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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 change.
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 do.
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 Zealand.
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 Maori.
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 around.
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.

Moxon: 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 everything.
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.

Raukawa-Tait: Absolutely 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?

Raukawa-Tait: 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 partnership.
Well, she wants to walk alongside Maori. That’s what she said.

Raukawa-Tait: 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 change.
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?

Moxon: Well, we’ve got a governors’ group that was sanctioned by the hui last week.
So who was that?

Moxon: Sir Mason Durie, Dame Tariana Turia—
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 that.
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 required.
Do you see that this could spread beyond Oranga Tamariki into broader issues, and that it could become that political movement?

Moxon: 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.
Simon Shepherd:
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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