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Oranga Tamariki oversight: Minister Carmel Sepuloni defends changes amid widespread opposition

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Social Development Minister Carmel Sepuloni. Photo / Alex Burton

Labour is defending plans to overhaul oversight of Oranga Tamariki despite the vast majority of submitters, many of them state care “survivors”, and every other political party opposing them.

Parliament’s social services select committee heard hundred of submissions on the Oversight of Oranga Tamariki System and Children and Young People’s Commission Bill, most of which opposed it.

The bill would set up an independent monitor for Oranga Tamariki within the Education Review Office – currently, it is within the Ministry of Social Development.

It would also replace the current Children’s Commissioner position with a Children and Young Person’s Commission, and expand the investigative powers of the Ombudsman.

Many submissions suggested the powers of the Children’s Commissioner were being weakened because outspoken former commissioner Andrew Becroft had annoyed the Government so much.

Te Pāti Māori co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Te Pāti Māori co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Some are also concerned it will be passed before the Royal Commission into Abuse in State Care has finished.

After hearing submissions, the committee recommended in a report released last week that as well as a board, a chairperson of the board should be appointed who would be known as the Chief Children’s Commissioner.

National, Act, the Greens and Te Pāti Māori are not satisfied and have all called for the bill to be halted.

In the House today Social Development Minister Carmel Sepuloni faced a grilling from MPs over the changes.

Te Pāti Māori co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer asked the Minister about comments from Hāpai Te Hauora, who said the changes could “perpetuate the harms and dysfunction of the current Oranga Tamariki system at disproportionate and irreparable rates”.

Sepuloni said she did not agree, and the bill would do “the complete opposite”.

“[What] this bill will do is ensure we have independent monitoring, strong advocacy, and accessible complaints system in order to ensure Government is held accountable, so we start to actually see real change for our children and young people who are in the system now.”

Green Party children spokeswoman Jan Logie. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Green Party children spokeswoman Jan Logie. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Green Party spokeswoman for children Jan Logie asked about the widespread concerns, including from state care survivors’ network Voyce Whakarongo Mai, who said, “The Government has not listened to a single recommendation from young people with lived experience … These young people have been effectively silenced, and the new systems outlined by the Bill is designed to further muffle and weaken their voices.”

Sepuloni said the process for the bill began in 2018 and there had been engagement with children and young people all across the country.

There were also recommendations and insights from the Kāhui Group – Māori leaders – and the 22 hui across the country.

“The only area where I do see a difference, with regards to what we received in terms of feedback and what is in the bill, is with respect to the form of the Independent Children’s Monitor,” Sepuloni said.

“Yes, they asked for a Crown entity; where we have landed is a departmental agency hosted by the Education Review Office (ERO).

“It still has the level of independence that we were all seeking. If the Independent Children’s Monitor, when it sits within ERO, decides to investigate something or monitor something, the Government can’t tell it otherwise, and the select committee have made sure that they’ve strengthened the language in the bill to ensure that that is clear and it is in the legislation.”

The Green Party submitted a minority report and said the bill should be withdrawn until the final report of the Royal Commission into Abuse in State Care.

The bill passed its first reading in November last year and is not expected to have its second reading until late July at the earliest.

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