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‘Stab in the back’ state abuse survivor urges against repealing Oranga Tamariki Treaty commitments

Demelza Jackson ,
Publish Date
Fri, 19 Apr 2024, 7:14am
Tupua Urlich. Photo / Supplied
Tupua Urlich. Photo / Supplied

‘Stab in the back’ state abuse survivor urges against repealing Oranga Tamariki Treaty commitments

Demelza Jackson ,
Publish Date
Fri, 19 Apr 2024, 7:14am

The Government is being accused of turning its back on Māori survivors of abuse in state care, as it looks to strip te Tiriti from the Oranga Tamariki Act.

One survivor told Newstalk ZB the legislation set to be repealed is deeply important, as it’s the only law which prioritises the whakapapa of children in care.

“Whānau means more than mum, dad and uncles – we have a wider hapū and iwi. There is no way the state can turn around and say there is no one safe enough to look after these children.”

An urgent Waitangi Tribunal inquiry is underway into the repeal of Section 7AA, which sets down the Ministry for Children’s duty to improve outcomes for tamariki Māori.

The change is part of the Act Party’s coalition deal with National.

Act leader David Seymour said that section has led to Māori children being uplifted from loving homes due to the ethnicity of the carers.

“The Tribunal seems to think that’s okay. I call it race fanaticism.”

Yesterday, Seymour took his criticism of the Tribunal further after it attempted to summon Children’s Minister Karen Chhour for a please explain over the Government’s moves.

“No wonder some people think they’re past their use-by date. Perhaps they should be wound up for their own good,” Seymour, a senior Cabinet Member, said.

That narrative is being challenged by Tupua Urlich (Ngāti Kahungunu) – a former ward of the state, who was separated from his whanau and iwi at the age of five.

He was the first survivor to speak at the Māori Public Hearing for the Abuse in Care Royal Commission of Inquiry in March, 2022.

Urlich fears repealing Section 7AA could see the harm committed against Māori, which was highlighted through the Inquiry, repeated again.

He said the reasons given for changing the law are pitiful.

“We know time and time again they place children with strangers who go on to physically, sexually and mentally abuse these children. 

“How about we focus the Minister on legislation to prevent the state from removing kids from people they know.”

Urlich said after he was taken from his family, there was no effort to keep him connected to his culture, leaving him isolated and without identity.

During the abuse hearing, he told commissioners that his early years with whānau were the best of his childhood.

It was only when he was placed with non-kin caregivers the “gates of hell” opened.

He said he was a child at the mercy of a monster, and shared how the stranger elected by Child, Youth and Family (now Oranga Tamariki) to be his caregiver beat him nearly every day, for months.

But Urlich said what hurt most was being ripped away from his whānau.

Today, he said he’s still going through the process of re-gathering his Reo and history.

“It’s going to take generations to undo that harm. So when the Government turns around and fails to acknowledge our rights, it’s just another stab in the back.”

Urlich’s story is echoed in the testimonies of the two dozen other Māori survivors and whānau who shared their lived experiences of abuse, intergenerational trauma and racism while in state care from 1950 to 1999.

When he was a teenager, Urlich said he received life-saving intervention from a teacher who saw how detached he was from his own identity.

“The massive change-maker for me was learning about my culture, history and heritage and knowing I contribute to the legacy of those who come before me.”

But some haven’t been so lucky.

Urlich said his dad’s side of the whanau were founding members of the Mongrel Mob, with his uncle becoming the President of the Central Hawke’s Bay chapter before he passed several years ago.

“They all went through boys’ homes,” he said.

“The number one difference between me and (my uncle) was that I had somebody come into my life to get me back on track through my culture. He didn’t have that.”

Now a 28-year-old father of two, Urlich works with VOYCE – Whakarongo Mai, a charity advocating for children in care – in an effort to ensure tamariki and rangatahi are spared from what he went through.

Te Pāti Māori children’s spokesperson Mariameno Kapa-Kingi said there is enough evidence to sink a ship about the systemic failings of Oranga Tamariki for mokopuna Māori.

She said Section 7AA, introduced in 2019, was an attempt at redress – and the most important legislative change for the agency in a decade.

“But they barely had time to give in a go. You could see from recent reporting there was fair intention and direction from this legislation.”

Kapa-Kingi said she fears the repeal means a return to the dark ages for the social services sector.

A spokesperson for Children’s Minister Karen Chhour said she is unable to comment because of the Waitangi Tribunal legal proceedings.

The Minister was summoned by the Tribunal – but has refused to appear or give written evidence.

The Government’s lawyers, Crown Law, said the move contravenes constitutional principles - and it would take any summons to the High Court for review.

It instead gave the Tribunal part of a Cabinet paper and the regulatory impact statement on the planned repeal. 

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