A hugely significant gain for ACT is somewhat camouflaged by legislative jargon. Under the heading ‘Oranga Tamariki’ ACT’s coalition agreement contains the following item:
• Remove Section 7AA from the Oranga Tamariki Act 1989
According to Oranga Tamariki:
“Section 7AA is our practical commitment to the principles of the Te Tiriti o Waitangi/Treaty of Waitangi.”
Make no mistake. Its removal will have major ramifications. Section 7AA is essentially the legislation that allows Oranga Tamariki to be a ‘by Maori, for Maori’ organisation. (In fact, the very name Oranga Tamariki may lose prominence given the coalition arrangement between NZ First and National agrees to: Ensure all public service departments have their primary name in English, except for those specifically related to Maori. Oranga Tamariki does not relate specifically to Maori but a majority of its clients are. In 2022 68 per cent of children in state care were Maori.)
Back to Section 7AA. According to Oranga Tamariki the legislation’s “end goal” is to achieve the following:
“Our vision for tamariki Maori, supported by our partners, is that ‘no tamaiti Maori will need state care’. This aligns to the calls being made by iwi and Maori that tamariki Maori should remain in the care of their whanau, hapu and iwi.”
In the most recent report (2022), as required under Section 7AA, then Minister for Children Kelvin Davis wrote:
“All mokopuna deserve love and security, and to have access to their culture. This is a right and not a privilege. Ideally, they would be surrounded by their immediate whanau to be provided this. When that is not possible, close or extended whanau or family is the preference. Maori are fortunate to have wider whanau, hapu and iwi networks to call on for such support.”
The chief executive, Te Hapimana (Chappie) Te Kani, has been implementing a ‘Future Direction Plan’ which, “… builds a strong foundation for the future of tamariki and rangatahi being within the care of whanau, hapu and iwi”.
But the new Minister for Children, ACT’s Karen Chhour believes the well being and safety of the child takes priority over cultural considerations.
Many Maori children have links to non-Maori by blood. They are children with mixed parentage. Where there are conflicts over their care – who should or shouldn’t step into that role – the non-Maori side of the equation must not be ruled out. That’s what Section 7AA effectively does. For that reason it must go.
It is impossible to predict how its removal will play out but such a major disagreement between the chief executive and the new minister will have to be resolved. The political opposition is going to be immense. And it will be ugly. Chhour has already had to withstand being told she is “not kaupapa Maori”, to stop viewing the world through a “vanilla lens” and that she should “leave her Pakeha world”. All distractions from her overarching goal to put the child’s interests firmly first.
For my part I wish the new minister every ounce of strength and courage.