Expanded Royal Commission to include religious institution abuse

After public pressure it looks like the Government has listened. They have announced that Royal Commission into Historical Abuse in State Care has been expanded to include ‘in the Care of Faith-Based Institutions’.

In January (RNZ) Royal Commission into state care abuse ‘completely stalled’ – lawyer

A lawyer working for New Zealand victims of abuse in state care says Australia’s apology to their victims of child sexual abuse should embarrass NZ into getting on with its own Royal Commission.

RNZ: Religious institutions to be included in state abuse inquiry

The Government’s inquiry into the abuse of children in state care will be expanded to include the abuse of children in the care of religious institutions.

The Royal Commission was formally established in February to be chaired by the former Govenor-General Sir Anand Satyanand, with the terms of reference, budget and additional inquiry members to be announced after consultation and Cabinet approval.

Its initial scope was to cover circumstances where the state directly ran institutions like child welfare institutions, borstals or psychiatric hospitals, and where the government contracted services out to other institutions, but as of today that will be expanded to include children in the care of faith-based institutions

Religious groups and church abuse survivors have been lobbying to be included in the inquiry since it was announced.

It will begin hearing evidence from January next year with the first interim report, which will be focussed on state care, to be reported back by the end of 2020.

A final report containing the Royal Commission’s findings and recommendations will be submitted to the Governor-General in January 2023.

That’s a long time to get a final report – five years. However it is a big issue to inquire into and it is important it is done thoroughly.

The Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, said it was critical the Government got the Royal Commission right and the scope and purpose of the Inquiry has been carefully considered.

“Today paves the way for us to confront a dark chapter of our national history by acknowledging what happened to people in state care, and in the care of faith-based institutions, and to learn the lessons for the future.”

Unresolved abuse has adversely affected the lives of many people – not just those directly affected by the abuse. It has caused life-long problems that also impact on families, on policing and the judiciary, on schools, on the health system (not just mental health), and on the institutions involved in the abuse (not all people in those institutions were complicit).

The President of the New Zealand Catholic Bishops Conference, Patrick Dunn, said the church reaffirmed its support and desire to learn from this national undertaking which it was confident would contribute positively to the strengthening and safeguarding of its families, communities and society.

“The view we expressed during the consultation was that it would be wrong if some individuals were excluded from the Inquiry simply because their path of referral to an institution was different from someone else’s.”

The Catholic Church has appointed a new group to ensure it provides a co-ordinated and co-operative response to the Commission from all the many dioceses, congregations and institutions of the Church in this country.

I think the problem had become too difficult for the Catholic Church to deal with on their own – they had really stuffed up dealing with it for decades. So an independent inquiry has a much better chance of properly dealing with it.

The Anglican Archbishop Philip Richardson said he was also pleased the Government had responded positively to calls, including from the churches, to broaden the scope of inquiry.

“Our primary concern is for the needs of those whose lives have been impacted by abuse, and we are conscious that abuse has been perpetrated by agencies across our society, including the Church and its agencies.

Philip Richardson said justice must not only be done, but also be seen to be done.

There are still concerns over aspects of the scope of the inquiry.

The government said the commission would focus on cases between 1950 and 1999 with discretion to look outside of that time period.

Wellington-based human rights lawyer Sonja Cooper told Checkpoint her firm has more than 100 clients born after 1990 and their voice most likely would not be heard.

“They’re going to be concerned and some quite devastated by that,” she said.

“They’ve had their abusive experiences, they’re actually still suffering deeply from that.”

Ms Cooper said the the timeframe should be extended to 2017.

It seems odd that there are cut-off dates. The inquiry should be able to look at any abuse.

ODT:Abuse inquiry widened

Bishop Michael Dooley said yesterday he was “relieved” to hear children abused while in the care of faith-based institutions would now be included.

But:

The Roman Catholic Bishop of Dunedin says an expanded royal commission into the abuse of children may not go far enough.

That meant the victims of a paedophile priest like Fr Magnus Murray, convicted of abusing four Dunedin boys in family homes, the presbytery and on trips, could yet miss out. Bishop Dooley said if that was so, the inquiry needed to go further.

All parishioners were in the pastoral care of their priest, so any abused by clergy needed to be heard, he believed.

“I think it should be anyone under the pastoral care of the church.”

Yesterday’s announcement also followed a months-long investigation by ODT Insight, which has been exposing the extent of historic abuse within the Dunedin diocese.

The Royal Commission has a big job to do.

Inquiry into abuse of children in state care

The Labour Party has made a commitment to set up an inquiry into the historic abuse of children in state care, something National had refused to do when in government.

Labour Party:  Taking action in our first 100 days

Labour will hit the ground running in government, with a programme of work across housing, health, education, families, the environment and other priority areas.

  • Set up an inquiry into the abuse of children in state care

In February this year an open letter called for an inquiry:  Prominent Kiwis call for independent inquiry into claims of abuse of children in state care

Prominent Kiwis have banded together to demand an independent inquiry into the claims of sexual and physical abuse of children in state care.

The Human Rights Commission has spearheaded an open letter to the Government, published in today’s Herald, calling for a comprehensive inquiry and a public apology to those who were abused, and their families, in what is described as a dark chapter of our history.

Among the 29 signatories of what now underpins the “Never Again” petition to the Government are Race Relations Commissioner Dame Susan Devoy, Chief Human Rights Commissioner David Rutherford, Equal Employment Opportunities Commissioner and former National MP Jackie Blue, former Mental Health Foundation chief executive Judi Clements, and the Otago University dean of law, Professor Mark Henaghan.

The background to their call is:

• In 2001 the Government issued an apology and compensation to a group of former patients of the former Lake Alice psychiatric hospital, after a report by a retired judge who had interviewed them and found their claims credible.

• The issue spread to former patients of other asylums and the Government set up a confidential listening service for them to speak of the abuse they had suffered.

• Former state wards made claims for abuse in state care and a listening service was created for them.

• The head of that service, Judge Carolyn Henwood, recommended creating an independent body to resolve historic and current complaints.

• The Government last year rejected that recommendation.

Greens supported this letter and an inquiry: Greens support call for inquiry into state care

The Green Party backs today’s open letter from the Human Rights Commission and others calling for a government inquiry into the abuse of children in state care, and for a formal apology to be made to the victims.

“There is a growing list of organisations and people who are calling for a government inquiry into the abuse of children in the state’s care. It seems everyone but the Government realises that an inquiry and a formal apology are essential to helping the victims find some sense of closure, and to ensure that children in state care now and in the future are protected from abuse,” said Green Party social development spokesperson Jan Logie.

“The prominent New Zealanders signing this letter today have seen the effects and heard the evidence about the abuse of children in state care, and because of that they are calling for an inquiry and apology.

“Not every child in state care suffered abuse, but the fact that so many did means that it is crucial that there is accountability from the system that perpetrated this abuse.

NZ First MP Tracey Martin is now Minister for Children and was interviewed about an inquiry in the weekend – The Nation: Lisa Owen interviews Tracey Martin


Lisa Owen: Now, the new government’s committed to an inquiry into the abuse of children in state care. The move’s been welcomed, but there are few details that have been released so far. So how will it all work? We’re joined now by the new Minister for Children, New Zealand First’s Tracey Martin. Good morning, Minister.

So, the inquiry — what are you thinking? Will it have the power to compel witnesses?

Tracey Martin: And all of these details, unfortunately, are still to be worked through. So I’ve had two meetings with officials to clarify what are our options, what sort of inquiry will it be, will it have those sort of powers, who will we consult before we even scope out the cabinet paper, for example, to take it to cabinet. So at this stage, I can’t answer that question 100%.

Lisa Owen: It’s on your 100 day plan.

Tracey Martin: It’s on the Labour Party’s 100 day plan that this government will deliver, yes.

Lisa Owen: Yeah, and so you’re part of that.

Tracey Martin: Yes, we are.

Lisa Owen: So in terms of that, you’re running out of time to come up with these answers, so what are you thinking, though? If not having a solid idea, do you think it would be the best-case scenario to be able to compel witnesses?

Tracey Martin: It’s not something that I’ve traversed at the moment with the officials. The major priority that we had was actually around making sure that within the 100 days, so the 4th of February is the close-off date — 3rd, 4th of February is the close-off date that we’re talking about — that we will have in place a basis for an inquiry that will provide an opportunity for those who have been victims to come forward with comfort to be able to express their truth, to be able to be validated in that truth and to feel that they have received the justice and the validation that they need. So those are the things that have been the driving part of the conversations at this stage.

Lisa Owen: Okay, because the brief is to get it set up in the 100 days.

Tracey Martin: Yes, that’s right.

Lisa Owen: So will the inquiry have the scope to attribute blame?

Tracey Martin: Well, it’s one of those things. If you look at the Never Again campaign, that was never a driver. It wasn’t about finding somebody or something to hang some guilt on. It was about making sure that the truth was told, that we bravely face actions that took place in this country that harmed individuals and that those individuals received an apology.

Lisa Owen: But the victims want truth and accountability, so will there be accountability through this inquiry?

Tracey Martin: I guess what I’m driving at is basically saying that if you put out the truth, there are going to have to be recognition by the state that this is what happened to these people and they were under the care of the state at that time. If you’re asking me are there going to be people that are then going to be charged or held accountable through the justice system, I can’t make that statement, because I’m not in charge of the justice system.

Lisa Owen: What period will the inquiry investigate?

Tracey Martin: Well, at this stage, that’s part of the scoping that’s being done, and I don’t want to actually pre-empt that. There are at least 20 organisations that the officials are now talking to before we take a proposed scope to cabinet.

Lisa Owen: So you mentioned an apology. There will definitely be a formal apology from the government?

Tracey Martin: Again, I can’t make that commitment on behalf of the government. I can tell you where I’m coming from.

Lisa Owen: Yeah, tell me where you’re coming from.

Tracey Martin: So, where I’m coming from is if we stand in our truth and we bravely say, ‘This is the reality that happened to these New Zealanders under the care of the state,’ then the state has a responsibility to acknowledge that, to own it and therefore there should be an apology. But I don’t speak on behalf of the whole government. That has to go to cabinet.

Lisa Owen: Who do you think would be the appropriate person to make that apology, then?

Tracey Martin: I don’t know. I had this question asked of me on Te Karere as well. I don’t know. Because I’ve been in the job two weeks, let’s be clear. I don’t know whether it would be appropriate for a minister at my level, whether it should come from the Prime Minister, whether it should even be bigger than that.

Lisa Owen: What’s your gut feeling? Should it be the Prime Minister?

Tracey Martin: I think if we’re going to take responsibility for what is actually going to come out in this inquiry, and we have a very clear idea of the sort of the incidents that are going to be exposed, then it’s a very, very serious— it’s very serious acts that have taken place here, and I think it needs to be dealt with at the highest level.

Lisa Owen: So Prime Minister, then, in your view. So do you think that you will set up some kind of independent authority, a permanent independent authority, like the IPCA, to monitor treatment of kids in care and the actions of the ministry? Is that something you would like to see?

Tracey Martin: Yes, I think there is a need for that. I think it’s that transparency that we’re hoping to actually— Part of what Oranga Tamariki, the reason why it was set up by the previous government and part of the direction of travel it’s in now is to make sure that we are more transparent, that we are working more closely with our communities, that the voice of children is heard more often. And so an independent body whereby complaints can be taken, I think, would be a really good and transparent thing. It would help both the ministry and our children.

Lisa Owen: How much will is there to do that?

Tracey Martin: I think there’s quite strong will to do that.

Lisa Owen: So you’re quite confident you can get that over the line?

Tracey Martin: I think— Well, I’m fairly confident about my argumentative skills, so I believe that it would be in the best interest of children.

Lisa Owen: So Labour supports it, basically, is what I’m asking.

Tracey Martin: At this stage, again, I haven’t taken it to cabinet, but I believe the will is there to actually say there needs to be this level of transparency.