Minister and Oranga Tamariki chief take careful positions on each other

By Whatitiri Te Wake

Both the new Minister for Children, Kelvin Davis, and his Oranga Tamariki chief executive, Grainne Moss, were putting their best spin on events this week after Te Ao Maori News reported Moss was poised to vacate the role.

Moss has been under fire from the “great dames”, a group of influential Māori kuia, who want Māori children completely removed from Oranga Tamariki’s care. They have criticised the agency for Māori newborn uplifts and say though the agency was reinvented only three years ago, attitudes have not changed and few of the recommendations from various critical inquiries have been adopted.

Davis didn’t give much away about his chief executive, saying that it’s “not the done thing to talk about the employment situation of a chief executive.”

He says he has had several briefings from Moss on issues related to Oranga Tamariki. “We’ve covered a range of kaupapa but it’s the normal work of a chief executive briefing her minister.”

He says though that there is “a realization that Oranga Tamariki needs to do things differently, that we need to move in a new direction that involves Māori sharing  resources and power and I believe that is what Oranga Tamariki is going to do.”

Seeking more information

He has seen news website Newsroom’s new documentary about Oranga Tamariki, which he found “heartwrenching.”

“I had Oranga Tamariki officials here today giving me a briefing but I have asked for a written briefing as well to please explain the circumstances around that documentary.”

He has also told off Peeni Henare for commenting on the rumours about Moss’ departure. “We’re whanaunga, we’re colleagues and we’re mates. It’s not appropriate for someone to pass comment on someone else’s portfolio."

Told by critics that Moss was ill-prepared on Māoriconcepts when she appeared before the Waitangi Tribunal yesterday, he said: “That is their perspective but it is my expectation that when we are dealing with predominantly Māori whanau in a situation that all our kaimahi should have a good understanding of kaupapa Māori, tikanga Māori. I think that’s essential.”

Meanwhile, Moss told media this week she was not resigning, hadn’t been asked to resign and, that if they knew who started the rumour that she was departing, she would like to know.

She said she was “absolutely committed to the kaupapa.”

'A privilege'

"Now we’ve made very good progress but there is much more to do. I think it’s a privilege to have an opportunity to improve the outcomes for tamariki and to make change.

Asked if she should shoulder some of the blame for the concessions Oranga Tamariki made about structural racism in the agency this week weeks, she had a quick retort.

“We all have to shoulder that blame.”

She said she found making those concessions incredibly emotional “because behind those concessions are tamariki and rangatahi who have not reached their full potential because they haven’t been helped in the way they should have been helped.”

Asked if she had committed to a radical transformation when she spoke at the tribunal hearing, she replied, ”Actually I didn’t. That would be a decision the Crown would have to take so I take this feedback from the tribunal to the Ministers of the Crown and discuss that.”

Minister for Children Kelvin Davis

Moss had what seemed to be a fangirl view of her new ministers – Davis and Poto Williams.

 “I have had a number of very constructive conversations with Minister Davis and I am excited to be working with him. To have the No 3 in government looking after children and an associate minister at No 10! I just think this is a really exciting time and to have such a senior Māori minister who’s got frontline experience and also in Minister Poto Williams we have a minister with frontline experience of the challenges the whanau we work with face.”

She is not disappointed he won’t answer the question of whether he has confidence in her.

“No. We’re just getting to know each other and we’ve had some very constructive, positive meetings and conversations. He is deeply, deeply committed to better outcomes. He asked for this portfolio. That’s really exciting for us. I’m deeply committed to those outcomes.”

She said she did not have a deadline getting her ministers’ confidence.

How long has she believed there is structural racism in the agency?

Defended Oranga Tamariki

“What the concession said was that structural racism has impacted care and protection long before Oranga Tamariki even existed and it impacts our society on a day-to-day basis and I’ve always been open about that.”

She emphasised the agency’s pleasure in learning that the number of Māorichildren coming into care continues to reduce. “So what we’ve seen is significant reductions in 2017, 2018 and 2019. That’s because we’re working differently with our partners to work alongside whanau and at the end of June this year we started to reduce the overall numbers of tamariki in care. It’s just under 6000.”

She looked forward to hearing the Tuhoe evidence being presented to the tribunal later yesterday, which she said was great.

“You’re going to hear some great testimony from Tuhoe and by being open and accepting that they’re the lead, they know their people far better that we will ever know their people, respecting them, listening to them. I just love working with them because they know their people so well. They know what they need and also we are so aligned in what we want. We all so want better outcomes for tamariki and whanau.

She staunchly defended Oranga Tamariki though admitting it had let down Māori: “From time to time yes but I also think we have made  significant contributions to wellbeing for many whanau.”