Tribunal says give the power to Māori but will government listen?

By Rukuwai Tipene-Allen

The claimants in the Waitangi Tribuna's urgent inquiry into the state childcare agency, Oranga Tamariki, are delighted with the tribunal's recommendations (WAI 2915) for a complete transformation of the care and protection system in Aotearoa. 

The tribunal is recommending that a Māori transition Authority be set up to transfer power over Māori children from Oranga Tamariki to Māori care providers. That's one of the major proposed changes to legislation, policy and practice that's emerged from the inquiry.

It says the Crown failed to honour the treaty and guarantee tino rangatiratanga over their kāinga for Māori. 

Dr Jane Alison Green, Paora Crawford Moyle, Dr Rawiri Waretini-Karena and Kerri Nuku were some of the claimants in the urgent inquiry and say  they support the recommendations."

"The Tribunal found that tinkering with the care and protection system, as happened in 2017, did not reduce the high numbers of Māori children in state care," they said in a statement today.

'Watershed moment'

"Further, the tribunal found that for Māori children to remain with their whānau, Māori must lead and direct the change to the care and protection system, not the Crown. To this end, in the short to medium term, the tribunal proposes the establishment of a Māori transition authority charged with making transformational changes required to eliminate state care of Māori children." 

The National Urban Māori Authority is calling it ‘He pāharakeke, he rito whakakīkinga whāruarua’ Oranga Tamariki Urgent Inquiry" (the inquiry addresses whānau needs) and a “watershed moment”.

Claimant Lady Tureiti Moxon agrees, “I am absolutely mind blown by it – because everything we’ve been pushing hard for in terms of ‘by Māori, for Māori’ or mana motuhake and an independent Māori Authority, has been validated.”

 Moxon says it was the collective effort of many who have made a difference.

“Alongside the 51 claimants and nine lead claimants, I wish to acknowledge the outstanding support, courage and tenacity of the Māori Inquiry Governance Group, National Urban Māori Authority trustees, the Whānau Ora Commissioning Agency, the Waipareira Trust, the Manukau Urban Māori Authority, Te Roopu Awhina and Te KōhaoHealth behind this kaupapa,” Moxon says. 

 In July 2020 at the start of the hearings, 4,179 tamariki Māori were in the system, representing 69% of the total care population at the time. 

Horrific uplift attempt

The Oranga Tamariki urgent inquiry was sparked when a Newsroom story shed light on a horrific attempted uplift of a baby almost immediately after birth. This case became known as the Hastings uplift. One of the tribunal recommendations asks all ministers who are involved in the decision-making for Oranga Tamariki to first watch the Newsroom online documentary. 

The Waitangi Tribunal's major recommendation is for a Māori transition authority to strip out the statutory authority and resources of Oranga Tamariki for Māori children for a by-Māori, for Maōri solution, leaving the childcare agency to remain a care and protection service for non-Māori children and families. While this doesn't mean the disestablishment of Oranga Tamariki, Moxon says it's devolution of its power.

Now Minister for Children Kelvin Davis will have to decide whether he will go ahead with what both the Waitangi Tribunal and Children's Commissioner believe is needed for Māori children.

“In the end the minister has to be prepared to pass power over to others – to share that power and the resources with Māori. While there is a lot of work yet to be done, it gives us a clear mandate just like the Māori health authority, so this is a good way forward for all of us,” Moxon says.