Taken By The State

Labour’s Māori MPs begin to stir on uplifts

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Finally, a public signal from the Labour Māori caucus that its members are picking up the "tide of unrest" within their people over Oranga Tamariki and its policy of removing Māori babies into state care.

While the Government has tried to keep out of the continuing controversy, the Māori Party and others have not been silent. Something big is happening politically and Māori MPs for Labour must be feeling it.

Cabinet minister Willie Jackson, who led the party's campaign for the Māori seats at the last election, has posted a plea on Facebook for Māori to use the uplift controversy to turn a corner and effect change. 

Political as ever, he noted: "Oranga Tamariki was formed under the last National Government" and the Labour-led Government had "inherited a huge mess". But Jackson also declared "it is what it is and it is timely for Māori to come up with a way forward with this kaupapa".

His public statement came just a day after renewed criticism followed Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and children's minister Tracey Martin confirming they had not watched a Newsroom video story, published three weeks ago, that is at the heart of this Māori community outrage.

Where they affected a detached stance on the controversy, Jackson suggested he had watched the video of a concerted and failed attempt by Oranga Tamariki to remove a newborn boy from his mother's arms in her Hawkes Bay Hospital bed, despite clear support from whānau, iwi and midwives.

"The footage of Oranga Tamariki staff attempting to take a newborn baby from her mother has shocked us, hurt us and angered us as Māori, as New Zealanders and as human beings," he said.

Well, only if you'd watched it, Prime Minister and Minister Martin.

Until now, the public statements on the video and the cascade of complaints against Oranga Tamariki have come from outside Labour's Māori caucus. A few days after the video aired, Jackson and ministerial colleague Peeni Henare did offer some limited, tepid, comments on the ministry on their way to a caucus meeting.

Māori leaders and activists have called for the removal of Martin and the Oranga Tamariki chief executive Grainne Moss, who downplayed the video evidence and the scale of her agency's removal of Māori babies, and for Oranga Tamariki's restructuring, re-naming and devolution of its budget and responsibilities to Māori networks.

It won't have gone unnoticed that leading Māori journalist Annabelle Lee-Mather and the head of Ngā Maia Māori Midwives Aotearoa Jean Te Huia have referred to this uplift crisis as akin to Māori's foreshore and seabed moment in the mid 2000s.

That led to the formation of the Māori Party, after Labour's Maori MPs other than Turia said and did little to challenge the Government from within. At the last election, the Māori Party was ejected from Parliament as Labour renewed its hold on all seven Māori seats.

Yet, two years later, it has been that party which has been publicly responding to the Oranga Tamariki concern.

Critically, as a fourth, Māori-led inquiry was announced by big names including Sir Mason Durie, Merepeka Raukawa-Tait, Sir Toby Curtis, Dame Iritana Tawhiwhirangi, Sir Wira Gardiner, Dame Naida Glavish, Dame Tariana Turia and Dame June Mariu, the Māori Party was among those continuing to call for change.

Turia was of course a former Māori Party leader and Glavish its president. Their concern and their purpose in setting up an inquiry will not have been party political.

But it will have been as a result of a keen awareness of the strong feeling of outrage among Māori at the public revelations of Oranga Tamariki's ongoing approach to taking babies from mothers and whānau at a rate of three a week.

Raukawa-Tait said in announcing the inquiry: "It was very, very disturbing, what we were hearing."  Her statement said leaders had become aware of a "tide of unrest" in Maoridom.

The video has been watched more than half a million times and the feelings of injustice are palpable within the Māori world.

On Jackson's chosen platform, Facebook, the reaction to the original video story, and Ardern and Martin's disclosure they had not watched it, was met with mounting anger. Commenters to the Newsroom Facebook page expressed disappointment in Ardern "for the first time" and some talked about changing political allegiance, for example, voting two ticks Green having previously supported Labour.

The Māori-led inquiry will stem from a hui to be held in nine days at Jackson's own marae at Mangere in South Auckland. Martin plaintively asked on an interview with The Hui host Mihingarangi Forbes on Sunday if perhaps someone would care to invite her to that meeting.

Jackson has gone on the front foot, saying the "major forces of Maoridom" who've called the hui and community groups, NGOs and "government representatives" will come together to "thrash out what we saw". For the benefit of the Minister of Children, and the Prime Minister, the Newsroom uplift video can be watched any time before the July 13 hui here.

As the political defensiveness of coalition politics has fallen from his eyes, his Facebook post declares: "This hui must represent the corner turned because this street of despair is breaking our hearts."

The hundreds of thousands who have watched that video, and the many hundreds who have contacted Newsroom, The Hui, other media, MPs and even the Labour Māori caucus, will be relieved someone in the Government has, in the words of the young Hawkes Bay mother's lawyer Janet Mason, woken up and smelled the injustice.

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