There is growing pressure to have an inquiry into historic abuse of children in state welfare. It is claimed this disproportionately affected Maori children and a claim for an inquiry has now been lodged with the Waitangi Tribunal.
Two weeks ago: Inquiry a ‘start’ in addressing institutional racism
Race Relations Commissioner Dame Susan Devoy believes children were more likely to be taken off their families and put into state homes if they were Māori.
Dame Susan and the Human Rights Commission want the Government to set up an inquiry into the historical abuse of children in state care.
Dame Susan said uplifting Māori children from their families for trivial reasons or no reason at all would be the very definition of institutional racism. Only an inquiry would determine whether the policy was racist.
People who had been in state care, experts and the homes themselves had said children were more likely to have been taken from Māori or poorer families, she said. If New Zealand was going to address institutional racism in all parts of society an inquiry would be a “really good place to start”.
Dame Susan said by the 1970s, almost half the children in state care were Māori, and a generation later more than half the prison population was Māori, many of them former wards of the state.
The government has racked up nearly $700,000 in legal fees fighting a compensation case over abuse that happened in state care.
The victim, known only as X, was sexually abused by another resident while a ward of the state in the early 2000s.
Documents show that over 18 months, the government spent $336,000 on Crown Law and $351,000 on external counsel.
Cooper Legal partner Amanda Hill, whose firm was acting for the victim, said the amount of compensation X will eventually get will not even come close to what the Crown is paying to fight the case.
That’s a quite sad use of money in one case, but it’s a much bigger issue.
The case was just one of 700 that Ms Hill’s firm was currently handling.
Ms Hill said it was one of several cases that were advancing towards a trial and the government was fighting hard to prevent that happening.
“The reason it’s doing [so] is because of the potential precedent effect of a court finding.”
Many of the cases on the firm’s books happened after 1990, when the Bill of Rights Act was passed, she said.
“It’s possible that a court would order significant damages if a breach of the Bill of Rights was found.”
The court costs associated with the current case could “easily” surpass $1 million, Ms Hill said.
The government set up a Confidential Listening and Assistance Service to hear from abuse victims, which wound up in June 2015.
Its chair, Judge Carolyn Henwood, made seven recommendations, including that an independent inquiry be set up to discover the extent of the abuse.
However, the government has repeatedly resisted opening an inquiry into historic abuse, questioning what it would achieve.
It is likely to achieve more than paying lawyers to fight claims.
There is also growing political pressure..
Last week ACT became the latest political party to support calls for an inquiry, putting National at odds with all three of its government support partners.
ACT leader David Seymour said he initially backed National’s position, but said he had changed his mind.
“Just getting more informed about what happened, the scale of the abuse, the number of people taken into custody… I think this is a question of public policy. It’s a question of justice. It’s a question of the government not being above the law.”
The National Party is alone in resisting.
A claim calling for an independent inquiry into state welfare abuse that disproportionately affected Māori has been lodged with the Waitangi Tribunal.
It has been filed on behalf of three claimants by Auckland firm Te Mata Law, assisted by Auckland University law school lecturer Andrew Erueti.
Mr Erueti said the claim asked for an independent inquiry to find out why so many Maori children were put in welfare homes where they suffered abuse.
He wants the claim heard under urgency because the current government response is inadequate, he says, and many victims are now elderly.
The claim is the Crown had failed to provide Māori with an independent means to address abuse of children in state institutions.
It says there is an incomplete understanding of the policies and practices that led to the majority of children in state institutions being Māori, the abuse they suffered, and how it has affected successive generations.
“Looking at the evidence that’s been pulled together by scholars who have looked at this closely over the years, academics in the universities and the historians, it seems quite clear that while there was not [an] express policy that Maori be picked up and taken into state care, they were singled out for special treatment,” Mr Erueti said.
“Greater attention was directed at Māori families and their children.”
The objective of the claim is for the government to hold an independent inquiry that takes into consideration the impact on Māori.
This is escalating because the Government has failed to respond adequately, in fact it has responded poorly.
This is an odd and disappointing situation for National to have got themselves into. Abused children, especially with their issues left not just unaddressed but opposed, are at high risk of becoming a burden to the State – but regardless of that they deserve to be at least partly helped by the State that abused them.