Oranga Tamariki: ground-breaking legislation comes into effect today

By Te Ao - Māori News

Section 7AA of the Oranga Tamariki Act takes effect today, placing legislative responsibility on its CEO to seek out partnerships with iwi and hapū.  The ministry will now also have to report publicly and annually on the outcomes they achieve for tamariki Māori.

The ground-breaking legislation displays a number of similarities to the recommendations offered up by the Puao Te Atatu Committee more than 30 years ago. 

According to committee researcher and author Neville Baker, it's well overdue.

"It's better late than never ... the fact that it all got ignored and set aside over many years is no excuse not to implement the good things through Puao." 

Minister for Children Tracey Martin has acknowledged the similarities between the reports despite the 30 year difference.

"The document had  laid out quite clearly the conversations were still having, the issues we are still having [and] quite clearly provided the recommendations needed to address those concerns."

Tuhoe leader John Rangihau guided the Puao Te Atatu Committee to numerous marae across the country and they bore the brunt of anger at the system at the time.

"Despite the fact that five of us were Māori, we were a team of w*nkers, a team of Uncle Toms," he says.

Baker also remembers the anger the group faced.

"So when the people did get the chance to have their say some of them were aggressive, some of them were angry, some of them were quite frustrated at us- believing we represented the system."

While law now requires iwi and hapuu participation within Oranga Tamariki practice the work still isn't complete, according to Martin. 

"We are only one part, one cog in quite an interesting machine here that includes the Family Court and lawyer for the child so its easy to actually box OT in there." 

The minister says great benefits have come out of iwi-Crown relationships established so far, with the Waikato-Tainui agreement being a good example.

"Around about 200 to 250 tamariki did not come into Oranga Tamariki's care because we had contact when those children were alerted to us, we had contacted iwi instantly and we had iwi at the table right from the beginning of the conversation."

While Baker welcomes the legislative changes, he laments the delay in government listening to to the committee's recommendations.

"Sometimes you gotta go back to go forward and in this instance if you go back you go to a quality report put together by people who knew what they were talking about and the community that knew what it wanted," he says.

It appears that door may finally have been opened to Māori by Oranga Tamariki.

"We need to let iwi approach us, this is a big decision, being responsible for these kids and these whanaunga and iwi are at different stages of readiness but if we are approached we are open to looking at it," says Martin.

While the invite has gone out to iwi, the question as to whether resource and funding will follow.

Tomorrow Te Ao with MOANA presenter Moana Maniapoto will interview the CEO of Oranga Tamariki at 8pm on Māori Television.