Yesterday the Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, formally announced that there would be a Royal Commission of Inquiry into historic abuse in State care. This commitment had been part of her (Labour) party’s election manifesto commitments, so the announcement puts that into place.
The Royal Commission will be led by Rt Hon Sir Anand Satyanand – a former Governor-General. Draft terms of reference have been agreed by Cabinet, but these will only be finalised after consultation. The draft is not yet released, but the Department of Internal Affairs indicates the inquiry will consider “the nature and extent of abuse that occurred in state care, what its immediate and long term impacts were, the factors (including systemic factors) which may have caused or contributed to it, and lessons to be learned from the past.” The inquiry will also consider current settings to prevent and respond to any such abuse. Further, “a key focus of the Inquiry is to understand any differential impacts of abuse in state care for Māori and other groups where differential impact is evident…” This will include considering factors leading to someone being placed in State care.
In our assessment, given the United Nations had already asked New Zealand to investigate these matters, and given the Ministry of Social Development has already settled over 1,600 proven individual claims in this area – and has at least another 1,000 in process, there is no doubt that such an inquiry is warranted. The last (National) Government’s refusal to resolve this matter simply presented as a home goal in the lead up to the election. We note from the extract above, as with other inquiries being launched, the Government is conscious that the experience for Māori in this area may be different from that for others. This is useful, given Māori comprise over half of young people in State care; (i.e. circa 3,100 tamariki/rangatahi Māori are in State care, and a further 360 tamariki/rangatahi Māori are in State youth residences.)
Other members of the Commission have yet to be named, but we would expect at least one or two people with a strong understanding of Māori and State care issues to be appointed, and we will advise further as the matter progresses. Many subscribing organisations may wish to consider making submissions to this Inquiry.