The BulletinJune 20, 2019

The Bulletin: Bleak task ahead for Oranga Tamariki inquiries


Good morning, and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: Third Oranga Tamariki inquiry announced, Herald highlights iniquities in health sector, and significant new claims around Operation Burnham.

A third inquiry into Oranga Tamariki has been announced, and this one looks like being the most significant. It is being launched by chief ombudsman Peter Boshier, and Radio NZ reports it will be a wide ranging look into the steps Oranga Tamariki follows when taking a newborn child into care – often euphemistically called ‘uplifting’ a child. Mr Boshier says his office has “unique investigative powers” which will make it the most independent of the three inquiries. Te recap, the others are an internal inquiry into the now high-profile Hawke’s Bay case, and a Children’s Commissioner review into uplift policies.

Much of the reporting on this has been driven by Newsroom, who broke the original story around the Hawke’s Bay case. They have followed up with a number of pieces, including this highly pertinent one by journalist Aaron Smale, who argues that the breaking up of families is consistent with long standing policies that have harmed Māori significantly, on economic and social levels. Writing on The Spinoff, Tina Ngata writes that it is part of a broader theme in settler colonialism – indigenous people are punished by the state in some way at disturbingly similar rates in Australia, Canada and the USA. These are serious concerns with hard data to back them up, that go to the heart of how our society understands itself.

But these situations are nothing if not complicated when it comes to individual cases. This piece from an anonymous family lawyer on Stuff goes into why. The lawyer argues that Oranga Tamariki make their decisions to take a child based on evidence that harm will come to them if they don’t, and act on behalf of those who don’t otherwise have a say – the children themselves. The author acknowledges that mistakes do get made, but points out that some children who weren’t taken into state care end up being killed as a result. The names Moko Rangitoheriri, Nia Glassie and the Kahui twins are etched on the collective memory of New Zealanders, as examples of the horrific harm that can be done to kids.

It’s a position Labour MP Willie Jackson has a lot of sympathy for, reports Radio NZ – he says uplifting children should be a last resort, but it should be an option on the table when a child’s life is in danger. Because of privacy considerations, we can neither know nor assume or pre-judge what caused Oranga Tamariki to attempt an uplift in the Hawke’s Bay case.

But can we even be confident children taken into care will be even be safe there? There’s a Royal Commission of inquiry going on at this very moment into abuse suffered by children in state care, after all. Earlier in the year it was reported by Newshub that hundreds of kids had suffered some form of abuse in foster care over 2018 – most of the cases involving foster parents using violence. For those kids, that too is a horrible outcome, and it makes it a lot harder to argue they’re better off away from their families.

Then there’s the question of Oranga Tamariki staff themselves, and how they’re managing with the job. Last year a new pay deal was announced, with a focus on reducing staff burn-out, which was reportedly rife. At the time, they were wildly overworked and overburdened, and it’s not likely that situation has changed significantly in the space of less than 12 months simply because of a new funding package.

Can the inquiries sort through these competing complexities? It’s really hard to see how, as well-intentioned as they may be. The causes are deeply rooted, and have many factors to be considered – as do the questions around whether uplifts should continue to take place. But what the inquiries do show is a deep agreement that more light needs to be shone on this area, regardless of whatever ugly truths are revealed in the process.

More concerning health iniquities have been highlighted in these NZ Herald (paywalled) stories, the first of which covers babies dying after contracting syphilis in the womb. Worryingly, most of the six mothers who gave birth to stillborn babies were Māori. Some of the babies who have died were in areas where there are no sexual health specialists at the DHB, and many GPs, nurses and midwives lack training about what to look out for.

The other NZ Herald story (not paywalled) looks at the brewing scandal around the non-vaccination of Northland kids against meningitis. Supplies of the vaccine were rationed during an outbreak last year, and now it appears vaccines that could have been used sat on the shelf instead, where they’re not getting close to expiring. Local MP Dr Shane Reti says the situation is “outrageous.”

A complicated story about the presence of insurgents on the night of Operation Burnham has broken this morning on Stuffby Hit and Run co-author Jon StephensonTwo insurgents have admitted that they were in the area when the NZSAS raid began, contradicting accounts of villagers who said there were none, on which a key claim in the book was made. However, the insurgents maintain that all of those killed on the night were civilians, which contradicts the original claims made by the NZDF. It is the first time the insurgents, who were on a catch or kill list after an attack on coalition forces, have given a public account of the events. Speaking to Radio NZ, Jon Stephenson admits that it means major aspects of the book could be proven wrong, but is urging people to hold off final judgements until the inquiry has been completed.

Stats NZ and phone companies are planning on partnering with each other to track people’s movements, reports Radio NZ. It’s to measure population density, rather than tracking individual people, and the data will be anonymised. Stats minister James Shaw acknowledged there might be some perception concerns around it, but said phone companies already hold this data on people anyway. The Office of the Privacy Commissioner say they have no concerns around the process being used. Speaking personally, I can’t help but feel really unsettled by it.

This is a fascinating column from Interest’s Gareth Vaughan, as a follow up to the punishment meted out to binned ANZ boss David Hisco. Basically, he has his suspicions about the official story. Mr Hisco delivered strongly for shareholders over the course of a decade – the primary measure by which a banking executive is measured. And yet his career has probably been ended by the way ANZ’s board have dumped him, for transgressions that weren’t wildly out of the ordinary for people in his position.

On a related note, this column from Cat MacLennan on The Spinoff is also very strong, taking a completely different line. She has taken aim at the idea that David Hisco has been in treated in a way remotely commensurate with what would be dished out to a lowly bank teller in the same situation.

Gun buyback details are set to be announced today, and Newshub reckons they’ve got the scoop on what will be included. They say guns won’t quite be priced at full retail value, and different tiers will be offered depending on the condition the gun is in. ‘Collection events’ are likely to be held in public places, to ease the logistics of actually getting through the many thousands of firearms.

Air NZ boss Christopher Luxon has resigned, and it is being widely speculated that his next move will be to try and become a National MP. The NZ Herald reports there was some heavy hinting in his resignation statement, and party leader Simon Bridges said while he hadn’t spoken to Mr Luxon directly, they were always on the lookout for talent. Heather du Plessis-Allen goes even further, setting out the case for why he could in fact be the next National PM.

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Hayden Donnell looks back fondly at his life in Mt Albert.

Right now on The Spinoff: Alice Burton reports on a sheep becoming part of Waiheke Island activism against a new marina. Anna Knox writes about the assumed creative death of artists who become mothers, and why that stereotype shouldn’t persist. Hayden Donnell writes a love letter to the suburb that made him finally feel at home in Auckland, Mt Albert.

As well as all that, it’s World Refugee Day today, and we at The Spinoff are publishing a range of pieces to reflect that. They’re all worth reading, and can all be found on our home page, but the one I want to highlight most is this one by Wahida Zahedi. She came from Afghanistan, and now lives in Christchurch. and writes “one of the first things I learned at school in Christchurch was the Māori proverb: “He aha te mea nui o te ao, he tangata he tangata he tangata.” Her story, and the others that are told today, are a testament to the truth of that proverb.

Today’s feature is a really interesting look at the interplay of church and state in Rodrigo Duterte’s murderous war on drugs, published on VQR. The Catholic Church is an immensely important institution in the Philippines, and many in the church’s hierarchy are having to grapple with the wanton killings being carried out by the police. However, many in the church are also fully supportive of the authoritarian President. Here’s an excerpt:

Duterte’s ascent has resurrected a dilemma for the Philippines’s Catholic leadership that mirrors an identity crisis the church writ large has faced throughout its history: What is the responsibility of the church under an immoral regime? The institution’s elaborate machinations make it tricky to parse the actual stances and tactics of its leading figures. Cardinal Tagle, for one, rarely speaks publicly about the war on drugs, and when he does it is through broad condemnations of a “culture of death”—vague phrasing that encompasses abortion as well as the drug war.

His position is further muddied by the fact that he’s been photographed in genial meetings with Duterte, whom he has yet to condemn by name. “Good luck trying to find him,” one church activist said of Tagle. “He is always flying off to some country or other because he is the head of Caritas International and also has a number of important positions in the Vatican. And he hates having reporters corner him with questions about the extrajudicial killings.”

This morning in kids sport, here’s a silly situation from the Hawke’s Bay. Stuff reports a team of 11 year olds has been told they won’t get any competition points if they have a girl playing for them. She’s the only girl in the first XV, and had to be pulled out because other principals complained about it. She’s quite good too. The story subsequently went massive, with politicians and top rugby players weighing in. Honestly, they’re kids, just let them run around on a field and be done with it.  

For the Football Ferns, results in other groups haven’t been friendly, so their equation is now pretty simple to progress at the World Cup. They definitely need to beat Cameroon, and probably by two goals, to get one of the final 3rd place qualifier spots. Is that possible? Stuff’s Andrew Voerman writes that they’ll have to step up their attacking end significantly to make it happen – so far at the tournament they’ve only had eight shots on goal, with none of them going in.

Finally in the cricket, I left sending this morning’s Bulletin to the absolute last minute, because the game went to the final over. Fortunately, Kane Williamson finished it off in style, bringing up his century with a six and then tapping the winning runs to beat South Africa. The Black Caps remain unbeaten, and are now very close to the semifinals.

From our partners: A two-tier system of energy use is developing, with those on high incomes much more able to reduce their bills than households on lower incomes. Vector’s Chief Risk and Sustainability Officer Kate Beddoe outlines what the company plans to do about that.

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