Taken By The State

Sorry, Minister, you’re wrong on the video

The admission by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and children's minister Tracey Martin that they never watched the Newsroom video story of an attempted removal of a baby by Oranga Tamariki - and Martin's attempt to shoot the messenger - have been met with astonishment by those who were there.

Astonishment. And strong words. "Bullshit", said midwife Jean Te Huia, on the suggestion the video was not truthful. "She has no idea what she's talking about," said midwife Ripeka Ormsby. "Bordering on fake news" said Newsroom investigations editor Melanie Reid of claims 36 to 40 hours of video footage was reduced to 45 minutes.

Their reactions are printed in detail below.

The video story, watched more than half a million times, captures repeated attempts by social workers from the ministry, with police, to take the newborn from its mother's arms in her maternity room in Hawkes Bay Hospital - at one point shutting out the whānau and midwives and trying to wait the mother out on her own until after 1 am before police called the action off.

Four inquiries have been announced into the issues raised by the Newsroom video story: an internal inquiry by Oranga Tamariki's chief social worker and a nominated representative from Hawkes Bay iwi Ngāti Kahungunu, an inquiry by the Children's Commissioner into the uplifts of Māori babies, a broader inquiry into Oranga Tamariki's uplifts by the Chief Ombudsman and a Māori-led inquiry called by a group of leading names in Maoridom.

The Maori leaders, coordinated by the North Island's Whānau Ora Commissioning Agency, said they were responding to "a tide of unrest in Maoridom" over the Oranga Tamariki uplifts of Māori children. A national hui has been called in Mangere, South Auckland, next weekend to address the problems and a march is planned on Parliament on July 30.

Ardern shocked some in Maoridom at the weekend and again yesterday by revealing she has never watched the video story, which was first made public on June 11, three weeks ago today.

Martin, on RNZ's Morning Report, and again at the post Cabinet press conference yesterday, tried to say the 45-minute video story did not convey the reality of a 36-hour action to try to remove the baby.

She said she regretted the whānau had lost control of their own story through the media coverage and even claimed Oranga Tamariki had been working closely with the mother and whānau over the months before the birth. (The 36-hours-down-to-45-minutes line was first deployed by the Oranga Tamariki chief executive, Grainne Moss, the day after the video aired, and challenged at the time. Moss has largely disappeared from view since that initial, controversial interview.)

Here is what those who were there with the mother and whānau at the hospital when Oranga Tamariki came calling have to say to those claims:

Ripeka Ormsby, right, with whānau in the hospital room.

Ripeka Ormsby, midwife

I am the young mum's midwife. I was with her during her pregnancy, with her at the birth and throughout the attempted uplift.

I am amazed by the inaccuracy of Minister Tracey Martin's statements. She has no idea what she is talking about.

Had she watched the video and seen the behaviour of her staff she might be a lot more cautious with the advice they are giving her.

She said on RNZ, that Oranga Tamariki have worked with the mum and dad for months and highly qualified social workers came to the decision that the baby wasn’t safe. First, I wouldn’t call it “OT working with the young mum and dad”, more like demeaning, and controlling them and giving them no options, despite all the plans that had been put in place and efforts by the wider whānau to provide a loving home.

In her interview, she made an aside “there hasn’t been much conversation about the dad”. I think it is distorted for the Minister to insinuate that this whānau is much worse than they are. It leaves much to the imagination and once again the whānau are left exposed and vulnerable.

For neither Jacinda Ardern nor Tracey Martin to have seen the video shows just how detached they are. Families are up in arms. More and more people are coming forward and sharing their awful experiences with Oranga Tamariki. For Māori, this is another foreshore and seabed moment. There are three Government inquiries and a fourth by Iwi, and here we have our politicians with no idea why New Zealand families are so profoundly moved and upset.

As for them saying the video is non-representative of what happened, I was there for all of it and I can tell you what you see is totally real. The truth is in the video and no amount of PR changes that or changes what New Zealand got to witness as it unfolded.

The Newsroom uplift video has brought light to the dark shadows and unfair practices of Oranga Tamariki.

Des Ratima, who helped call off the uplift in the early hours.

Des Ratima, Chairman Takitimu District Māori Council, who was at the hospital on the night.

Why has neither Jacinda Ardern nor Tracey Martin watched the video? Well I would only be guessing: Maybe not watching it means it’s not real. Or not watching it means not having to apologise. Or watching it is an admission that Oranga Tamariki is as bad as we all say it is. I don’t think that they have not watched it because they are busy.

It is news to me that the minister has spoken to family representatives. The family have been affected by the actions of Oranga Tamariki, not the film or the outrage the nation feels for this even occurring.

This family is aware of their situation. They have ongoing support. They are making and meeting their goals. They need further help to move forward - not criticism from people who think they understand their situation but refuse to watch the video and be confronted with the visual truth.

The social worker in the video shared with me that everything in the video is true.

Jean Te Huia, right, at the mother's bedside during the attempted uplift. Photo: Supplied.

Jean Te Huia  – Māori Midwives Aotearoa, also at the hospital throughout.

Jacinda Ardern’s admission, she has not watched the video reminds me of Helen Clark, our previous Prime Minister, when Māori were up and arms about the seabed and foreshore debacle. She refused to meet thousands of Māori protesters at Parliament steps, choosing instead to meet Shrek, the unshorn sheep from Central Otago.

We lost all hope then that we had a PM prepared to listen to the needs of Māori, and we are faced again with the same situation, Ardern refusing to see what it is that has outraged the rest of the country. That is not leadership. So many of us had much higher expectations of her.

(On the video not being representative): The truth is in the video. No amount of bullshit from Tracey Martin changes what New Zealand got to witness as it unfolded. Maybe the politicians need to front up to the truth of what’s really going on, or maybe it’s that truth that they are afraid of. If they are unwilling to admit there is a problem how on earth will they ever find a solution.

(On whānau losing control of the story): Saying the whānau have lost control of the story is just unbelievable. The whānau love Melanie Reid, without her they say they wouldn’t even have their baby. The harm that has been done to them has been done by Oranga Tamariki. Maori up and down the country are just so grateful they now have a voice especially those who are fighting to get their babies back.

This is an atrocity that continues to plague our Māori women.

Melanie Reid with the mother, baby and father at the hospital. Photo: Supplied.

Melanie Reid, Newsroom Investigations Editor 

I am astonished that Tracey Martin would try to claim the whānau in our documentary have “lost control of their own story”. She hasn’t even watched the footage. Does that look like a whānau in control of its own story in the first place?

The whole point of the film is to show how whānau like this cannot control their own story because of Oranga Tamariki’s methods.

It’s bordering on fake news for the minister to be claiming that 36 hours of footage was edited down to the 45 minutes eventually broadcast.

How ridiculous. That would mean I would have filmed 36 hours of footage in 36 hours. For that to be true it would mean I would had to have filmed from the moment I stepped off a plane to the moment I left, including filming people asleep for hours. 

How disappointing it is, after all the coverage this issue has had and the inquiries that have been launched, to hear the minister returning yet again to blaming the messenger.

This is a real-time, as it happened, presentation. 

It is not a one-off, isolated case of an uplift and bad Oranga Tamariki practice. Perhaps, first-things-first, Martin needs to watch the film, then perhaps she would like to read the hundreds of emails and messages we have received. Criticising a film she hasn’t seen and concocting excuses is frankly predictable, and spin.

Worse, what she is saying is simply untrue.

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