Cabinet paper outlines Crown approach to Royal Commission on abuse
Tue 14 May 2019
The Government has released a Cabinet Paper and two Cabinet Minutes that outline how the government plans to respond to the Royal Commission ...
The Government has released a Cabinet Paper and two Cabinet Minutes that outline how the government plans to respond to the Royal Commission of Inquiry into Historical Abuse in State Care and in the Care of Faith-based Institutions │ Te Kōmihana Karauna mō ngā Tūkino o Mua ki te Hunga i Tiakina e te Kāwanatanga i Tiakina hoki e ngā Whare o te Whakapono.
Minister of State Services, Chris Hipkins, is responsible for leading the Crown’s response to the inquiry and released the Cabinet Paper, Proposed Strategic Approach to Guide the Crown Engagement with and Response to, The Royal Commission of Inquiry into Historical Abuse in State Care and in the Care of Faith-Based Institutions (2019).
The Cabinet Minutes include the decisions of Cabinet and the Cabinet Social Wellbeing Committee in support of the proposal.
“Eleven government agencies are involved in responding to the inquiry. Given the scale and the significance, Cabinet has set out how Government agencies will engage with the Royal Commission and survivors.”
The Cabinet Paper outlines the focus and structure of the Crown response and identifies key issues. It states that the Crown response needs to be flexible and ongoing because the inquiry will produce recommendations throughout the process as well as the final report:
"Firstly, that government agencies will need to be prepared to engage and respond (including, with information and advice about current practices) for the duration of the inquiry rather than waiting to respond to a final report at the end."
The Cabinet Paper also notes that the Crown response needs to keep enough distance from the inquiry to ensure it remains independent.
The Cabinet Paper outlines six outcomes and six principles. The outcomes are intended to reflect what is most important to survivors:
- Survivors are heard and they feel heard
- Harm is acknowledged (recognition and reconciliation)
- An improved government care system
- This type of harm never happens again
- Māori experiences, and their impacts, are recognised and respected
- Disabled people's experiences, and their impacts, are recognised and respected.
The principles are intended to acknowledge the harm experienced by individuals, whānau and communities. The Cabinet Paper states: "... the principles show our intent to behave with compassion and to be open, transparent and to learn from the Royal Commission and survivors." The principles are:
- "Manaakitanga: The Crown recognises that people and their experiences are at the heart of this issue and they will be treated with humanity, respect and responsible caring that upholds the mana of those involved.
- Openness: That government should be honest and sincere in all its dealings with the Royal Commission and the survivor community. We should be open to receiving, considering and acting on new ideas, and willing to reconsider how we do things currently and how we have done things in the past.
- Transparency: Access should be available to knowledge and information held by the Crown as much as possible  and the Crown should proactively share any relevant information, including information about past actions and current processes. This principle must be balanced with manaakitanga, as care should be taken when releasing information that its release does not cause further harm to survivors.
- Learning: Crown agencies should listen and learn from the Royal Commission and the survivor community as the inquiry progresses, in ways that are both deliberate and reflective, and use that information to change current systems, where relevant.
- Cross-agency alignment and ownership: The Crown will take a ‘whole of government’ ownership of the response, align activities and coordinate engagement with the Royal Commission. Oversight from the Social Wellbeing Board and sponsorship from a subgroup of Chief Executives will support this.
- Meeting our obligations under Te Tiriti o Waitangi: The Crown response needs to recognise the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi, meet Treaty obligations as they apply and build a stronger Māori-Crown relationship through the way we operate and behave."
Chris Hipkins writes in the Cabinet Paper that:
"The Crown is not always seen to be acting in alignment with the principles, so we will need to take a range of actions to actively demonstrate our commitment to them. I have asked officials to consider what these actions might involve and report back to this Committee. This includes examining some aspects of existing government business which may not initially be obvious, but where the implications of the principles need to be considered. The Crown’s current approach to dispute resolution and litigation from people who claim they were abused in state care is one area of work that should be considered in light of the proposed principles."
He also writes:
"In the press release that accompanies the release of this paper, I intend to make it clear that I expect the Royal Commission to have a significant impact on State agencies that care for children and vulnerable adults, and that I do not expect those agencies to be complacent about the impact of this work."
The Cabinet Paper highlights several key issues including a need for the Crown's response to acknowledge the disproportionate numbers of Māori previously and currently in the government care system, stating "A key question for Māori will be how this overrepresentation happened - where it began and what the causes were." The Cabinet Paper also acknowledges that people with disabilities and mental illness, and Pacific people were disproportionately affected.
Chris Hipkins has also proposed that the government should consider providing support for Crown entities and NGOs to participate in the inquiry process.
The Cabinet Paper provides a detailed overview of the governance and management structure for the Crown Response, noting:
"Sponsoring oversight is provided by a sub-set of five Chief Executives from the Social Wellbeing Board, with decisions about resourcing, risks and the work programme handled by an Interagency Group of senior managers from relevant agencies."
It goes on to state that "A set of individual work-streams will form the Crown response, with cross-agency working groups driving particular aspects of the work." Work is already underway to begin the Crown response. Funding has been requested to support the Crown response and is expected to be announced in the upcoming Budget 2019.
The Royal Commission of Inquiry welcomed the Government’s approach and confirmed the Commission could issue recommendations at any time.
Update: The Ministry of Social Development announced that a Crown secretariat has been set up to coordinate and align the Crown’s engagement across and between agencies for the Royal Commission of Inquiry.
The Ministry of Social Development has been working on revising the process for responding to claims of historic abuse in state care.
Media outlet Newsroom recently reported the story of a mother, her whānau, Māori midwives and others challenging Oranga Tamariki and police efforts to uplift a newborn baby in Hawkes Bay Hospital. Oranga Tamariki said concerns included family violence by the child's father. The whānau, midwives and iwi eventually negotiated with police and Oranga Tamariki to allow the mother and child to stay together in a supported environment until a court hearing in June. This followed previous criticism of increasing and disproportionate uplifts of Māori children. See further commentary in the related media below.
Update: Newsroom has released a documentary about their investigation into the uplifting of children by Oranga Tamariki.
A community hui was recently held to address concerns from parents and whānau about Oranga Tamariki's uplifting of children.
Minister for Social Development, Carmel Sepuloni has recently announced changes to government oversight of the children’s system (particularly children in state care).
Survivor Advisory Group appointed, Royal Commission of Inquiry into Historical Abuse in State Care and in the Care of Faith-based Institutions / Te Kōmihana Karauna mō ngā Tūkino o Mua ki te Hunga i Tiakina e te Kāwanatanga i Tiakina hoki e ngā Whare o te Whakapono Press Release, 21.05.2019