Outgoing Oranga Tamariki deputy backs under-fire boss Gráinne Moss

Māori Party co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer says the departure of the man who was meant to be leading Oranga Tamariki's efforts to do better for Māori children is a sign progress is not being made.

But the man himself, deputy chief executive Hoani Lambert, says that's not the case - he is simply taking an opportunity that arose in another Government department, and he's confident someone else capable will step up to take over. 

Lambert four years ago was tasked with implementing section 7AA of the Oranga Tamariki Act, which requires the chief executive to reduce disparities experienced by Māori in the system, by teaming up with Māori organisations and iwi and publicly report on measurable targets showing the progress they've made. 

Chief executive Gráinne Moss, who has been under pressure to resign for months, announced on Monday Lambert was leaving for a role in the Department of Internal Affairs. 

"I've been in the role for four years. I don't think anyone is irreplaceable," Lambert told TVNZ on Tuesday. "I don't think there's ever a perfect time to be going onto another role." 

Lambert said he's proud of the work he and his staff have done to date, and it was time for "somebody new to come into this role and to make a difference". 

Oranga Tamariki bosses have been appearing in front of the Waitangi Tribunal in recent weeks, sparked by coverage of uplifts of Māori babies, who are five times more likely to be taken into state care than babies of other ethnicities. 

Ngarewa-Packer told Magic Talk on Tuesday morning she didn't believe the timing of Lambert's departure was a coincidence.

"To say that progress is happening when we're watching the very resignation of the position that was meant to be overseeing the rolling out of section 7AA tells us that it's not."

Hoani Lambert.
Hoani Lambert. Photo credit: The AM Show

Former Māori Party co-leader Dame Tariana Turia said on Tuesday that Lambert's departure showed Moss had "lost the confidence of those who work for her and more importantly those she is tasked to protect".

Lambert rejected this, saying he had confidence in Moss, and was shocked at how personal the campaign for her removal had become.

"I wonder about how it affects her family. I wonder about what that means for us as a society when things can become so personal against an individual when essentially we are looking at a system which is highly complicated... to make this just about a single person, and the level of the hate and vitriol against her I don't think is a fair reflection of what New Zealand is about." 

Ngarewa-Packer said it was nothing personal, saying Moss had to take "absolute responsibility for the systemic failures that are happening".

"This is about the position that she's holding - not the person. Certainly the leadership is the person who determines and ensures the culture, the application, particularly pertaining to section 7AA, is rolling out and empowering and working for Māori."

Moss says structural racism in the state care system "reflects broader society", and wasn't confined to Oranga Tamariki.

"Until all the systems that allow structural racism to continue are changed, we will see poor results," Moss told Newshub on Monday. "We will not stop - that is my promise."

Lambert echoed those words on Tuesday.

"We are looking at a system that is highly complicated... [It's] not just Oranga Tamariki, but the role of the court and the role of other Government agencies."