Tolley says no to state care inquiry
The ongoing failures in monitoring the fishing industry – on-board cameras that fail, monitoring delegated by the authorities to a firm owned by the fishing industry – is all too typical.
In a country as small as New Zealand, truly independent systems of oversight and review seem difficult to arrange. Everyone knows everyone, or has worked for them in some capacity or – all too often – they are being paid by the same ministry or industry they are being expected to evaluate.
As a ‘‘she’ll be right’’ nation, we’re not hard-wired to see the necessity for regulatory oversight, either. After all, our Parliament runs on a single chamber with no written Constitution, a simple majority of MPs can pass sweeping laws, and our courts don’t need much reminding of the supremacy of Parliament.
In addition, a climate of costcutting within government can readily work against full and fearless investigations of the state’s failings, especially when the victims may be eligible for compensation.
Last week’s conflict between Social Development Minister Anne Tolley and district court judge Carolyn Henwood illustrated some of these flaws, in full bloom.
As chairwoman of the Confidential Listening and Assistance Service panel, Henwood has heard testimony from more than 1100 people who were abused in state care between the 1950s and 1992, mainly while under the care of Social Welfare.
During that time, more than 100,000 children were reportedly taken from their parents, and placed in state institutions. Significant numbers of them were seriously abused.
After a patient, below-the radar investigation, Henwood and the CLAS panel recommended that – among other things – an independent public inquiry was required into the processes that enabled this abuse, and also into its ongoing impact, and that meanwhile, the state should issue a general apology for the systemic failures revealed to date.
Tolley has refused on both counts. She has rejected the need (or desirability at this late stage) for a public inquiry fully independent of the state agency under the spotlight.
No public apology was deemed appropriate because – in Tolley’s view – no systemic failure had occurred, given that only 3.5 per cent of former state wards had complained of abuse.
By taking this stance, Tolley laid herself wide open to the criticism that without a public inquiry, the true extent of the abuse would never be known – a point made by Radio NZ’s Kim Hill in a fiery interview with Tolley.
As Hill also indicated, some respondents might well have had misgivings about confiding their experiences to the very agency that had previously failed to protect them.
Tolley’s citing of the percentage of abuse claims seemed particularly meanspirited. By analogy, only a small percentage of Catholic children have laid formal claims for compensation for abuses committed by Catholic priests.
Yet surely, Tolley wouldn’t attempt to deny that systemic failings occurred within that particular institution.
Reportedly, a public inquiry could leave the government facing major compensation claims, and this prospect may also have been a factor in Tolley’s decisions.
Well, Treaty claims for past wrongs by the state are being compensated, finally.
So far, this shabby episode has done little to reassure the public that Henwood’s findings – and the victims - have been handled fairly.