Include Pākehā in state abuse inquiry - Willie Jackson

Labour candidate Willie Jackson has welcomed calls for an inquiry into the abuse of Māori children in state care - but says Pākehā kids deserve the same.

Race Relations Commissioner Dame Susan Devoy yesterday said there was a link between the "institutional racism" that saw half of all kids in state care in the 1970s come from Māori families, to today's high rates of incarceration for Māori.

"The uplifting of Māori children from their families for trivial reasons or no reason at all is the very definition of institutional racism, but without an inquiry into the abuse suffered by children in our state run homes we will never know its true extent," said Dame Susan.

Mr Jackson, a former talkback host and Alliance MP, told The AM Show that Dame Susan has done well to convert her early detractors.

"When Susan first took over, so many Māori sadly were critical of her, a lot of condemnation at the time - what's this squash player doing, being given such a high job? Well, hasn't she come through? For Māori anyway. This is a brave call, a courageous call."

Mr Jackson says he's worked with some of the victims, who were taken from their families over crimes as trivial as shoplifting.

"What happens is you get intergenerational abuse, then it goes and they become criminals, their kids become criminals, and then we see the effects today. Every second person in prison is a Māori, sadly."

But Mr Jackson says it's not just about race - it's about class too, and Pākehā weren't spared.

"You're always going to get into a bit of trouble if you just keep it to one group. I say with Susan, well-done, fantastic, courageous, institutional racism happened - but it wouldn't hurt to broaden the inquiry a bit, because anyone who was abused under state care deserves an apology."

He wouldn't go so far as to promise a formal inquiry if Labour gets into government, joking that he'll be lucky to make it on to the party's list.

"If I was part of government, I'd be encouraging our wonderful leader Andrew Little to get on with this. When you're in government, it requires bravery, it requires courage, and the Tories aren't showing any courage at the moment."

Labour, the Greens and all of National's partners in Government have called for an inquiry. ACT leader David Seymour was initially opposed, but changed his mind after seeing "the scale of the abuse".

"I think this is a question of public policy. It's a question of justice. It's a question of the Government not being above the law," he told RNZ.

National says hundreds of cases have been settled in the last few years, with most claimants settling for financial compensation and an apology. It doesn't see the need for "going over history again", in Prime Minister Bill English's words.