Allow Māori to fix Oranga Tamariki, Crown told, after Waitangi Tribunal inquiry finds multiple Treaty breaches

The Waitangi Tribunal has told the Crown to step back and let Māori establish an independent authority to lead Oranga Tamariki reforms, after a scathing new report found it culpable of multiple breaches of the Treaty of Waitangi.

The recommendations followed an urgent inquiry into Oranga Tamariki and New Zealand's care and protection system, which concluded this month.

The inquiry was launched in October 2019 amid concerns over a "significant and consistent disparity" between the number of Māori and non-Māori children being taken into state care. It also looked into what changes the Crown should make to secure outcomes consistent with the Treaty of Waitangi.

In a report released on Friday afternoon, the Waitangi Tribunal said the ethnic disparity of children in the system was "a direct consequence of the Crown's intrusion into the rangatira of Māori over their kāinga".

It found the disparity could also be attributed in part to the "effects of alienation and dispossession".

The Tribunal said there had also been breaches of the Treaty principles of partnership, active protection and options which, when combined, amounted to "significant prejudice" that had caused the number of tamariki Māori in state care to skyrocket.

"The Tribunal's primary recommendation is that the Crown steps back from further intrusion into what was reserved to Māori under te Tiriti/the Treaty, and allow Māori to reclaim their space," the report says.

"Māori should be given the right to realising rangatiratanga over their kāinga."

The Waitangi Tribunal report endorsed calls from myriad indigenous leaders for a 'by Māori, for Māori' authority to be established that would oversee an overhaul of Oranga Tamariki and the state care system.

Dubbed the Māori Transition Authority, the Tribunal recommends it be totally independent of the Crown and its departments, and be given a mandate to design and reform the care and protection system for tamariki Māori.

"The Crown must support this transformation, but it is not one that it can or should lead," the Tribunal's report reads.

"This body [the Māori Transition Authority] should be established as a priority and given a wide mandate to consider system improvements both within and outside of the legislative and policy settings for Oranga Tamariki.

"The Tribunal recommends that the Crown assists the Transition Authority with information and advice as required, and also that the Crown ensures the Transition Authority has sufficient financial and administrative support to undertake and deliver a reform of this scope."

The Māori Transition Authority is something indigenous leaders have been calling for for months - particularly after the resignation of embattled Oranga Tamariki CEO Gráinne Moss.

Moss stood down from the role in January, following months of intense scrutiny brought on by coverage of uplifts of Māori babies - who are five times more likely to be taken into state care than babies of other ethnicities.

Seven of every 10 children seen by Oranga Tamariki are Māori, despite tangata whenua making up just 16.5 percent of our total population.

A Children's Commissioner report in November found Oranga Tamariki was beyond salvaging, and should be rebuilt to ensure better outcomes for Māori. It also recommended the authority of the organisation be handed over to Māori.

'An historic acknowledgement' - Children's Commissioner

Children's Commissioner Andrew Becroft has hailed the Tribunal's findings as "historic", saying it presents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to "finally get it right for mokopuna Māori".

He says the 'child rescue' model adopted by Oranga Tamariki has been a failure for decades, severing the links between mokopuna and their whānau, hapū and iwi, and is urgent need of upheaval.

"The Tribunal's comprehensive report is the latest evidence that the state care and protection system is not working for Māori and must be completely transformed," Commissioner Becroft says.

Children's Commissioner Andrew Becroft.
Children's Commissioner Andrew Becroft. Photo credit: Newshub.

"The Tribunal's findings are an historic acknowledgment of the harmful impact of structural and systemic racism and of the consistent calls from whānau for change since 1925.

"This is a once in a generation opportunity to get it right for mokopuna and whānau Māori. We urge the Government to take it."

Those calls were backed by Assistant Māori Commissioner Glenis Philip Barbara, who says it signals an end may be in sight to "New Zealand's horrible addiction to assimilation".

"The call for the Crown to 'step back from further intrusion and allow Māori to reclaim their space' and take responsibility to lead the transformation is in itself, transformational."

Commissioner Becroft says the Tribunal's report is an example of "a sea change in recognising Te Tiriti o Waitangi and its rightful place" currently happening in New Zealand.