SPEECH: Children, Young Persons, and Their Families (Oranga Tamariki) Legislation Bill — First Reading, Marama Fox (Co-Leader for the Māori Party)
Tuesday, 13 December 2016
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This weekend my son Whatahoro marries his love, Matariki, at our marae at Hurunui o Rangi. It is home. Home: the place of our hearts; the place where our hearts return; the centre of our heritage and history; and the basis of all we are.
The dictionary definition of “home” is a “social unit formed by family living together; a familiar or usual setting; a place of origin”. It is, therefore, with the thought of home that I come to this legislation, the Children, Young Persons and their Families (Oranga Tamariki) Legislation Bill.
At the centre of the ceremonies this weekend will be my mokopuna. Although just a babe, he is surrounded by a loving legacy of Kahungunu and Whanganui. His waiata is sung to him, and already he understands the distinctive mita of his relations, the sacred spaces, and the stories that are his.
I contrast the situation for my moko with that of a young man speaking of his experiences in care, and I quote: “For my first 5 years in care I was beaten every day. I experienced fear every day. The day after the funeral of my father I was picked up and placed in a new home. It took 12 years of letter writing to find my sister. There would be a standard 2 to 3 weeks’ delay to contact a social worker. I would disclose to the social worker, then go home and get beaten up again.”
No child anywhere, in any care, should have to live through such abuse. Safety must never be compromised. In exactly the same vein, no child should ever be disconnected from the very essence of who they are. Mana tamariki, whakapapa, and the love and connection of whānau are absolutely fundamental to a child’s ability to grow into a strong, confident, healthy adult.
If there is one group of New Zealanders that deserves our utmost respect, it is those young people who were brave enough to speak of their experience to the expert panel last year.
One of the most compelling pieces of evidence associated with the expert panel’s final report was a postcard from a Youth Advisory Panel member. One half of the postcard was a design with three simple words: “I am Māori.” The other half contained a letter, and I am going to quote that letter: “Dear Anne Tolley. When you read the final report over Christmas, I’d like you to think about the importance of keeping whānau connections, to keep the child’s identity intact and supply them with the support needed to do so. This is important, as a child should know where they are from, where they come from, and know that there people out there who love them. This identity is not just where the child comes from and what culture they are; it is everything that makes them who they are.”
There is nothing more important to tangata whenua than to know where they come from—who we are, what our connections are, and where we belong. In this respect, we are proud of and positive about the new purposes of the bill that recognise mana tamaiti or tamariki, whakapapa, and whanaungatanga of the Māori children and young persons, but—and it is a major “but”—there is a particular word that appears over and over again throughout the bill that diminishes the intent of these very significant words.
The bill promotes a child-centred approach that is culturally authentic, and successful in delivering improved outcomes for Māori children, young persons, and whānau. That is great—that is great—until we get to Part 1, clause 8, when we learn that “the informal networks and supports of a child or young person and their family are acknowledged and, where practicable, utilised.” Excuse me? When is it not practicable to understand the value and birth right—the genealogical connection, the power of the family connection—to our children? Then we are told that “the importance of whakapapa and whanaungatanga is recognised by ensuring that wherever possible, their whānau, hapū, and iwi can participate in those decisions.” But later on, in Part 1, clause 13, it says: “where a child or young person is at risk of being removed from their immediate family, whānau, or usual caregivers, the child’s or young person’s usual caregivers, family, whānau, hapū, iwi, and family group should, unless it is unreasonable or impracticable in the circumstances, be assisted to enable them to provide a safe, stable, and loving home”—as if those two things can be separated.
I thought we were putting the child at the centre. I thought we were listening to the child and making it most important that everything they need is contained in their care and protection. But only when it is practicable or reasonable or appropriate? We did fight very hard, for the last 6 months, to even have these words put in the bill—“whakapapa, whanaungatanga, mana tamariki”—only to have them qualified by “practicable”, weakened by “appropriate”, and given some sort of determination by “when reasonable”.
There is a really significant, new responsibility introduced in the bill that broadens and clarifies the duties of the chief executive to provide a practical commitment to the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi. There are no provisos, no qualifiers, not “when practicable”, but always. It is always important that a child has the right and the ability to know who they are, what their identity is, and from the mouths of the children themselves, they have said so. Practicable denotes capable of doing something if the circumstances are favourable, being viable, feasible—all well and good. But we know that whenever there is legislative flexibility, so too will officialdom exercise that flexibility.
Resources—children’s needs are paramount. If the question of resourcing is associated with understanding whether a certain action is practicable, about finding their whakapapa and their whānau connections, we all know what the decision makers will do.
If there is any indecisive hesitancy, we, as the Māori Party, cannot support this bill to the first reading if somebody is going to question “Do I have enough time? Is there enough resource? Am I going to spend too much time filling in a piece of paper to bother to find this children’s whānau?”
If mana tamaiti, whakapapa and whanaungatanga stand for something, then it will and must be done. We cannot be drawn into a debate about bureaucracy, about whether there is enough time, and about whether, in all reasonable circumstances, we should give heed to that message. It is part of who we are. It is intrinsic in every part of us. When we strip that away from our tamariki, when we go to place them, forever, with another family—and we might promote their whakapapa, so I can give you a book about it and a picture, because that is promoting. Or do I need to recognise and provide for? The little words in this bill are significant and important, and yes, the Māori Party has sat at the table and we have done everything.
There would not be a Treaty clause in this bill had we not been at that table. For some people in the National Government, they might think that that would be better. But if 63 percent of Māori children make up the children in Child, Youth and Family (CYF) care, if 63 percent of those children are Māori, if 71 percent of the children, young people, in prison are Māori, we are the mainstream. We should not have a Māori issues paper on the side, to decide what we might do or might not do. The entire make-up, the entire structure, the entire rebuild of CYF needs to be done in accordance with Māori principles.
What has happened is a systematic failure, where even the Children’s Commissioner said that some of those children would have been better off staying in their abusive families, than going into CYF care. In fact, going into CYF care has been detrimental to them. They are more likely to fall out of school without a qualification, more likely to be arrested, more likely to be incarcerated, and more likely to be abused in State care. That is double jeopardy. We cannot repeat the tragedy of the past.
We cannot have a new stolen generation by removing links to whakapapa in this new design. It was not Māori families that failed all of their children; the system has failed all of their children. Lastly, I want to say it is not a question of a safe, loving, stable home or a Māori home, as if they are not mutually exclusive.
We cannot support this bill.