MEDIAWATCH: Ryan Bridges vs Carmel Sepuloni in another Oranga Tamariki clash

Oranga Tamariki oversight: Carmel Sepuloni defends controversial move in AM interview

Social Development Minister Carmel Sepuloni has defended the Government’s controversial Oranga Tamariki oversight legislation in an interview with AM.

The Bill, which is currently before Parliament, would set up an independent monitor of Oranga Tamariki in the Education Review Office, see powers of the Children’s Commissioner move to a board and hand more powers handed to the Ombudsman.

However, it has widespread opposition from across Parliament as well as from advocates and state care survivors.

I have been highly critical of this Minister and this decision to remove the Children’s Commissioner away from oversight of OT and I was eager to hear the Minister explain exactly what the hell she’s doing.

The answers were appalling.

The Minister’s position is that removing the Children’s Commissioner from having oversight on Oranga Tamariki is a misrepresentation of the facts because the Children’s Commissioner wasn’t technically appointed to do oversight in the first place and that the Children’s Commissioner was passing issues along to the Ombudsmen to investigate anyway, meaning the new model of 6 faceless bureaucrats hidden inside the Education Review Office will provide all the oversight necessary.

Let’s unpack the bullshit technicalities the Minister is using to hide behind here.

The Minister is absolutely correct in stating that the Children’s Commissioner wasn’t supposed to remain in an oversight capacity. They were tacked on at the end because Oranga Tamariki’s newly weaponised uplift powers were so over the top and draconian that the Children’s Commissioner was added in temporarily as an attempt at a check and balance to state agency powers that enabled the state to take a child from a parent using nothing more than a MSD algorithm.

Remember, Oranga Tamariki is a neoliberal experiment in welfare. It uses Big Data to justify uplifting children immediately to save money in downstream justice, crime and health costs.

Oranga Tamariki has always been about saving the State’s wallet, it isn’t about the welfare of the child who is viewed as a ‘client’.

To make the cost savings, OT had to weaponise uplifts, streamline 0800 numbers to immediate action teams, change the law over parental power to stop the state seizing your child and of course, MSD made sure anyone who did have a child uplifted wasn’t eligible for Legal Aid.

The supposed counter weight to such enormous powers was the Children’s Commissioner being temporarily appointed  as an oversight. While they weren’t funded to investigate problems (that’s why cases were handed over to the Ombudsman), the Children’s Commissioner could give vital voice to the damage Oranga Tamariki was causing.

Removing the Children’s Commissioner for all these new checks and balances that aren’t checks and balances is insulting to the children being cared for and us as citizens.

To hide behind technicalities to obscure what is actually happening is an abdication of Ministerial responsibility.

It is ironic in the extreme that as we wade through the historic abuses inquiry by the State on vulnerable children, to the point where hundreds were tortured using electricity, here is the State removing vital transparency of a Government agency that has enormous powers with few checks and balances.

These Children, these vulnerable children, must be given MORE scrutiny, MORE transparency, MORE resource, MORE genuine care. Removing the loudest voice that can actually challenge Oranga Tamariki and their extreme unchecked powers when those State Agencies have such a shameful history of abusing those children is disgraceful social policy.

The system wants to ensure it can’t be held accountable and they will sacrifice any and all to keep their neoliberal experiment in welfare alive.

Chris Luxon is promising more of this type of policy if National win in 2023.

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