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Jason Walls: Opposition plays man, not the ball in section 7AA debate

Jason Walls,
Publish Date
Sat, 25 May 2024, 5:00am
ACT's Karen Chhour, pictured inside Parliament. File photo / Mark Mitchell
ACT's Karen Chhour, pictured inside Parliament. File photo / Mark Mitchell

Jason Walls: Opposition plays man, not the ball in section 7AA debate

Jason Walls,
Publish Date
Sat, 25 May 2024, 5:00am

It should have been a slam dunk for the opposition.

In the debate around removing some treaty obligations from the Oranga Tamariki Act, the Greens, Labour and Te Pati Maori held the trump cards.

Namely, the Regulatory Impact Statement from the Children’s Ministry examined in detail the feasibility of the proposed bill.

It was brutal. It was worse than brutal. Very rarely does a Ministry so comprehensively and thoroughly pick apart a bill the way the Ministry of Children did to Section 7aa.

“There is no empirical evidence to support the notion that section 7AA has driven practice decisions that have led to changing care arrangements. We have heard anecdotal concerns from a small number of caregivers”

Policy-based on anecdotal concerns is a major red flag, and Labour’s Willow-Jean Prime made that point during the first reading of the bill this week.

But her point was somewhat undercut when, as Children’s Minister Karen Chhour was speaking, Prime yelled across the debating chamber: “You’re a sell-out”.

The implication that Chhour, a Māori woman and former ward of the State, was “selling out” Māori is a staggering attack.

Prime was made to withdraw the comment and apologize, which she did. That’s more than can be said for Te Pati Māori.

In a Facebook post discussing 7aa’s removal, the party commented that Chhour “...was raised Pakeha, with a disconnection and disdain for her own people”.

Another staggering, highly personal, vicious attack.

As has become somewhat of a theme with Te Pati Māori, its MPs did not waver from the comments; they did not back down, and they certainly did not apologize.

As far as attacks on Ministers go, few have had to weather the horrific abuse Chhour’s been forced to deal with.

Even before receiving her Ministerial warrant, she was subject to highly public and personal attacks from the other side of the House.

Former Labour Minister Kelvin Davis told the House that Chhour viewed the world through a “vanilla lens” and did not understand te ao Māori.

Close to tears, Chhour told reporters she did not have to “justify my Māori. I can own it.”

In the House on Wednesday, she had a message for Te Pati Māori and all her critics who consistently question her whakapapa.

“I'm not going to stand here and justify how I was raised, but I am also not going to let anyone else, especially Te Pāti Māori, think that they can tell my story for me, especially when they have no idea what they're talking about.”

She received applause as she took her seat and later, spoke about the hypocrisy at play in the House, on Newstalk ZB.

“This is from a party who goes out constantly talking about how hard it is for Wāhine Māori in this place,” she said of Te Pati Māori.

Later that day, the bill to repeal section 7aa passed into law, after a fierce debate.

During that debate, the Children’s Ministries Regulatory Impact Statement was wielded by

Opposition MPs with great effect.

As was the Waitangi Tribunal’s report into the proposed legislation. But in the end, as expected, the bill passed and section 7aa was scrapped from the Oranga Tamariki Act.

But for many, the focus wasn’t on the passionate speeches of the Opposition, pleading for the bill not to pass.

The lingering words were from Chhour, who spoke of the impact the personal attacks were having on her, and her family.

“This is not coming from keyboard warriors, this is coming from a political party, sitting in Parliament right now,” she told ZB.

“I don’t like the fact I have to worry about my 12-year-old daughter picking up a cellphone, reading social media and coming to me and asking: Mum, are you racist?”

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