New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern To Unveil Inquiry Into State Care Abuse

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1st February, 2018  |  Derek Cheng  |  NZ Herald


The Government's inquiry into the historical abuse of children in state care will be a Royal Commission of Inquiry, headed by former Governor-General Sir Anand Satyanand.

This follows the pleas of many victims and their advocates who have been calling for a Royal Commission - reserved for the most serious issues of public importance - and similar to the commission that took place in Australia.

This morning Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, with Minister for Children Tracey Martin alongside her, announced the details of the inquiry, which is the final item on the Government's 100-day plan.

Many of the thousands of children placed in state care between the 1950s and 1980s were subjected to sexual, physical and mental abuse.

"Any abuse of children is a tragedy, and for those most vulnerable children in state care, it is unconscionable. Today we are sending the strongest possible signal about how seriously we see this issue by setting up a Royal Commission of Inquiry," Ardern said.

"This is a chance to confront our history and make sure we don't make the same mistakes again. It is a significant step towards acknowledging and learning from the experiences of those who have been abused in state care.

"The independence and integrity of the inquiry and the process it follows are critical and Sir Anand has the mana, skills and experience necessary to lead this work. The process will be responsive to the needs of victims and survivors and support them to tell their stories."

The inquiry will hear submissions on existing compo mechanism, but won't make calls on individual compensation.

Ardern told reporters she wanted the inquiry to be responsive to survivors. But she had listened to feedback and insists that the process cannot be rushed.

Ardern said she expected the inquiry would make for "grim reading" and expected, in due course, a state-wide apology.

She hoped the inquiry would be in a position to start hearing from survivors in the middle of the year. It is expected to cost about $12 million for its first year, though the budget is not finalised.

Ardern said the inquiry was not about individual cases - though the inquiry would listen to those - but it was more about examining the system and why it had failed.

If people wished to take up a historic case with police, there would be mechanism of support to help them do so, the Prime Minister said.

Martin said the inquiry was not a witch hunt. It was to listen to and validate the victims' stories and fix the system.

She defended not extending the inquiry to faith-based institutes, saying it was about people, and if that person was in state care and then was abused in a non-state institute, then the person's experience was within scope of the inquiry.

Martin said she hoped the inquiry wasn't about money, but about the survivors.

"This conversation about money is not part of the inquiry at this time."

The commission was about people, not institutions, Martin said.

"Regardless of where they were placed, they are in scope [of the inquiry]. If they were in our scope and on a holiday school camp, and they were harmed on that holiday camp, they are in scope," she said.

"It is our expectation that when the inquiry begins and somebody wants to come forward prior to the time period [1950 to 1999], they will not be declined."

She said she hoped the inquiry will uncover the systematic failures and match them against the 15 legislative changes that correspond to the time period.

Martin said Satyanand would be in charge of how the hearings will be conducted, and she was confident they would be done in a sensitive way that will make the victims comfortable.

'Wide scope' for inquiry

Martin said that the commission would look into what abuse happened in state care, why it happened and what the impacts were, particularly for Māori. It will also consider the lessons that can be learned.

"We have set a wide scope. The time period covered is the 50 years from 1950 to the end of 1999 and, unlike some similar overseas inquiries, the Royal Commission will take a broad view of abuse and consider physical, sexual and emotional abuse and neglect," Martin said.

"We know this is an issue that has affected not only people who were abused in state care, but their families, whānau and wider communities too. It is therefore crucial that members of the public, including victims and survivors, have a chance to have their say."

The "state care" definition covers circumstances where the state directly ran institutions such as child welfare institutions, borstals or psychiatric hospitals, and where the Government contracted services out to other institutions.

Ardern has previously declined pleas for her to broaden the scope of the inquiry into non-state groups, such as churches, or sports or cultural clubs.

Before his role as Governor-General, Satyanand was a lawyer, a judge, and a parliamentary ombudsman. He also has experience in a wide range of government appointments, such as leading the Confidential Forum for Former In-Patients of Psychiatric Hospitals.

Satyanand will now begin consultation on the draft terms of reference for the Royal Commission. The final report is expected to be released within the current parliamentary term, with a process to extend the timeframe if needed.

Following the consultation period, Cabinet will make a final decision on the terms of reference, the additional Inquiry members and the final budget for the Inquiry.

The inquiry, which is formally established today, will start considering evidence once the terms of reference are finalised and published.

Last August, the United Nations recommended an independent commission of inquiry into the abuse of children and adults with disabilities while in state care from 1950 to 1990.

The previous Government said there was no need for an inquiry, opting instead for personal apologies and settlement payments.

In 2001 the Government issued an apology and compensation to a group of former patients of the former Lake Alice psychiatric hospital, after a report by a retired judge who had interviewed them and found their claims credible.

The Government set up a confidential listening service for people who spent time in other institutions to speak about any abuse they had suffered.

The head of that service, Judge Carolyn Henwood, recommended creating an independent body to resolve historic and current complaints - but the previous Government rejected the recommendation.

To contact the Royal Commission, email: [email protected]


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