The Promised Independent Inquiry – A Tough Dynamic

Article added to the site 21/11/17

Recently, the Jacinda Ardern Labour Government announced an “independent” inquiry into state care child abuse with (speech to Parliament 8 Nov 2017)

“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.” (Speech here)

To date, the terms, scope and form of the inquiry haven’t been announced. This said, some survivors and organizations that represent survivors have expressed disappointment and leveled criticism at the scope of the inquiry while also demanding that the “Independent Inquiry” must be a Royal Commission (I concur on the latter point– it is imperative that it is a Royal Commission). For example, a CLAN NZ spokesperson, Netta Christian, stated to Radio NZ (19/11/17), “What we want is a Royal Commission and that’s non-negotiable.” Further stating that “The inquiry should cover all forms of “out of home care” – including homes run by churches and charities as well as the state – and all forms of abuse.”

ClANs view of a suitable inquiry is thus (to quote):


(It must be) “An independent inquiry free of the Government, in the form of a full Royal Commission.

This inquiry must be fully transparent, with full powers, including making referrals to the Police. It must have the authority to determine redress, rehabilitation and reparations for victims, including an apology from the State.

It must be able to compel witnesses and access unredacted documents, it must not have cut-off dates and it must deal with structural changes to our systems.

It must include all forms of abuse and not just sexual (a big mistake made by the Australian Royal Commission, which excluded many thousands of Australian survivors). We cannot let this happen in New Zealand or most former wards of the State will be excluded.

And it needs to cover all forms of ‘out-of-home care’ – not just State care – it has to include homes run by churches, charities & also foster care.

But it does not need to be as broad as including scouts, dance classes & swimming clubs etc. Those children were not ‘in care’ (this was another big mistake made by the Australian Royal Commission). “(Excerpt of a CLAN announcement made on facebook)

 [End Quote]

Notably, at this time, the inquiry covers state-institutional and foster care (state ward) abuse only (and presumably non-state institutions where wards were placed while they were under the umbrella of state care). What CLAN NZ is demanding (“non-negotiable” no less), therefore, is a much larger inquiry than the one proposed, encompassing both state and non-state institutions where children have been placed over generations in “out-of-home care”. What seems also apparent is that while the CLAN vision of an all-encompassing inquiry, across all institutions – both private and state – is non-negotiable some must miss out because they were not in “out-of-home care”. This means that what CLAN is essentially demanding is that many victim groups who appeared before the Australian Royal Commission (church abuse victims who were not in out-of-home care, private school victims, scouts, salvation army etc) should be left out of their vision of the NZ Inquiry. There is an all too obvious contradiction here because at the same time CLAN are saying that “a big mistake made by the Australian Royal Commission” was that it excluded many victims from being heard, they are also saying that their vision of an inquiry would exclude many other victims who were included in the Australian Royal Commission being heard (which surely would be a “big mistake” within CLAN’s argumental framework?).  I.e. the number of victims left out of the CLAN vision is not insignificant when one considers that a great deal of abuse occurs outside of out-of-home care environments.  For example, nearly 2,000 Catholic Church figures, including priests, religious brothers and sisters, and employees, were identified as alleged perpetrators in a report released by the Australian Royal Commission.  60 per cent of all abuse survivors attending private royal commission sessions reported sexual abuse at faith-based institutions. Of those, almost two-thirds reported abuse in Catholic institutions. Many of these victims were not in out-of-home care at the time in which the abuse occurred.

Therefore, even under a widened TOR (as envisioned by CLAN), the inquiry would still fail many victims.

The Cost of Abuse and the Economics of Justice

One thing that the politicians and associated bureaucrats must now be grappling with is the cost of the inquiry and the resources it will require.

To contextualize this, during the Australian Royal Commission  7,892 private sessions with victims were held. Additionally, 1300 witnesses were heard over five years at a cost of 500 million dollars.

Comparatively, the now wasted and costly exercise of the New Zealand Confidential Listening and Assistance Service (CLAS), a fiasco that was so confidential very few knew about it, heard from 1,100 state abuse victims from 2008 until June 2015. However, as I and others, including PM Jacinda Ardern, have previously pointed out, the service was closed prematurely and many voices (e.g. many prison inmates, expatriate New Zealanders, including myself, and those abused after 1992) were excluded from being heard. So for example, a CLAS spokesperson notes when addressing the early closure of the inquiry:

“A total of 156 prisoners registered with the Service but many prisoners left prison before we were able to meet with them and we lost contact… Many inmates who remain in prison have not had the opportunity of meeting the Service… word of our existence has only just begun to spread amongst prisoners despite extensive engagement with prison staff over the years…

It is clear that unfinished business remains. Since we had to close off registrations in 2013, we have had more than 150 people contact us and we have referred them onto the relevant Government Departments. It is disappointing that some people will be left “up in the air” following the closure of our Service. To get to the end with no resolution in sight for some is not satisfactory.”

With the 1,100 people who were heard by the CLAS, plus the 150 that we know about that weren’t heard, plus let’s say conservatively 50 – 100 prison inmates, that’s 1,300 – 1,350 state abuse victims. Add to this, perhaps, several hundred expatriates (my guestimate is that at least 20% of the state abuse victims now reside outside of NZ), and perhaps hundreds more who were abused after 1992, those who speak at the current proposed “independent inquiry” into state abuse potentially could (would more likely than not) be in excess of a couple of thousand.  Thus, there is some potential to expand the inquiry if something the scale of the Australian Royal Commission is undertaken.

And then there is this…..

Institutional Sexual Abuse Inquiry Calls

Besides the CLAN calls to widen the inquiry, yet others have made calls for an institution wide (both state and non-state actors) child sexual abuse inquiry inline to the Australian Royal Commission. For example, recent media surrounding the state abuse inquiry highlighted:


“An Australian Royal Commission into child abuse, considered by many to be a global benchmark, reported that 60 per cent of abuse happened in faith-based institutions.

“If they keep going down the track of just a state institution inquiry . . . it’ll leave the majority of abuse out,” Liz Tonks, a supporter of male sex abuse victims, said.

Sporting clubs have also been flagged by advocates as institutions that need to be included in an inquiry.”

[End Quote]

See original media here 

This vision of an inquiry would cover any sexual abuse that occurred in any state or non-state institutions, including churches, scouts, sports clubs, private schools, etc. These calls differ significantly from the CLAN calls that cover all forms of abuse (sexual, physical and psychological) in “out-of-home care” while excluding victims of abuse who were not in “out-of-home care”. However, combining the CLAN calls with those of sexual abuse survivors would leave us with an inquiry that would include both state and non-state actors where any form of abuse (sexual, physical and psychological) had occurred. Such an inquiry would be massive, likely covering many thousands of victims – perhaps exceeding the Australian Royal Commission in size, numbers and cost. Further, such an inquiry would have a TOR (terms of reference) so wide the inquiry could easily lose control, and credibility as a result. As academic Elizabeth Stanley, puts it under the heading of Don’t take a focus that is too wide” when discussing the proposed inquiry:

“… We don’t want to include almost every act of abuse against every child or vulnerable person. Doing so would be extremely difficult, almost incapacitating. Having an emphasis on ‘state care’ would allow us to focus on those situations where state agencies have a specific duty of care. This would include social welfare placements but also hospitals, special education homes, youth justice facilities, among other places. It would exclude other relationships of care, such as when children attend private school settings or community youth clubs, scouts or sports teams.” 

New Zealand’s Quiet Genocide –Generations of Systemic Racism and Structural Violence against Maori

The independent inquiry into state child abuse largely came about because of years of calls by state abuse survivors for a public inquiry and the Never Again campaign which supported these calls.

That is, preceding the 2017 election, the New Zealand Human Rights Commission began the 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.

Indigenous peoples throughout English-speaking, colonized countries have had their children stolen/uplifted/snatched by the state for generations. Countries such as Australia and Canada have faced up to these human rights violations but New Zealand has been in denial about its own Stolen Generation – a group now known as Ngā Mōrehu (The Survivors).

Almost half of all children in state care were Maori. In 1978 89% of admissions to Hokio were Maori and Pasifika. In 1985, Maori boys made up 78% of all youth held in six Social Welfare homes across Auckland. By the time many left they had mental health problems and were more likely to offend than if they’d never entered into state care. This situation is, in fact, not only historic but very much in play today; currently, 6 out of 10 children who are taken from their families are Maori, while Maori represent just 15 percent of the population.

As a result of the state care system, Maori are disproportionately overrepresented in adult prisons. In 2012, 58 percent of female prisoners were Māori, while 51 percent of males identified as Māori.

Recently, the Ministry of Social Development tracked the lives of more than 58,000 people born in 1989 in a retrospective study. Of those who were in prison by the time they were 20, 83% had a previous “Child, Youth and Family” record. The ministry itself found they were 15 times more likely to end up with a Corrections record by the time they were 20, and 107 times more likely to be imprisoned before they turned 20.This tells us that children who progress across care and justice services fare poorly and Maori are grossly and disproportionately overrepresented in these numbers.

Therefore, any inquiry into state abuse must focus heavily on identifying the systemic issues that have bought about what one journalist has labeled a “quiet genocide” – generations of Maori who have been uplifted/stolen and subjected to physical, sexual and psychological violence at the hands of the state. Such an inquiry itself is expansive; for example, Australia has dedicated not one but two inquiries to the uplifting and continued persecution and incarceration of its indigenous people.  I.e. the 1997 inquiry into the removal of children from Indigenous families, also known as the Stolen Generation inquiry, and the 1996 Indigenous Deaths in Custody Inquiry.

Similarly, Canada has looked truthfully into its own colonist past through the 1996 Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission which followed. The landmark Truth and Reconciliation report, released in December 2015, said the policy of uplifting/stealing Canadian Aboriginal children and placing them into residential schools was an attempt to weaken indigenous culture, and amounted to “cultural genocide”.

The situation in New Zealand is extremely similar and yet New Zealand, to date, has done nothing and, thus, NZ has a great deal of catching up to do on indigenous inquiries alone.

The reality is that unfortunately many abuse victims are potentially going to be left out of the scope/terms of the inquiry; however, on no level can the Maori (Ngā Mōrehu) be silenced/compromised in this inquiry. The inquiry must fully identify with, and attempt to correct (through findings and recommendations) complex and multifarious systemic issues which have led to the rampant discrimination and structural violence against Maori.

If the scope of the inquiry becomes too wide, through attempts to accommodate the numerous interest groups who want inclusion for all victims, there is a very real danger that inquiry into New Zealand’s stolen generation will be compromised and important information, findings, and recommendations will never eventuate.

That said….

What I would say to the Labour Government is first, well-done. More so than any government before you, you have acknowledged systemic abuse/failings and the need for an independent inquiry. However, as far as I understand things, from a reasonably informed perspective, within the construct of government, only a Royal Commission can be truly independent. I.e. a Royal Commission is independent from the Government and reports to the Governor-General. The way the inquiry is conducted and the Commission is run is decided by the Chair and Commissioners. The Government cannot interfere in the direction taken by an inquiry or influence the findings.

Additionally, we are more than aware that it was Labour, under Helen Clark, that set the tone for the now failed and broadly condemned ‘Confidential Listening and Assistance Service’ (CLAS). That is, the CLAS was formed in 2008 under the Clark Labour Government.  Additionally, it was the Clark Labour Government who offered the victims of Lake Alice an out-of-court settlement; a settlement that did virtually nothing to investigate how such horrific abuse had been allowed to take place. And it was the Clark Labour Government, who in the face of overwhelming evidence, through victim testimony, failed to pursue and prosecute the perpetrators of Lake Alice abuse – an issue of contention with the UN even today. Further, it was the Clark Government that set the tone for the widely criticised resolution of historic claims through the MSD and related historic settlement processes.

Therefore, do not let this inquiry become the costly fiasco that the UKs Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) became, where links between those being investigated and the inquiry caused an uproar among survivors and where one Chair, and then another, resigned due to their links with individual and institutional abusers. If this inquiry is to work it must be separate/independent of your Labour Government which is just one generation/manifestation on from the Clark Labour Government and still has close ties to not only Clark but also others responsible for the coverup/containment of abuse. In short, you’ve committed to an “independent inquiry” – now is the time to come good on that commitment.

Secondly, the world is watching – so are we, the survivors (Ngā Mōrehu) of state care. Anything that is viewed as a cover-up will be quickly and very publicly exposed. It’s taken years to get a public inquiry into state abuse. Let’s get it right the first time…. from the outset.

3 comments on “The Promised Independent Inquiry – A Tough Dynamic

  1. Paora Moyle on said:

    Great coverage. It is going from MVCOT to DIA inoder to make it “independent”…trouble is the Minister for MVCOT is also Minister foe DIA. She confimed this with me. PAORA

    • Paora Moyle on said:

      Arohamai for bad spelling…quick typing.

    • admin_grant on said:

      Seems to me though that DIA is still a Gov Department and people there have close links to other Departments as you well note. The completely non-independent CLAS was handled by the DIA for example. I’ve pretty much already decided I will be boycotting the inquiry if there are any signs of a lack of independence. Fool me once – shame on you. Fool me twice – shame on me. Basically though at this point the process to setting up the inquiry has been largely condescending and once again we are being subjected to a mostly non-inclusive top-down process (except for the patronising part where they loaded a survey form of what we supposedly wanted with what they actually wanted re Cooper Legal who only a year or so back went public on Radio NZ stating there was no need for an inquiry – yep to that…. Did you ever actually ask the survivors what they wanted/expected clown shoes?). That said, let’s see where this goes, although right now I am unimpressed and will be passing.

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