Simon Shepherd interviews Maori leaders
Hundreds of whanau and Maori leaders gathered at a hui in Mangere last weekend where they voted unanimously for an inquiry into Oranga Tamariki. The historic meeting called for a child welfare framework to be developed by Maori, for Maori. Chair of Whanau Ora Commissioning Agency Merepeka Raukawa-Tait and chair of the National Urban Mäori Authority Lady Tureiti Moxon were at the hui and they join me now. Lady Moxon, can you just describe to me what it was like last week and what really happened at the historic hui?
Lady Tureiti Moxon: Well, there were
over 400 people who turned up to that meeting, and there
were a whole lot of other people who were wired in to listen
to live streaming. And the big overall cry from the hui was
‘not one more child’ — not one more child to be taken.
And there were people who told their stories about the
horrors that had happened to them in the workshop groups.
There was really a movement, if you like, for
Okay, all right. So that cry for not one more child to be taken – Merepeka, not one more child to be taken by the state. I mean, is that no more uplifts per se? What does that mean? What are you calling for, then?
Merepeka Raukawa-Tait: Well, first of
all, our children must be safe in their homes, and if there
is an issue around the safety of the children, that must be
addressed. But it must be addressed by the people who
actually can influence the environment in the home. So you
have to get into the homes. And what we are seeing now is
there are too many children — Maori children, particularly
newborns — that are being uplifted, taken by the state.
And, so, what we’re saying is, ‘No, no, no.’ We want
to ensure that those who have responsibility for the
children must step up, and they have to be looking after
their own children. So we don’t want the state involved
any longer. They’ve never done a good job. They continue
to be there after the event, and what we’re saying is,
‘No.’ Put all of your resources and all your time and
effort into getting with the families, the people and the
providers who actually know their job and can actually do
something so that we can reduce the horrible statistics that
we have in this country.
Yeah, and we all acknowledge those horrible statistics, and we’ll talk about what the government’s talking about in bringing in the state, because they believe that they are doing things. But are you saying that you need, that Maori need a separate organisation from Oranga Tamariki to look after children at risk?
Moxon: Maori need to look after our own
babies in our own way. That’s what we want to
So that’s a yes, though, isn’t it?
Moxon: Yes, that’s an absolute yes. And
we need to do that because the state has proven time and
time again that it can’t do it. 14 failed reviews of
children— of ministry now — 14. I mean, how many times
does an organisation — if you like, an agency — have to
fail before we actually say, ‘Hey. It’s time for us to
do something different’?
Okay, so, Merepeka, in your mind, what is the ideal model in place? What does it look like?
Raukawa-Tait: Well, the ideal
model should be by Maori, for Maori. Maori children should
be looked after in an environment that’s conducive to
their well-being, and, so, that is the Maori families. And
it really is about the families. Our children must be safe.
But we have to put— We’ve got to get to the families.
Otherwise we’re going to continue to have children being
taken or attempted to be taken by the state. The state
should have no role in the upbringing of children. They’ve
never been very good at it. And, so, why do we continue to
fund an organisation that’s going to be there nine times
out of the 10 after the event? The funding has to go to
where it’s going to be most effective. This is
taxpayers’ money. It’s got to go where it’s most
effective and where the work can be done.
So, this is like a two-pronged organisation. You’re going to have a separate organisation for Maori children. What about the non-Maori kids in care? I mean, who should be looking after them? Are you—? I mean, I know that’s not your particular issue, but they are being looked after by Oranga Tamariki at the same time.
Moxon: Well, they
can be looked after by Oranga Tamariki now. But what we are
saying is it’s time for us to do this for ourselves.
It’s time for us to work with our own children and our own
families in terms of our own tikanga, in terms of our own
ways of doing things, because we are the ones who understand
and know what it means to belong to a whanau, a hapu and an
iwi. We are not individuals. We come from families that are
seen as part of the nature that we have around us, like our
mountains, our rivers and our seas, and it’s unique to New
Raukawa-Tait: But to be honest, there was no trust from iwi to this state department. And if there is no trust or mutual respect, then any work coming out of that organisation is not going to help the situation, which is Maori children continue to go into state care. We know where they are going to end up. We know what they’re like in terms of their education, in terms of their health, labour force participation. So if we know that’s where they’re going to end up, then surely to goodness we need to start thinking differently, which is Maori involvement.
Okay. Let’s talk about what the government says it’s doing, okay – $1 billion in the budget into Oranga Tamariki. It’s in the middle of a five-year reset, and there’s legislation which says that the disparity in the outcomes for Maori children has to be addressed by the chief executive. They are doing stuff, aren’t they? Why is that not enough for you?
Moxon: It’s not enough because all
they’re doing is tinkering with legislation. And we had
the health claim that was before the Waitangi Tribunal. What
came out of that was that the Ministry of Health didn’t
know how to operationalise the act. They didn’t know how
to operationalise Te Tiriti o Waitangi. They didn’t know
how to operationalise their own strategies, their Maori
strategies. So I can tell you this – that’s not going to
be an overnight fix, and it needs to– we need to be
looking differently at this. And we need by Maori, for
You’re talking about getting into Maori families with the iwi and the hapu–
Raukawa-Tait: Yes, that’s what
Whanau Ora’s there for.
Okay. But at the same time Oranga Tamariki has just announced, or is just setting up, an early intervention service, which sounds like exactly the same kind of thing. Is it not?
Raukawa-Tait: No, no, it’s not, no.
Because when we’re talking about children, we know the
environment in which they’re living in. And, so, what
you’re talking about is an organisation that says
they’re going to take five years to embed the change
that’s required. First of all, we don’t have five years.
And the other thing – all the billions of dollars over the
next five years going into an organisation so they can
better uplift children. It’s– I was going to say it’s
bum about face. It’s absolutely the wrong way
Right. Maori have been calling this for decades. 1988 we had that report which investigated racism in the social welfare system. What’s going to change now? Why are you going to get anything different now? It’s been going on for decades.
It’s time for change, and it’s time for the government
to let go of the power and the resources that they have kept
away from Maori. 60 per cent of our babies are in state
care, and we want to look after those 60 per cent of our
babies ourselves. And if we don’t make a change, all
you’re doing is tinkering. We have got, what, a three-year
window – if we’re lucky, another three-year window –
and then, what, a change of government, a change of
Raukawa-Tait: I think the change, Simon, is it is our responsibility. It is not the state’s responsibility to be in the homes.
So you’re stepping up.
Moxon: We’ve always stepped up, though.
Raukawa-Tait: Yes, we have always stepped up, and Te Rangihau — the report that you referred to which is 30 years ago — that was ground-breaking then. Had we implemented those recommendations then, we wouldn’t have lost a generation of children, of young adults. And so this is the problem. So we are saying, ‘No, this is our time. These are our children, our responsibility.’ We’re stepping up.
What’s the government response been to the hui? Anything?
Pretty muted, if I’m honest.
Have you been disappointed?
Raukawa-Tait: Well, I heard the
Prime Minister say the other day that perhaps this is time
to look at partnership. Well, most of us are over
Well, she wants to walk alongside Maori. That’s what she said.
Yes, that’s right, but these are our children, and what
we’re saying now is where there’s no trust, no mutual
respect, no willingness to work collaboratively together.
And the important thing is, also, there’s no willingness
by the government to put the resources into organisations
like ours — Whanau Ora the Commissioning Agency — so we
can get into the homes. It is the home environment that must
All right. You’re taking action now. Who’s going to lead this? Who is going to be on the government group going forward? You want this inquiry into Oranga Tamariki. You’re setting up a government group. Who is going to lead it, Lady Moxon?
we’ve got a governors’ group that was sanctioned by the
hui last week.
So who was that?
Moxon: Sir Mason Durie, Dame Tariana
Raukawa-Tait: Dame Naida Glavish.
Moxon: …and Dame Iritana Tawhiwhirangi, Sir Toby Curtis.
So they will be formulating the way that this inquiry and the following process for the hui to approve what’s going on?
Moxon: That's right.
And we are actually going to have a meeting that’s going
to be hosted by the Kingitanga later on, but meanwhile
we’re going to be putting together the terms of reference
and to take those around to make sure that we’ve got
everybody on board and everybody has a say.
Raukawa-Tait: And we want their wisdom. We want their wisdom because we’re talking about a review that’s for Maori, by Maori, with Maori. So we want people who are tikanga grounded, have been there before with many reports, who actually know the lay of the land, but more importantly, they know our culture, they know our values and they know our people. So the group that is going to oversee and give us guidance and wisdom, their role will be actually crucial to this review.
So the Prime Minister said this week that there is, like, two issues here. There’s the issues of the rates of abuse and maltreatment and things like that, and then there’s the rate of taking of Maori babies into state care. Are you confident that if you, sort of, get involved at this level that you’ll be able to break that kind of cycle and bring down these statistics.
Moxon: I absolutely believe
Raukawa-Tait: Well, we know what’s at stake. If nothing changes, and you’re talking about state intervention again, if nothing changes, this country will still continue to have the unenviable reputation of allowing children to be unsafe in their homes. We have to be taken seriously.
Absolutely. So, ‘By Maori, for Maori’, does that mean that if a child is in danger, it’s going to be the whanau that’s going to take the baby away from the mother? Is that kind of thing — grass roots — going to happen?
Moxon: We have our
own tikanga around these things, and we have always
practiced our tikanga. The current system undermines the
very fabric of Maori society, which is whanau, hapu, iwi. It
undermines it. It takes those children away from their
families, and they never come home.
Raukawa-Tait: That’s true. That’s true.
Moxon: What’s that about, when they never come home? And in some cases, they don’t even know where they’ve gone — so that’s the families don’t know where they’ve ended up. Later on, we are dealing now with this huge—
Raukawa-Tait: Fall out.
Moxon: …fall out around that, but also the fact that a lot of our people don’t know who they are, where they come from, and they’re broken people.
Okay. I’ve got to ask this — it was reminiscent of the foreshore and seabed debate, which sparked a political party, the Maori Party. Do you see that this is a political movement, Merepeka?
Raukawa-Tait: I wouldn’t at this
point in time. You can’t presuppose what the outcomes
might be. But certainly this is a unifying call to Maori,
and that’s certainly the comparison with the foreshore and
seabed. Anything that galvanises the iwi Maori to take
action, then you have to say that this is a serious issue.
It’s not going to go away any time soon, and it may well
be the political push that’s going to be
Do you see that this could spread beyond Oranga Tamariki into broader issues, and that it could become that political movement?
Well, you know, the thing is that what’s happening to us
today is not working for us. We have failures absolutely
everywhere. We are the ones who are in poverty. We are the
ones who are lacking in terms of education and all of those
things. So is it going to be a political issue? Maori just
being Maori is a political issue,—
Raukawa-Tait: Ae. Kia ora.
Moxon: …and depending on the government of the government of the day depends on how Maori fare. We’ve got to get past that.
Okay. Lady Tureiti Moxon and Merepeka Raukawa-Tait. Thank you very much for your time this morning.
Raukawa-Tait: Thank you.
Moxon: Kia ora.
While Children's Minister Tracey Martin would not come on the show today, she did send us a statement. She says there's huge change underway to build a better system of care for children and the budget provided more than a billion dollars to fund it. She says no government agency can provide the care for children and help for families that's required because it requires a much larger network, and one that works better for tamariki Maori. She says Iwi and community organisations recognise this and want to provide it and that Oranga Tamariki has specific obligations to improve outcomes for Maori children. She says she watched a lot of the hui and thinks that the desire of iwi and Maori to engage provides a chance to build the child care system we need.
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