Abuse in Care inquiry changes not credible - survivors and advocates

By Katie Scotcher for RNZ

The government is being warned the Royal Commission into Abuse in Care will not produce a credible report because of significant changes it has made to the inquiry.

Internal Affairs Minister Jan Tinetti has removed the inquiry's ability to investigate modern care providers and recent cases of abuse.

She has also rejected a request from the inquiry to extend their investigation by another two and a half years.

The high-level investigation is examining abuse that occurred in state and faith-based care between 1950 and 1999.

It was also given discretion to look outside of that time period when the inquiry was established in 2018 but Tinetti has now removed this power, to ensure the Royal Commission completes its work by 2023.

This is because in December last year, the inquiry estimated it would need another three years to complete its work - taking the total investigation period to seven years.

Abuse survivor Keith Wiffin says he is uncomfortable about the changes and the government's lack of consultation with survivors.

"It will come as a great shock to many survivors because the two biggest things that survivors want from this process is acknowledgement and recognition as to what's happened historically to them and others and to know that what happened to them isn't going to happen to those who are in care now and who will go into care in the future," Wiffin said.

"That is exactly what is undermined here."

Lawyer Sonja Cooper represents roughly 1400 abuse survivors whose experiences span from the 1950s to today, and said the government needed to reverse its decision as "it is inconsistent with the wishes of survivors, silences survivors in care after 1999 and places children currently in care at risk".

There was no way the Royal Commission could hand over a credible report if it did not consider the abuse happening now, she said.

"One of its key tasks was to make recommendations about improving our system so that those who are currently in care don't suffer the same fate.

"We don't know what those who are currently in care are experiencing if we blind the Royal Commission from being able to look at what's happening now, we also thwart their ability to make realistic recommendations about making it better," Cooper said.

It was not credible for the government to justify its decision by saying there were investigations already under way, she said.

"Those are discreet inquiries and they are only into Oranga Tamariki, whereas the [Royal Commission] inquiry is looking at residential and state schools; it's looking at faith-based organisations; it's looking at borstals and it's looking at psychiatric hospitals - they are not even touched on," Cooper said.

Another abuse survivor, Tyrone Marks, said before you look into the future, you have to understand the past.

"If you read a book, you don't start halfway through it and then get to the end without investigating what happened in the beginning or where the story actually comes from first. Knowing what happened yesterday has a big impact on what is happening today," Marks said.

The government has also moved forward the due date for the Royal Commission's report on redress. This is because ministers want to take it into Budget 2022 negotiations.

Network for Survivors of abuse in Faith-based Institutions NZ spokesperson, Liz Tonks said many wanted the inquiry to end there.

"We know that people are not reporting to the Commission. They have lost trust in it because of the legalistic way it's been run and the lack of contact they've had post reporting."

A spokesperson for the Royal Commission said it would speak to the Internal Affairs Minister to clarify the nature and extent of changes and the implications for survivors and those in care.