A New Government – Independent Inquiry On!

Article added to site on the 15/11/17

A great deal has happened since I last wrote ‘the Road to a Public Inquiry’. I’ve held off writing for several months waiting to analyze the outcomes of several important events pertaining to New Zealand’s State historic abuse survivors.

Firstly, there was an election looming in October 2017. This election could and indeed would see a change of government. This change of government stood to potentially greatly alter the political landscape for New Zealand’s historic State- abuse victims in that the National Government who had invested heavily in a cover-up of historic State child abuse, albeit calling it “containment”, would be gone. As a result, due to events leading into the election, a public, independent inquiry may be on.

In summary, Labour, who are now in power, had campaigned for votes largely on Nationals disastrous record of social policy. Just part of this campaign was that Labour – particularly Jacinda Ardern, NZs new PM – made promises to launch an independent, public inquiry into institutional State historic child abuse and issue a public apology to those of us who were abused in State-care.

Labour having won the election is now coming good on their promises and an independent, public inquiry looms large on the not too distant horizon with PM Jacinda Ardern announcing last week that:

“There will be an independent inquiry into historical claims of abuse of children in State care with a view to learning lessons to ensure that policy is changed to minimise the risk of this happening in the future.”

Much is yet to be defined about the shape and scope of this inquiry but today under a Labour Government, New Zealand’s State abuse victims/survivors are in much better shape than they were under the now-deposed (and it feels so great to say “deposed”) National Government.

Press surrounding the announcement of an independent inquiry here

Speech in Parliament announcing the independent inquiry here 

Never Again

Preceding the 2017 election, the New Zealand Human Rights Commission began a campaign/petition – “Never Again”  – releasing an open letter calling on the then National Government to hold a public inquiry into historic state institutional child abuse. This was supported by key New Zealand figures/identities and a groundswell of media which highlighted some of the atrocities that had occurred in State-run institutions.

Among other things, it was highlighted that the victims of abuse were predominantly Maori children who had been (and still are – currently 6 out of 10 children who are taken from their families are Maori, while Maori represent just 15 percent of the population) disproportionately overrepresented in the “care” system. Subsequently, it was rightly alleged that today it is Maori who are disproportionately overrepresented in the prison system (it is estimated that 40% of NZs prison inmates have a care background); many of these Maori having been on the receiving end of the “care” (physical, psychological and sexual abuse) the State had dished out to them as children…

Jacinda Ardern, Labour’s head and now PM, threw her support behind the Never Again campaign/petition and urged the then National Government to heed the “growing chorus of leading opinion” calling for a public apology and an independent inquiry.

Quite predictably, the Nats spun now tired and, fortunately, redundant lines about enough was already being done and that an inquiry would be costly and achieve nothing. Among other pearlers uttered by Nat cronies were (from Anne Tolley, ex-Minister for the MSD), there’s no evidence that it was a systemic problem.” And “only 3.5 percent of children in State care suffered abuse and neglect” (oh bollocks you cynical, lying hag!!). While the now-deposed (and it feels so good to say “deposed”) then Prime Minister Bill English remained adamant the government was taking the best approach, allowing victims to tell their stories and seek an apology and compensation. He said the question was whether an inquiry would actually add anything to the work the ministry was carrying out. He further added the extent of the horrors suffered by those children was “pretty well known”.

All Nat bullshit aside, what was more than apparent was that for a public inquiry to eventuate the Nats would need to be gone. Fortunately for New Zealand’s State historic abuse victims this came sooner rather than later when National was karmically ousted from power even though they took the most seats of any single party in the election.

That is….

A Summary of the 2017 NZ Election:

1)      Leading into the election National looked a shoe-in to take power with Bill English heading the Nats and Andrew Little heading Labour

2)      Andrew Little chose to stand down (resign as head of Labour) just weeks before the election, handing the reigns to Jacinda Ardern

3)      The Jacinda effect, coined ‘Jacindamania’ kicked in throwing a spanner in the works of National. Jacindamania, refers to the sudden reinvigoration of Labour under the reigns of a charismatic and popularly supported Jacinda Ardern. A Newshub/Reid Research poll showed support for Labour leapt nine points to 33.1 in the week Jacinda Ardern took over from Andrew Little.  In just seven weeks, from the time of her appointment as head of Labour until Election Day, Jacindamania managed to bring Labour’s share of the vote to 37 percent, picking up more than 350,000 votes than the party did in the previous election.

4)      What appeared unthinkable 7 weeks prior occurred – Labour now looked as if it might have a chance or at least given the media hype this appeared to be the case. However, the polls told us another thing and indicated National would still take government.

5)      Come election night, National took the largest number of seats for any single party – 56 National, 46 Labour, 8 Greens, 9 NZ First and 1 ACT.

6)      This is where things get interesting – National had all but won the election; however, under New Zealand’s mixed-member proportional (MMP) election system, a party with a lower number of seats than another can still win the election if they are able to form a majority government with minority parties. Labour already had a coalition with the Greens (46 Labour + 8 Greens = 54 to National’s 56) while NZ First, holding 9 seats, had aligned in the past with both National and Labour. This left Winston Peter’s, the NZ First head, as the Kingmaker, or Queenmaker as the case may be. Bottom line…whoever NZ First sided with would form the next government. Talk about a bloody cliffhanger right?

7)      Many speculated that NZ First would form a majority government with National; however, Winston Peter’s shocked just a few political commentators when he announced that New Zealand First, after drawn-out negotiations with both Labour and National, had chosen to form a majority government with the Labour and Greens coalition because they wanted a more equitable New Zealand – a New Zealand for all New Zealanders. “Capitalism must regain its responsible, its human face,” Peter’s said, saying this position had deeply influenced the party’s negotiation stance. “The country voted for change.”

Ultimately National, who had presided over growing social inequality and whose policies had favoured the well-heeled while completely shafting New Zealand’s most vulnerable citizens had been ousted from office even though they had, as a single party, taken the most seats. Call it bad luck, call it economic mismanagement (when economics fails too many they respond with a vote); call it karma…. call it anything you like… the main thing is the Nats are gone. Goodbye. Good riddance. Fare thee well…. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out (you callous, low rent bastards).

After Years of Denial, on the Part of the Nats, Systemic Abuse is admitted into the Conversation

For years the National Government had denied systemic abuse in State-run institutions. Examples of this can be found with e.g. in November 2016, Anne Tolley, Minister for the MSD, ruled out a universal apology to victims of State-abuse, saying there was no evidence abuse in state care was systemic. However, in early November of 2017 then Deputy Prime Minister, onetime head of the MSD, Paula Bennett told the House “there has been systemic abuse” while defending the Government’s response and denying an inquiry was needed.

Of course, this made Paula Bennett look pretty dim (to put it nicely) after years, particularly during in time as the head of the MSD, of denying systemic abuse.

View admission of systemic abuse by Paula Bennett here (at timeline – 2-55)

On July 6, 2017, the New Zealand Labour Party put out a media release stating:

Systemic abuse of kids in state care

After admitting there was systemic abuse of children in State care the Government must do the right thing and launch an independent inquiry, says Labour’s Deputy Leader Jacinda Ardern.

“Previously, Minister Tolley dismissed an inquiry saying there’s no evidence that it was a systemic problem.

“But today in the House, when asked if there was systemic abuse in State Care, National’s Deputy Leader Paula Bennett, on behalf of the Prime Minister, said ‘there has been systemic abuse in State Care.’

“I wrote to the Prime Minister urging him to instigate an inquiry. We share the view of the Human Rights Commission that there are still lessons to be learnt from the past and that such an inquiry could form the basis of best practice policies for children living in state care.

“The State has already acknowledged liability on a case by case basis, via the Historic Claims Process, but individual apologies just aren’t good enough.

“Today, I heard heartfelt pleas from many survivors of abuse while in State care stand on the forecourt of Parliament and plead for an inquiry.

“Recent accounts from those who have been abused while in State care further demonstrate that this issue is a blight on New Zealand’s history and we will continue to overshadow the reform of the care and protection system until we acknowledge the wrongs of the past.

“The response from the Prime Minister’s correspondence manager was ‘the comments in your letter have been noted.’

“Child safety is paramount and a Labour-led Government will make sure the voices of the survivors of State abuse are heard through a proper inquiry that shows the State truly cares about Kiwi kids,” says Jacinda Ardern.  (Read press release here)

UN Calls on New Zealand to hold a Public Inquiry

In August of 2017 Race Relations Commissioner Susan Devoy took the historic claims to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination telling them that the United Nations must urge the New Zealand Government to hold an independent inquiry into the abuse of children and people with disabilities in state care.

She also said the UN should insist New Zealand do more to stop the disproportionate representation of Māori on the wrong side of the justice system.

“I am convinced that the removal of Māori children into welfare institutions by the State was the real start of the systemic and mass imprisonment of Māori New Zealanders. But without a full and public inquiry into the systemic abuse of children and vulnerable, disabled adults held in our State institutions we can never understand the root of the problems we are grappling with now.”

She said if the government did not hold an inquiry into historical abuse in state care, it would fail in its duty under the Treaty of Waitangi.

This concluded with the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination stating under the heading “Māori and Pasifika children” “34. The Committee recommends that the State party: (a) Immediately set up and empower an independent commission of inquiry into abuse of children and adults with disabilities in state care from 1950 until 1990,”

It also urged “effective steps” to reduce the number of Maori and Pasifika children in state care, including through whanau first placements for tamariki Maori.

Labour and others supported the UN calls with Jacinda Ardern stating an inquiry is needed because of repeated requests from victims but also because of ongoing reforms of the state care system.

“How can we make sure that we have a robust system unless we have learned from the past, from that historical abuse. It’s the least we can do,” she said.

UN Report here 

Media re UN calls here and here and here

Treaty of Waitangi Claim

A claim was lodged with the Waitangi Tribunal by survivors of State-care alleging Maori children were singled out to be placed in institutions, where they were abused.

The claim is that the Crown has failed to provide Maori with an independent means to address abuse of children in state institutions.

Auckland University law lecturer Andrew Erueti, who assisted with filing the claim told Radio NZ he wanted it heard under urgency because the government response so far had been inadequate and many victims were now elderly.

Media surrounding this here

State Abuse Survivors Rally at Parliament Calling on an Inquiry and a Public Apology

100 victims of State institutional child abuse joined with the Human Rights Commission to deliver a 5300-signature petition at the Beehive (NZs Government building) on July 6, 2017, urging the Government to issue a full public apology and call for an independent inquiry.

Joining them was Race Relations Commissioner Dame Susan Devoy who slammed the Government for not doing enough for children abused in state care.

“I’d really like to ask how many MP’s have spoken to a survivor, a victim of this abuse,” Ms Devoy said.

Notably, typical of the contempt the Nats have shown to state historic abuse victims, not one single representative from the National Government showed at the rally with one survivor saying to press “It took a lot of courage to take this issue that has haunted generations of our people to government and it was made even worse by the fact that not one single National MP was there to face them. For me it was quite offensive.” (read  here)

For myself, as someone who has advocated and lobbied for the historic abuse claimants for several years now (since early 2012), it came as no surprise that not one single National representative had the decency to show at the rally. True to form, their actions were soulless and devoid of even the most basic form of humanity (much as their politics and policy was in their 9 years in power). All one can really say about this is that I am sure there is a special place in hell for those who make a career of spinning lies and covering up atrocities perpetrated by monsters against defenceless children. Goodbye National and I am now writing a submission (view my submission here) that the inquiry must investigate two rounds of human rights violations against the State historic abuse claimants. Round one being the abuse we were subjected to as children while in the care of the State and round two being the rights violations (the reabuse, human rights violations part 2) we were subjected to during your historic claims processes. My submission also states that the inquiry should have the powers to compel full testimony. In my view and the view of many others, your government has some explaining to do. Hopefully, through the power of an independent, public inquiry we may now finally get some truthful answers, under oath.

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