First Reading – Repeal of Section 7AA of the Oranga Tamariki Act 1989

I present a legislative statement on the Oranga Tamariki (Repeal of Section 7AA) Amendment Bill.

Mr. Speaker, I move that the Oranga Tamariki (Repeal of Section 7AA) Amendment Bill be now read a first time. I nominate the Social Services and Community Committee to consider the Bill.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. It is a privilege to stand here and speak to this bill tonight.

Many MPs hearing this speech tonight may have been present the last time I spoke to this exact same bill while in Opposition. It was a member’s bill that I had put in the biscuit tin in the hopes of starting the conversation around the decision-making of where our most vulnerable go when they are not safe and need the state to step in.

Mr. Speaker, when I became the Minister for Children, I made it clear that my intention was to refocus the Children’s System on the well-being and individual needs of children.

I want our system to ensure that every child in this country is raised in a loving and stable home, that sets them up to succeed for life, regardless of their race or culture.

As a child growing up dealing with Child, Youth and Family myself, I can tell you all I wanted was a stable home where I could feel safe, loved, and wanted. 

During my time in Opposition and before coming to Parliament, I heard devastating stories about how some Oranga Tamariki staff prioritized cultural considerations and the desires of the child’s family over the individual needs of the child. 

This sometimes led to unsafe care decisions and disruption for children and caregivers. 

I saw firsthand the devastation on caregivers' faces and the pain in their voices after being told a ‘forever home’ did not necessarily mean just that.

I saw the damage caused to a family that, by the grace of God, managed to find a Māori relative a few generations back after receiving the threat of having a child removed from them, because they were not Māori. That was enough to save them from a reverse uplift. Really, is this okay? 

It’s the same house, same people, nothing had changed, just the fact they could trace a small piece of Māori in their bloodline.

I have had caregivers tell me of them being forced to send the children to visit their previous abusers, just to keep the family connections, with the attitude of “a child needs to know where they came from”.

No regard for the trauma this was causing the child or the caregivers, who were too terrified to speak up, knowing they would be perceived as racist, and the child may be uplifted if they spoke up.

And then we had the very public case of a young girl, referred to as Moana. Moana was traumatized and neglected for years, before being removed and placed into a safe, loving home. What was to be a ‘forever home’. Until a social worker decided they needed to remove Moana from their care, because a Pakeha family could not provide for her cultural needs.

And then, the latest Newsroom story that covered four children being uplifted in a very similar way, all because they were the wrong ethnicity. This was the most heartbreaking thing to see and should not just be accepted. 

And for all these awful decisions, Section 7AA was given as the justification.

Mr. Speaker, every child deserves the same level of care and support based on their individual needs, and their safety and well-being should always come first. This Bill is the first step in this direction. 

While its original aim was well-intentioned, I believe Section 7AA of the Oranga Tamariki Act has been able to be used to influence care decisions that have put vulnerable children in harm’s way, by prioritizing cultural considerations over their safety and well-being. 

While I applaud the incredible work our frontline staff do to protect and care for children in need, Section 7AA puts pressure on social workers to prioritize cultural considerations over the needs and safety of individual children when making care decisions.

Mr. Speaker, it's important that I make it very clear this Bill does not prevent Oranga Tamariki from retaining its current strategic partnerships, or from entering new partnerships with iwi, hapū, and Māori organizations. 

I have personally made my expectations clear to officials at Oranga Tamariki that they should continue the good work that has been done in this space if the agreement is working in a positive way and to the betterment of our children. 

I have never said that whanau, hapu, and iwi should not play a role in the care of young people. I support empowering all communities, and the Act already required this prior to the inclusion of Section 7AA.  

I welcome the robust discussion during a select committee process and would like to take this opportunity to encourage all those affected to make a submission. 

I know there are many caregivers out there who have felt they could not speak up in the past. This is an opportunity to do so, to have a voice in the debate because after all, you are the ones who open your hearts and homes to many of the very children I have spoken about tonight, and I have to say how grateful I am to all those who do so.

Quite frankly, Mr. Speaker, anyone who argues that safety and well-being should not be the most important consideration needs to take a good hard look at themselves. 

A child does not choose to live in fear or to be harmed and hurt. Government cannot control what happens to a young person before coming to the attention of Oranga Tamariki, but they can sure as hell control what happens after. 

Abuse and neglect does not discriminate; when a child cries out for help and we have a system that sees them as an identity first and a child second, we have a real problem.

This Bill is about making sure all our children are in environments that will provide them with the best start in life. 

It's about ensuring that kids' need for love, safety, and freedom from neglect are placed first—as they should be. 

If we truly see our children as taonga, let's start treating them like they're precious, because right now, many children in this country are being treated like a piece of furniture that gets passed around from place to place, until they're broken beyond repair, with no care for their rights or needs, and this needs to stop.

It is a disgrace that my role even needs to exist in New Zealand. 

But I will tell you why I stand here today, Mr. Speaker, willing to take the abuse and mud that's thrown my way. 

It's names like Baby Nga Reo, or Baby Ru to many, Malachi, Maya, Karla, Liane, and most recently, to add to the list of shame, Falute Vaila. 

Think of the Kahui twins, Nia Glassie, and many more. Those are just some of the names; many names will never be spoken again as the invisible shame of this nation. 

And then there are those who survive and are often denied a better life, their voices being silenced and unheard. 

I have heard a lot about Treaty obligations, rights of iwi, Māori rights, and racism, but where is this same level of outrage when another Māori child takes their last breath in this world because the people who were supposed to love and care for them do not?

Surely, love, safety, treating our children with basic human decency, is a priority instead of the easy out of blaming racism and the Government for our shameful child abuse problem?

This may be hard and uncomfortable to hear. But I will never make excuses for those who choose to harm our most precious gifts. I’m not here to use the lazy arguments of racism being to blame for the loss of our precious children. 

I never want to see another child torn from a loving home for life because the caregivers are the wrong race, and I never want to see another traumatised child sent back to their abusers because they are the right race. That is what section 7AA has contributed to, and I am proud to repeal it.

And if the other side of the House will try to paint this as racist or try to paint me as a traitor to my race, Mr. Speaker, I know New Zealanders will hear their empty, hollow words for what they are.

Mr Speaker, I commend this Bill to the House.