so you’re part of that.
Yes, we are.
So in terms of that, you’re running out of time to come up with these answers, so what are you thinking, though? If not having a solid idea, do you think it would be the best-case scenario to be able to compel witnesses?
It’s not something that I’ve traversed at the moment with the officials. The major priority that we had was actually around making sure that within the 100 days, so the 4th of February is the close-off date — 3rd, 4th of February is the close-off date that we’re talking about — that we will have in place a basis for an inquiry that will provide an opportunity for those who have been victims to come forward with comfort to be able to express their truth, to be able to be validated in that truth and to feel that they have received the justice and the validation that they need. So those are the things that have been the driving part of the conversations at this stage.
Okay, because the brief is to get it set up in the 100 days.
Yes, that’s right.
So will the inquiry have the scope to attribute blame?
Well, it’s one of those things. If you look at the Never Again campaign, that was never a driver. It wasn’t about finding somebody or something to hang some guilt on. It was about making sure that the truth was told, that we bravely face actions that took place in this country that harmed individuals and that those individuals received an apology.
But the victims want truth and accountability, so will there be accountability through this inquiry?
I guess what I’m driving at is basically saying that if you put out the truth, there are going to have to be recognition by the state that this is what happened to these people and they were under the care of the state at that time. If you’re asking me are there going to be people that are then going to be charged or held accountable through the justice system, I can’t make that statement, because I’m not in charge of the justice system.
What period will the inquiry investigate?
Well, at this stage, that’s part of the scoping that’s being done, and I don’t want to actually pre-empt that. There are at least 20 organisations that the officials are now talking to before we take a proposed scope to cabinet.
So you mentioned an apology. There will definitely be a formal apology from the government?
Again, I can’t make that commitment on behalf of the government. I can tell you where I’m coming from.
Yeah, tell me where you’re coming from.
So, where I’m coming from is if we stand in our truth and we bravely say, ‘This is the reality that happened to these New Zealanders under the care of the state,’ then the state has a responsibility to acknowledge that, to own it and therefore there should be an apology. But I don’t speak on behalf of the whole government. That has to go to cabinet.
Who do you think would be the appropriate person to make that apology, then?
I don’t know. I had this question asked of me on Te Karere as well. I don’t know. Because I’ve been in the job two weeks, let’s be clear. I don’t know whether it would be appropriate for a minister at my level, whether it should come from the Prime Minister, whether it should even be bigger than that.
What’s your gut feeling? Should it be the Prime Minister?
I think if we’re going to take responsibility for what is actually going to come out in this inquiry, and we have a very clear idea of the sort of the incidents that are going to be exposed, then it’s a very, very serious— it’s very serious acts that have taken place here, and I think it needs to be dealt with at the highest level.
So Prime Minister, then, in your view. So do you think that you will set up some kind of independent authority, a permanent independent authority, like the IPCA, to monitor treatment of kids in care and the actions of the ministry? Is that something you would like to see?
Yes, I think there is a need for that. I think it’s that transparency that we’re hoping to actually— Part of what Oranga Tamariki, the reason why it was set up by the previous government and part of the direction of travel it’s in now is to make sure that we are more transparent, that we are working more closely with our communities, that the voice of children is heard more often. And so an independent body whereby complaints can be taken, I think, would be a really good and transparent thing. It would help both the ministry and our children.
How much will is there to do that?
I think there’s quite strong will to do that.
So you’re quite confident you can get that over the line?
I think— Well, I’m fairly confident about my argumentative skills, so I believe that it would be in the best interest of children.
So Labour supports it, basically, is what I’m asking.
At this stage, again, I haven’t taken it to cabinet, but I believe the will is there to actually say there needs to be this level of transparency.
Okay. Let’s move on to Oranga Tamariki, or the Ministry for Children, as we’re now calling it. Rebstock report has recommended that the threshold for intervening in kids’ lives be lowered. So that would mean instead of working with around 20,000 kids, that they will be working with around 76,000 children. So how many more social workers do you reckon you’re going to need?
I don’t really know, but I know that we definitely need more resourcing. I know that the workload on the front line when it was CYFS has been too high. I think what’s probably more important is how do the social workers, once we make sure that we have the appropriate resourcing— And remember that Oranga Tamariki’s been there for six months, so there’s still a lot of work and a lot of mapping going on. But it’s how we work with those young people has been the major driver.
We spoke to Grainne Moss earlier in the year, and she said that social workers spend about only 25% of their work time face to face with children. What would your goal be in terms of that face-to-face contact, do you think? Because 25 seems low.
And I guess, I suppose, it depends— Okay, let me have a think about this. From the perspective of— If 25% of the time is dealt with face to face with the actual child, what is the 75%? And that would be something I need to find out. Again, job — two weeks. But what we know is that children want to see their social workers more. So we have to lift that 25%. However, we also need to be working more closely with community. Social workers just can’t do this on their own. Oranga Tamariki can’t do this on their own. We’ve got to widen the community that we’re working with. We’ve got to have more families come in and more New Zealanders put themselves forward to partner with us to actually assist these young people.
Okay, we’re almost out of time. There’s a couple of things I want to get through. The pay for a social worker is between 46 and 77 grand. Do you anticipate bumping that up to keep good people?
There is, I believe, already a pay claim going forward, and so there’s negotiations that have to happen next year.
But would you support raising?
I can’t make that statement, because that would influence the negotiations towards the middle of next year, and that would be irresponsible of me. So I know that it’s happening, and I know there’s negotiations that are going to take place.
Okay, caregivers is another issue. About 50% of caregivers who take in kids are living on benefits. Is that the optimal situation?
It depends what you mean by the benefit. From the perspective of I actually work quite closely with Grandparents Raising Grandchildren, so I’m not—
Yeah, super’s a benefit. Universal benefit.
Okay, we don’t call it a benefit. We call it, you know… But that’s all right. So if we’re talking about that, we know that there are those financial pressures there. That’s why I fought to have, and got through unanimously, the Clothing Allowance Bill so that kin carers will get that clothing allowance, so we know that we need to support them financially better. Absolutely we know that to be true. It’s about how do we work through that and make sure that it’s practical support and financial support that goes directly to that child.
So are you going to raise the amount of money that carers are paid or the allowances they get? Is that one of your goals?
The allowances, certainly, it is my goal to make sure that we don’t have situations where grandparents raising grandchildren, for example, who get a new baby arrive on their door in the middle of the night because it needs to be brought to a place that is safe, and they have no nappies, no cot, no anything for that child. So it’s not necessarily all about raising the allowances. How do we support that child and those people that are actually stepping forward?
Okay, money’s tight, though. Have you guys got the money for that?
Look, we’ve got a budget coming up, and I’m sure that we can manage what we’re managing.
Minister, thanks for joining me this morning.

Transcript provided by Able. www.able.co.nz

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