Ireland abortion vote puts New Zealand law to shame

Ireland has just resoundingly voted to modernise their abortion law, giving women the choice the should have.

This highlights New Zealand’s shameful persistence with law that is not fit for purpose to the extent that it is virtually ignored in practice, although it forces women into a demeaning process.

We should add abortion to the referendum list for next year, along with personal use of cannabis and euthanasia.

The last Government was not interested in addressing the abortion anomaly.

Abortion was not addressed in either the Labour-NZ First or Labour-Green governing agreements.

However Jacinda Ardern campaigned against the current law – Abortion ‘shouldn’t be a crime’ (September 2017):

Labour leader Jacinda Ardern says abortion should not be in the Crimes Act and she would change the law.

Access to abortion is governed by the Crimes Act 1961 and the Contraception, Sterilisation and Abortion Act 1977.

“It shouldn’t be in the Crimes Act. People need to be able to make their own decision. People need to be able to make their own decisions. I want women who want access to be able to have it as a right.”

At the same time Bill English supported the law as it is but also supported a conscience vote:

Prime Minster Bill English, a conservative Catholic, said he supported the law as it was and he would be opposed to liberalisation. He described the current set-up, where a woman has to get a certificate from two separate medical professionals saying she needed an abortion, was “broadly acceptable” and was working.

However, English said it would be a “conscience decision”, so his MP could vote freely on it.

Why not let the people vote on it?

February 2018: Labour moves to legalise abortion

Andrew Little surprised observers today when he revealed that a draft referral on reforming New Zealand’s abortion law had been circulated to New Zealand First and the Greens. Little said today that he received a letter from Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern after the coalition was formed directing him to begin the process of reforming the law.

Once the two parties give feedback, the referral will be sent to the Law Commission to make a recommendation.

New Zealand is not just out of step with modern law, it is also out of step with modern practices.

New Zealand is an outlier among OECD countries for the time it takes to get an abortion and the way abortions are provided to patients.

In New Zealand, a patient must be referred to two specialists to sign-off on the abortion. If one refuses, the woman may need to find a third specialist. The average time from referral to procedure is 25 days.

In other countries the it can take just a week from referral to procedure. This makes it more likely for New Zealand patients to require a surgical, rather than a medical abortion, as they have passed the nine week mark.

In New Zealand, only 15 percent of abortions are medical abortions. By contrast, 62 percent of abortions in the UK are medical abortions and 45 percent of abortions performed before nine weeks (two-thirds of the total number) in the United States are medical abortions.

Terry Bellamak, President of the Abortion Law Reform Association…

…said that she would like to see abortion wiped from the Crimes Act and the restrictive grounds for abortion abolished.

Currently, abortion can be granted on the grounds that the pregnancy is a risk to the physical or mental health of the mother; that there is a substantial risk the child will be seriously handicapped; that the pregnancy is a result of incest; or that the woman is deemed to be “severely subnormal”.

Bellamak said she would like New Zealand’s law to be reformed along the lines of Canada.

“Canada has absolutely no abortion laws and no regulations around abortion. They simply trust women,” she said.

Andrew Little refused to give much detail on what reform might look like…

…but suggested it might be broader than taking abortion out of the Crimes Act.

“There are more issues than just what’s in the Crimes Act … it’s also the hurdles that have been put in the way of women who are faced with making that decision”.

The vote would be a conscience vote, meaning MPs would be given the ability to vote freely without following a party line.

Why not a people vote, in a referendum along with cannabis and euthanasia?

Ardern and Little support reform.

Greens have actively campaigned on reform: Abortion – it’s time to decriminalise

The Green Party supports the decriminalisation of abortion because we trust women to make decisions that are best for them and their whānau/family. We want to ensure equal access to all potential options are available to pregnant women.

We want to change the abortion laws because:

  • The fact that 99% of abortions are approved on ‘mental health’ grounds reveals the dishonesty of the current legal situation.
  • The time taken to see two consultants means abortions happen later in the pregnancy. This is more dangerous for the woman, and it makes it difficult to access medical abortions (those which are conducted using medicine rather than surgery), which can only be performed at under 9 weeks’ gestation.
  • Rape (sexual violation) is not grounds for abortion under NZ law.
  • To reduce the stigma and judgement that happens over the reasons a woman chooses to have an abortion (e.g. rape being seen as more justified grounds for abortion than poverty).
  • Abortion’s continuing criminal status helps reinforce geographical variations in access to abortion services.
  • The current laws are discriminatory towards people with disabilities.

We also want to change the presumption that currently exists within medical culture and wider society, encouraged by the wording in the legislation, that if there is a significant disability diagnosis then an abortion is assumed to be desirable.

While English supported an MP conscience vote on abortion Simon Bridges could be different. In February when he became National leader:

Bridges told Mediaworks abortion should be “rare, safe and legal and I think the emphasis there is on rare. I think that’s where the vast majority of New Zealanders are”.

If that’s his view I think Bridges is out of touch with new Zealand.

Vice have noted he: “Voted to appoint a doctor strongly opposed to abortion to the Abortion Supervisory Committee.”

In principle NZ First supports people deciding things by referendum. In March last year Tracey Martin pointed this out in Politically, Abortion change rests with NZ First so what does that look like?

What’s our view on abortion legislation?

Abortions should be safe, legal and rare.

We have a policy of citizen-initiated binding referendum, held at the same time as a general election – a policy we have had for 23 years – this is one of those issues for such a referendum. It should not be decided by temporarily empowered politicians but by the public.

We need a 12 to 18 month conversation around this issue and then let the people have their say.

Topics that we would be suggest be associated with this discussion would include: Moving the issue from the Criminal Act to the Health Act, ensuring women get the best possible advice, getting more research into “why” women find themselves needing to seek this service and how can we assist them to avoid having to seek this service.

It makes more sense to me to have a referendum a year before the election. It separates issues decided from the politics of general elections, and is a very good way of engaging the public in democracy.

 

Ardern, Martin harshly criticised over possible closure of residential children’s service

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern promised making it a priority to address ‘vulnerable children’, as has Minister for Children Tracey Martin. Both have been harshly criticised over the possible closure of a village providing services for vulnerable children in Roxburgh – this has been around as long as i can remember, it used to be called the Roxburgh Health Camp.

ODT add to the criticism: Not too late to keep promise

The Prime Minister stands accused of breaking a promise and there would seem some foundation in the accusation.

Labour campaigned on policies aimed at improving the lives of children and, once elected, the focus on social policy was heavy: pledges to end child poverty, provide affordable housing, change parts of the welfare system, improve health delivery, lift the incomes of the “working poor”.

The Stand Children’s Services Roxburgh children’s village — tasked with changing the lives of vulnerable children who have suffered trauma — is sadly familiar with the social and health ills Jacinda Ardern has pledged to fix.

The village’s possible closure, announced last month because of a shortfall in funding, flies in the face of the promise of social focus from Ms Ardern, and the Prime Minister and Minister for Children, Tracey Martin, came in for harsh criticism at a public meeting held in Roxburgh last week to try to stop the closure of the village.

The Labour-led Government said it was serious about the children of New Zealand, but instead had “fallen at the first fence”, Teviot Valley Community Board chairman Raymond Gunn said.

Ms Ardern has been conspicuously silent about the village, refusing to comment about its future, passing the buck instead to Mrs Martin.

Such silence smacked of a “guilty conscience”, Roxburgh staff member and New Zealand Public Service Association delegate Carol Hastie said.

The Roxburgh village helps 380 children a year, and they are some of the nation’s most vulnerable.Luckily, most people cannot imagine the kinds of trauma that means a child needs to be sent to an intensive, residential, wrap-around service such as the Stand children’s village.

But for the children who have ended up there, through no fault of their own, the village can literally change lives.

It has done for decades.

Southern social service agencies have said there is no equivalent to the residential Stand service for the children who need it.

Stand chief executive Dr Fiona Inkpen says if the Roxburgh village closes, children will suffer, and fall through the cracks.

But all are also reminding of the loss of 31 jobs in Roxburgh if the children’s village closes.

If it was in the Dunedin North electorate then Minister of Health David Clark may have more of an interest in it.

Perhaps this is a service that has been overlooked in funding guidelines. Ardern could front up and address this anomaly, but unfortunately she is getting a bit of a record for avoiding awkward issues.

 

 

30% increase in funding for family violence services

One pre-budget announcement, a 30% increase in funding for family violence services, is long overdue.In dollar terms it isn’t a lot, but it is critical that much more is done to reduce both family violence and the effects of family violence.

I think it is one thing that was genuinely neglected by the National led government.

Significant funding boost for family violence services

Social services dealing most directly with the harm caused by family violence will get much needed support as the Government boosts funding to front line agencies for the first time in ten years.

“Nearly half of those receiving the increase are women’s refuges who provide vital support keeping women and children safe,” said Minister for Social Development Carmel Sepuloni.

“The 30 percent increase in funding is critical to the Government’s efforts to begin to turn around New Zealand’s tragic family violence record.

“Additional funding in 2019/20 will enable these critical front line agencies to expand into areas where there isn’t currently any support or start addressing over demand in existing services.

“Family violence has a damaging, yet often hidden, impact on victims’ lives including their ability to work and lead a normal life,” Carmel Sepuloni said.

Through Budget 2018, the Government is allocating an additional $76.157 million over four years to support the delivery of Ministry of Social Development-funded family violence services for victims, perpetrators and their families.

Carmel Sepuloni said, “This funding will provide a boost to around 150 providers of family violence services nationwide.”

This has benefits across portfolios.

 Jan Logie, Under-Secretary to the Minister of Justice on Domestic and Sexual Violence Issues, also welcomed the new funding.

“This funding is an important first step, supporting organisations which do vital work but have been stretched to breaking point,” Jan Logie said.

“As we get started on the broader work of challenging and responding to family and sexual violence, it’s crucial that victims and their families are able to get the support they need now. Because they can’t wait.”

Minister for Children Tracey Martin said Budget 2018 funding would have an impact right across New Zealand.

“The announcement delivers on the Coalition Agreement between Labour and New Zealand First to increase funding in this area,” Tracey Martin said.

Family violence feeds general societal violence, so it is critical it is reduced and dealt with more effectively.

I don’t care whether this funding was promised during the campaign, negotiated when the Government was put together, or has come later. Better funding to address awful amounts of family violence is something that had to happen.

Jenny Marcroft tainted but protected (so far)

Serious allegations were made against rookie NZ First MP Jenny Marcroft. Claiming she was under the instruction of a Government Minister she threatened National MP Mark Mitchell.

After Mitchell went public her party leader Winston Peters remarkably instructed her to apologise, something he is unfamiliar with doing, and put it down to ‘a misunderstanding’.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said she sought assurance from all NZ First ministers – Peters, Ron Mark, Shane Jones and Tracey Martin – that they were not involved and has accepted their denials.

RNZ: Nats out for blood over Marcroft-Mitchell dust-up

Mr Mitchell said NZ First MP Jenny Marcroft told him over the weekend to stop supporting a project in his Rodney electorate if he wanted it to get public funding.

He said he was also asked for an assurance National would not ask questions about the Mahurangi River Restoration Project in Parliament if it went ahead.

“Ms Marcroft told me this was because the government was unhappy with me revealing the illegitimate use of Defence Force aircraft by Defence Minister Ron Mark.”

Speaking to RNZ, Mr Mitchell said Ms Marcroft – who entered Parliament last year – had revealed she was acting on behalf of an unnamed minister.

Ms Marcroft declined to comment when contacted by RNZ, but New Zealand First leader Winston Peters said in a statement Mr Mitchell had “misunderstood her underlying point”.

“After the conversation had got out of hand [Ms Marcroft] consulted with me late on Saturday afternoon and was advised by me to issue an apology,” said Mr Peters.

“Ms Marcroft was not under instructions by any NZ First Ministers regarding funding … New Zealand First does not seek to constrain opposition MPs from criticism of the government.”

That is not a full denial that a Minister was involved – “not under instructions by any NZ First Ministers regarding funding”.

It is a very big stretch to think that Marcroft, the most junior NZ First MP, would do anything like this one her own. It is also a stretch to believe that Peters was not in the know to some extent, given his influence and control in NZ First.

Mr Mitchell rejected the response and said he had yet to receive an apology.

“There was certainly no misunderstanding at all … I was very, very clear on the message I’d been given and I was also very clear with Jenny with what I thought about that.”

He said the only response he’d had from NZ First was a text message from Ms Marcroft an hour after the meeting at Orewa Surf Club.

“Hi Mark, on reflection I have considered the substance of our conversation to be incorrect and would therefore ask that you kindly disregard it. Thank you for your generosity in this matter.”

That’s remarkable – not an apology, but also not a denial. It appears that, at best, Marcroft ‘misunderstood’ instructions from someone in NZ First and then retracted.

Stuff: Junior NZ First MP trying to use Govt fund to heavy Opposition ‘acting alone’ – PM

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said she had sought assurances from every NZ First Minister that they had not sent NZ First MP Jenny Marcroft to do their bidding, when she threatened Mitchell that funding for a local river restoration project would be in doubt if he did not cease his involvement.

Ardern said the matter had been resolved and she would not be looking into it further.

She has said that as she is satisfied that a Minister wasn’t involved it is not her problem, it’s a NZ First matter. It is still a serious matter.

Ardern was questioned about it in Parliament yesterday by Simon Bridges.

Hon Simon Bridges: Was the discussion where the Prime Minister “sought assurances” from Tracey Martin regarding Jenny Marcroft and the provincial growth fund carried out by her in person; if not, how was it carried out?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: The member will know from the sequence of events that I outlined that I intended to seek assurances from each member on the Tuesday morning.

Hon Simon Bridges: Intended?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Yes, at that point, I hadn’t done that. Immediately after, I phoned each of those Ministers and spoke with them directly. Of course, the phone was a quicker way for me to be able to do that.

Hon Simon Bridges: So how long was that phone call with Tracey Martin?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Seeking an assurance from a Minister that they were not involved in a situation doesn’t take that long.

Hon Simon Bridges: Has the Prime Minister or her office done any further checks to corroborate Tracey Martin’s version of events?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: I take Ministers who work within Cabinet at their word, as, I’m sure, the leader takes his members at their word. That is how Cabinet operates.

Paula Bennett also asked Winston Peters about the matter.

Hon Paula Bennett: Why did the Deputy Prime Minister put out a statement on Monday under the heading of “Deputy Prime Minister” when now we are informed that he has no responsibility for the content?

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: I think, with precision, I was seeking to help out my friend Mr Mitchell and make sure he was on the straight and narrow.

Hon Paula Bennett: So what does he mean, then, by saying that Mr Mitchell needs to be on the straight and narrow?

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: Ah yes, well, given how wide the parameters of behaviour are in that party, I know that’s a great stricture, but what I’m really trying to ensure is that he gets the correct story before he wantonly goes public with it.

Hon Paula Bennett: So the question is, then: what is the correct story when he was approached by a member of the Deputy Prime Minister’s party who informed him that he had been sent by a Minister; so is the correct story that he was sent by one of your Ministers?

Mr SPEAKER: No, I can deal with that very, very easily. The responsibility for the member of the party is not that of the Deputy Prime Minister, and responsibility for the Minister is not either. That is the responsibility of the Prime Minister, but there is no ministerial responsibility for the actions of backbench members of Parliament.

Hon Paula Bennett: What was the underlying point that he refers to frequently, and what is the message that Mr Mark needed to get on Saturday afternoon?

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: The underlying point would have been that this was about a conversation to do with the provincial growth fund; that because of the previous Government having thrown Warkworth and Wellsford against their wishes into the super-city, they could not qualify; but that because we are an open-minded party it would not pre-empt us trying to see our way through it in the future to help the people from Warkworth. [Interruption] But it’s what I’m saying and it’s a fact.

Hon Paula Bennett: Does he still believe that “transparency and openness” is the middle name of this Government, as he’s said previously, when both Minister Tracey Martin and MP Jenny Marcroft avoid media questions?

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: Mr Speaker—

Mr SPEAKER: No, no, the member cannot answer it, because he—I don’t care if he wants to. The member cannot answer it because that is not an area that he has any ministerial responsibility for.

It is obvious where National are looking for responsibility for Marcroft’s approach to Mitchell.

If a National back bencher had done anything like what Marcroft had done while in government it is easy to imagine how Peters would have acted.  Typically he would have implied he had evidence, he would have demanded resignations, and he would have pursued the matter for some time.

National may be taking there time with this. Marcroft has not been held to account properly yet, and if someone did instruct her then there is more holding to account would be appropriate.

This is potentially a far more serious matter than the Curran meeting, but which took most of the media’s attention yesterday.

This may or may not be a Government problem, but regardless, it adds to an appearance of the coalition government being out of control. With the other problems Ardern is having to deal with, and some of them not very well, this could end up being a big deal early in their term of government.

I wouldn’t be surprised if National took this further in Question Time today. I also wouldn’t be surprised if Tracey Martin found she had more important ministerial business elsewhere.

New deputy predicted for NZ First

There has never been any doubt who will lead NZ First while Winston Peters remains an MP, but the deputy spot is less secure. In 2015 Ron Mark got the numbers to oust Tracey Martin, but it looks like the knives are out for Mark, with the position up for a caucus vote next week.

Martin and Shane Jones appear to be too busy to consider going for it, so it looks like the way is open to Fletcher Tabuteau to take on some more responsibility.

Stuff: NZ First deputy leader Ron Mark looks set to be rolled at caucus on Tuesday

They say what goes around comes around and in Ron Mark’s case he’ll be hoping that’s not the case.

Mark rose to be NZ First’s deputy leader in 2015 after he challenged Tracey Martin and got enough support in the caucus to roll her.

But the party’s deputy leadership is up for grabs again on Tuesday and it’s understood the job is NZ First MP Fletcher Tabuteau’s – if he wants it.

Tabuteau was fourth on the NZ First list last election, behind Peters, Mark and Martin (Jones was 8th).

Mark need not worry about Martin, whose popularity amongst colleagues exceeds his, as it’s understood she’s not interested in the job due to her heavy ministerial workload.

NZ First new-comer but old-timer in terms of political experience, Shane Jones, has long been touted to take over the leadership from Winston Peters if he ever decided to throw it all in and head to Whananaki to retire.

But he’s not interested in the job either – he says he’s got one billion trees to plant and a $1 billion regional economic fund to spend, which would keep him far too busy for anything else.

So it looks like a contest between Mark and Tabuteau, if Mark doesn’t read the writing on the wall and say he’s too busy being a minister.

While he (Jones) says it’s not a “priority” for him to be deputy leader and in the short term he has a “hell of a role” he possibly also doesn’t see the deputy job as any sort of assumed stepping stone to the leadership.

 

Inquiry into abuse in state care

For a long time abuses of children in state care has been a serious and unresolved problem.

As promised by Labour (Taking action in our first 100 days), the Government has launched an overdue inquiry into these abuses.


Inquiry into abuse in state care

A Royal Commission of Inquiry into historical abuse in state care has been announced by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Minister of Internal Affairs Tracey Martin today.

“We have a huge responsibility to look after everyone, particularly our children in state care. Any abuse of children is a tragedy, and for those most vulnerable children in state care, it is unconscionable.

“Today we are sending the strongest possible signal about how seriously we see this issue by setting up a Royal Commission of Inquiry,” says Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

“This is a chance to confront our history and make sure we don’t make the same mistakes again. It is a significant step towards acknowledging and learning from the experiences of those who have been abused in state care”.

A Royal Commission is a form of public inquiry. It has the same legal powers as other public inquiries, but is generally reserved for the most serious issues of public importance.

Former Governor-General, Rt Hon Sir Anand Satyanand, will chair the Royal Commission.

“The independence and integrity of the inquiry and the process it follows are critical and Sir Anand has the mana, skills and experience necessary to lead this work. The process will be responsive to the needs of victims and survivors and support them to tell their stories,” says Jacinda Ardern.

Minister Martin said that the draft terms of reference approved by Cabinet task the Royal Commission with looking into what abuse happened in state care, why it happened and what the impacts were, particularly for Māori. They also ask the Commission to identify lessons that can be learned from this abuse today.

“We have set a wide scope. The time period covered is the 50 years from 1950 to the end of 1999 and, unlike some similar overseas inquiries, the Royal Commission will take a broad view of abuse and consider physical, sexual and emotional abuse and neglect,” says Minister Martin.

The ‘state care’ definition covers circumstances where the state directly ran institutions such as child welfare institutions, borstals or psychiatric hospitals, and where the government contracted services out to other institutions.

“We know this is an issue that has affected not only people who were abused in state care, but their families, whānau and wider communities too. It is therefore crucial that members of the public, including victims and survivors, have a chance to have their say,” Minister Martin says.

The Minister said that Sir Anand’s first task was to consult on the draft terms of reference for the Royal Commission. “We want people to have their say before we even start.”

The draft terms of reference provide for the Inquiry to provide its final report within the current Parliamentary term and a process for agreeing to any extensions to reporting deadlines if needed. They also authorise the Inquiry to make interim findings or recommendations and consider ways of working that will ensure public understanding of its work.

Following the consultation period, Cabinet will make a final decision on the terms of reference, the additional Inquiry members and the final budget for the Inquiry.

The Inquiry, which is formally established today, will start considering evidence once the terms of reference are finalised and published.

For the Inquiry: royalcommission.statecare@dia.govt.nz

More information can be found athttp://www.dia.govt.nz/Royal-Commission-into-Historical-Abuse-in-State-Care

 

Ministry no longer for ‘vulnerable children’

1 News: Ministry for Vulnerable Children today drops ‘vulnerable’ from its name

The name change for Oranga Tamariki-Ministry for Children, dropping the word “vulnerable”, officially takes effect today.

Good riddance to a stupid name.

Changing names of ministries can be costly and of dubious benefit, but “Ministry for Vulnerable Children, Oranga Tamariki” was awful and unpopular. I don’t know if anyone but the last Government supported or liked it.

Children’s Minister Tracey Martin says what the ministry does is far more important than its name.

“However, we want the Ministry’s name to reflect that we have aspirations for all children and young people.”

Ms Martin says Oranga Tamariki is only nine months old and it has to focus on its core work – improving the quality and range of care available to children most in need, lifting social work standards and improving youth justice outcomes.

But she says over the Government’s term, Oranga Tamariki-Ministry for Children will widen its view.

“We want a plan and measures in place so that as a country we make sure that we are doing the right thing for all of our kids.”

All children are vulnerable – that’s why they have parents caring for them. Some are more vulnerable than others. But labelling some of them ‘vulnerable’ was a silly idea.

It may have been more accurate describing them as ‘Children in Unfortunate Circumstances’, or Children With Crap Parents’.

We have a Ministry of Health rather than a Ministry for Sick and Dying People.

But Ministry names are best kept simple.

The name change to Oranga Tamariki-Ministry for Children is sensible.

On canning Kidscan funding

RNZ: KidsCan may lose govt funding: ‘Children will go hungry’

The charity, which has been in operation for 12 years, provides food, clothing and healthcare to 168,000 children across 700 New Zealand schools.

Executive Julie Chapman told Checkpoint with John Campbell she was told last week by Oranga Tamariki / Ministry for Children that it would lose its government funding – $350,000 worth – on 1 July next year.

Welcome change to Ministry for Children

I don’t know whose idea it was to rename the Ministry of Child Youth and Family to something stupid earlier this year, but in a small but welcome change the Ministry for Children is being renamed again.

NZH: Ministry for Vulnerable Children to be renamed

The Ministry for Vulnerable Children will be renamed with the word “vulnerable” being dropped, while legislation to help lift children out of poverty will be introduced on Thursday.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern made the announcements at her post-Cabinet press conference this afternoon, with Minister for Children Tracey Martin and Finance Minister Grant Robertson alongside her.

Ardern said the ministry, over time, would look to extend its reach beyond just the 5600-odd children in state care.

“A child who lives in poverty won’t necessarily come into contact with those social workers that work in Oranga Tamariki [the Ministry For Children], but we want the ministry to have regard to their well-being as well.”

Martin said dropping the word “vulnerable” from signs would take 12 months. The word had had a negative impact on children and the ministry’s workers.

The name was like having a Ministry of Sick and Dying People, Or a Ministry of Bleeding Taxpayers.

“What the children have told us, and social workers in the last six weeks have told us, is that that word actually stigmatised those children,” she said.

One small step for the Government, and a few more thousand dollars down the gurgler, but a welcome change.

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.