Winston Peters calls for Māoridom to change to end Oranga Tamariki uplifts

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters says Māoridom must address issues of abuse towards children and women instead of accusing Oranga Tamariki of institutional racism.

Speaking at a New Zealand First public meeting in Tauranga on Thursday evening, Peters addressed calls for an end to the uplift of Māori children from their families by Oranga Tamariki.

"Oranga Tamariki is being accused of institutional racism for uplifting Māori children from their parents. Social workers are being harassed and threatened," he said.

"The children uplifted from these circumstances are being called 'New Zealand's own stolen generation'. That is an insult to the Aboriginal Australian experience. An utter and total insult."

The topic of uplifts has been in the spotlight since Newsroom released a video investigation in June showing officials from Oranga Tamariki - the Ministry for Children - at a Hawke's Bay maternity ward attempting to take a young Māori baby away from her family out of concern for the child's safety.

The group Hands Off Our Tamariki led a march on Parliament last month, saying a halt to uplifts was necessary as tamariki in care have poor outcomes and should instead be kept within whanau or iwi. A system led by Māori philosophies has also been mooted.

On average, three Māori children are taken into care every week and that number is rising - while the rate of uplift for non-Māori is staying static. 

Winston Peters.
Winston Peters. Photo credit: Newshub.

But while Peters said "the odd [uplift] went wrong", Māori children aren't just randomly pulled from their families.

"The facts are that these children are being uplifted because they face perilous dangerous situations.

"There should be no apologies when Oranga Tamariki uplifts a child from an abusive, dangerous or otherwise neglectful environment," Peters said to applause from the crowd.

One of the protest organisers, Rihi Te Nana, told The AM Show in July that she accepted children from abusive homes should be removed, but only as a last resort if the whanau has been worked with. 

"What is front of mind is that the Government actually accepts that Māori can look after their tamariki and children and the problem that we have at the moment is that the state has done for 156 years a very poor job of looking after our tamariki," she said.

"Māori have very good networks, we are able to find safe whanau that tamariki who are in crisis can go and stay with and we can also support the whanau in crisis, to think about the issues that they have and how within our context we can walk alongside them to support them to move forward."

She said some children get abused in state care, so it can't be presumed tamariki automatically become safer when uplifted.

Protest at Parliament.
Protest at Parliament. Photo credit: Newshub.

Peters said if Māori want their children to not be uplifted, they should take their "responsibilities to protect these children seriously".

"Māoridom, as we all know, needs a renaissance of thinking, to change, and change for the better."

More money has recently been channeled into Oranga Tamariki by the Government, including for early intervention services to put support around families and their newborns. At the start of July, new care standards were introduced, while partnerships between the agency and iwi are being developed.

"We know the system isn't perfect. No one is saying that Oranga Tamariki, a system this Government inherited, has not got to be fixed, but we have got to work on it," Peters said.

"To hear the counter-argument that it is all their fault, it is all the taxpayers' fault, and that they are all innocent, is just balderdash.

"We make it clear that department will not stop uplifting children if there is a continued danger to those children and that continued danger".

Despite the calls for Māori to address issues of abuse and comments about a "deep division" with Māori over Ihumātao - demonstrations he believes have been sensationalised by the media - Peters said Māori were taking massive strides.

"A lot about our race relations are of concern, but there is a lot right about our race relations as well.

"Māori are succeeding across every front, whether in business, the law, the arts, sports, and academia. Māori in the massive main are looking forward not back."