As I listened to the debate during the Second Reading of the Oranga Tamariki Oversight Bill last week, I could not help but think of the survivors. Those who had survived state care, those who have lived through hell, those who, despite the trauma and pain of their experiences, had stood up, and had courageously opened their wounds to the nation in opposition to this bill. Young rangatira like Ihorangi Reweti-Peters, Tupua Alrich, Karah Macki, and many others who have experienced the failings of the state first hand and yet refused to be silenced. Young people who have stood in their power, raised their voices, and said this is not ok, this is not right, and we demand to be heard!
There is a cost to standing for what is right, especially when in doing so you are required to expose your inner wounds to the world. Throughout the debate surrounding the Oranga Tamariki Oversight Bill, survivors of state care have born that cost. They have been vulnerable, honest, and courageous, they have raised their voices, shared their experiences, and they have demanded to be heard. Such courage should be honoured. Such raw powerful advocacy and conviction should be enough to make the powerful take note, to pause, to reflect on the course of action they have chosen.
And yet, our Government have not honoured our care experienced community.
They have not heard their voices.
Instead of listening, they have ignored the voices of our survivors, they have chosen to push on, decided that they know best. Better, than those who have survived state violence and abuse. Better than the academics such as Claire Charters, Tracey Whare, Fleur Te Aho from Auckland University, who have warned that this bill is in breach of Te Tiriti. Better than the community and social sector, in which there is such widespread opposition, including groups such as Save the Children, VOYCE Whakaronga-Mai, Barnardos NZ, Child Poverty Action Group, Manaaki Rangatahi, and many others with lifetimes of experience standing with and for our most structurally marginalized tamariki and rangatahi.
I appreciate that the Labour Party Select Committee members believe they have a good bill, further, I appreciate that Minister Sepolonu truly believes that these reforms are the right ones to be making, and yet, she and her party lack the trust and support of the community.
Labour MP, Emily Henderson, attempted to frame opposition to the bill as perfectionists who would demand endless debate and tweeks, while children suffer. She said that Labour had decided to do something, that they would not wait for perfect, they were prepared to act now; this was an unfair characterization of those opposed to the bill and the serious concerns we have. Lining up against this bill are people and organizations who have given their lives to serving our tamariki, many of these organizations and individuals have been serving and advocating for the rights of children since before this government came into being, and they will be doing so long after this government is gone. Many of these people are those who would have traditionally voted for and been advocates of Labour. And yet, Labour have pushed on despite the warnings, despite the fact that of the 403 submissions to the select committee, only 8 were in favour. Despite the fact that every political party on the political spectrum, from ACT to the Greens, has unified in opposition to Labour on this bill. Despite the fact, the social sector is in near unanimous opposition to the bill. And most importantly of all, despite our care experienced community sharing honestly, and courageously, that they do not have trust or confidence in this bill.
How did Labour become so removed from their voting base, that they have been unable to acknowledge and see the legitimate concerns of so many experts, sector leaders, and survivors who are opposed to this bill? Why is it that they have refused to listen to the voices of the people?
Even if the Minister believes she is right, in the face of such wide-spread opposition, would it not be the right thing, the democratic thing, to push pause on this bill, until she has the confidence of the people?
In the end, writing some words on a piece of paper, and passing it through parliament, does not automatically make our tamariki safe. To reform this system, the Minister requires the support of the very people that are being alienated by the Government’s decision to press on with this bill.
If the community sector, if those who advocate for tamariki and rangatahi, do not have confidence in these reforms, if we do not trust the system that has been set up, than what chance is there that we will be able to give confidence and trust to the rangatahi and tamariki we serve?
Due to Labours refusal to listen to the voices of the people, the Oranga Tamariki Oversight Bill has failed, even before it has begun.
If you would like to use your voice to elevate the voices of care experienced young people, than sign this petition and join us on Thursday night, outside Carmel Sepuloni’s Office in Tāmaki, as survivors, community leaders, and children’s advocates, hold a vigil in honour of survivors of State Care and in lament of the Government’s refusal to listen to our Care Experienced Whānau.
A.J. Hendry is a Laidlaw College graduate, and now a Youth Development Worker and housing advocate, working in the Youth Housing and Homelessness space. He leads a service supporting rangatahi experiencing homelessness and is also an advocate working collectively to end youth homelessness in Aotearoa. He is also the curator and creator of When Lambs Are Silent.
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