Tracey Martin considers action after royal commission blunder

Warning: This story discusses issues related to rape and sexual violence.

The minister in charge of the inquiry into abuse in state care is refusing to express confidence in the commission after a man with convictions of child sexual abuse was allowed into inquiry meetings.

Minister in charge of the Royal Commission of Inquiry into Abuse in Care, Tracey Martin, has refused to express confidence in the decision-making abilities of the commissioners, and is seeking advice on what action she can take.

Meanwhile, survivors are looking to pull out of the inquiry as they lose trust in the process.

One survivor who contacted Newsroom says she signed up to be heard by the inquiry, but is reconsidering because she no longer feels the inquiry is a safe place to disclose what happened to her as a child.

This comes after Newsroom reported a man with convictions of child sexual abuse was allowed into inquiry meetings, and to interact with survivors of abuse.

The man, who has permanent name suppression, is the partner of one of the members of the commission's survivor advisory group. He accompanied her as a support person to out-of-town meetings. Newsroom has chosen not to name the woman.

In May, soon after the survivor advisory group was established, the commission was told the man needed to notify police of his accommodation arrangements ahead of travel. It is understood this disclosure requirement was due to the man being subject to the Child Sex Offender Register.

At this point the commission became aware the man had a criminal conviction but did not question the disclosure requirement, or the nature of the man’s conviction. Three months later, on August 22, the man disclosed that information.

This is the latest in a string of issues that have plagued the commission, and has led both survivors and politicians to question the inquiry’s processes.

On Tuesday morning, Martin said she was seeking advice from the Department of Internal Affairs regarding what actions, if any, she could take.

“I’m going to have to say I have severe concerns about their decision-making abilities.”

As this is an independent inquiry, Martin’s powers are limited. She does not have any oversight of operational matters, and the commission is not obliged to inform her of issues such as this. Martin said she was only made aware of what happened after it was reported by media.

When asked whether she had confidence in the inquiry, Martin responded: “I’m going to have to say I have severe concerns about their decision-making abilities.”

When asked whether she expected a resignation, she said she did not want to "start lurching out there and making statements in the media that might again batter what confidence people have at the moment".

“But I have serious concerns around the decision-making from the information I have received.”

Martin said she was “pretty horrified” when she found out what had happened.

“This is a really shocking outcome, or situation, for such an important inquiry, and particularly for those survivors.”

The inquiry was a “big step” for New Zealand, she said, adding that if it eroded trust and stopped people from participating, it would be a “lost opportunity”.

“These people have fought for so long, with the trauma that they have carried from their childhood, to be believed in many cases. A situation like this, it’s just not constructive or helpful or healing for them.”

National Party leader Simon Bridges says allowing a convicted child sex offender to interact with members of the royal commission's survivor advisory panel was a gross breach of trust. Photo: Lynn Grieveson

Martin said her reaction to the information was the same as the concern expressed by National Party leader Simon Bridges, who demanded answers from Martin and the commission.

Bridges said this was a gross breach of trust by the state.

“The survivors have already been betrayed and let down repeatedly by the state in circumstances similar to the offending by this man.”

Meanwhile, Acting Prime Minister Winston Peters said the commission was not at fault, and he did not expect this to affect the inquiry as a whole.

“It was always going to be extraordinarily difficult. This experience offshore has been enormously difficult. It was in the UK, it was in Australia, and it will be here. I just think we need to show a bit more compassion and understanding of what’s going to be a very difficult inquiry. Will we have to do repair work on it as we go ahead? We most certainly will.”

'Process not trustworthy'

Two members of the survivor advisory group, who were both sexually abused as children in state care, said the situation had eroded confidence in the inquiry.

Tyrone Marks said the internal workings of the inquiry was “a shambles”.

“It’s pretty much all over the place – from what I’ve seen.”

Jennifer, a survivor of state abuse who did not want her last name used, said she was “disillusioned with the whole debacle”.

“Seems like a whole lot of lip service, with very poor process.”

Jennifer said she was abused in many of the numerous welfare homes she lived in as a child.

“My childhood was horrific. My story made me who I am today. It’s tragic and unique and I will not surrender my experience without a trustworthy process."

She signed up to be heard by the inquiry but was now seriously reconsidering participating in the process.

“My childhood was horrific. My story made me who I am today. It’s tragic and unique and I will not surrender my experience without a trustworthy process."

As a survivor of abuse, she had trust issues, and though she was desperate to reconcile the utter mismanagement and disregard for her as a vulnerable young person, she no longer felt the inquiry was a safe place to disclose her experience.

“Unfortunately, this means my opportunity to be heard is lost and any reconciliation I hoped for has been dashed.”

Jennifer said this example reaffirmed that victims of abuse, "the discarded and irrelevant, have no greater consideration now than was afforded to us as children”.

In a statement, the commissioner in charge of the survivor advisory group, Paul Gibson, said: “Although there have been a few missteps with the survivor advisory group - some of which we are still ironing out – under new management, group members have started providing some valuable advice to the inquiry.”

Martin expected to receive advice from officials by the end of the day on Tuesday. From there she will decide whether to take any action – if she is able.

Where to get help:

Rape Crisis - 0800 88 33 00 (Will direct you to a nearby centre), follow link for information on local helplines

Victim Support - 0800 842 846 (24hr service)

The Harbour, online support and information for those affected by harmful sexual behaviour

Women's Refuge (For women and children) - crisis line available on 0800 733 843

Safe to talk - 0800 044 334, text 4334 or web chat

Male Survivors Aotearoa (For men) - follow link for regional helplines

If you or someone else is in immediate danger call 111.

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