Questions left hanging as Social Development Minister Carmel Sepuloni hangs up

Stuff reporter Aaron Smale tried to interview Minister Carmel Sepuloni about the Oranga Tamariki surveillance bill. The conversation ended when she hung up. This is his account of what happened.

When Social Development Minister Carmel Sepuloni admitted she hadn’t read a royal commission report, it all went downhill from there.

After almost a week of waiting for an interview with her, I finally got a call from Sepuloni as she was traveling from Rotorua to Auckland on Thursday. I wanted to talk to him about a change in the law governing the surveillance of Oranga Tamariki.

Second question, I asked if she had read the report on redress from the Royal Commission into Abuses in Care – a relevant document for someone whose department was responsible for setting up a monitoring for Oranga Tamariki.

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She hadn’t read it. Apparently she hadn’t heard of it.

“No, this particular, ah, this particular workflow is sitting with another minister.”

The only problem with this response was that the repair report specifically addressed issues of monitoring the care and protection system. Long.

Social Development Minister Carmel Sepuloni was caught off guard when asked about the royal commission's redress report over Oranga Tamariki surveillance legislation.

ROBERT KITCHIN/Stuff

Social Development Minister Carmel Sepuloni was caught off guard when asked about the royal commission’s redress report over Oranga Tamariki surveillance legislation.

One of the royal commission’s recommendations was to enshrine in law that children in care have the right not to be harmed.

He followed that up with another recommendation that if that right was violated, the Crown should be held accountable.

The minister was asked whether these provisions were included in the bill for which she is responsible. His garbled response said it all:

“I think, you know, the thing here is that the set up, if we’re talking about the, about, we’re not talking about, I, I’m, I’m not overseeing Oranga Tamariki and how they operate, I guess, I mean, in terms of, I’m not in charge of Oranga Tamariki.

“We are putting in place the monitoring mechanism, which will monitor the standards of care and verify that the system is working for these children. So that’s, that’s the important differentiation here. I, I mean, I don’t know if you’re trying to say that, in relation to Oranga Tamariki, I’m talking about the oversight mechanism that is put in place to monitor that the system is working.

Seeking clarification, I tried again. And even. Will these royal commission recommendations be part of this bill?

“So, so yes. So it’s all on the table in terms of what can be included in the legislation at the moment…but, yeah, in terms of what’s currently down and what you’re talking about, I don’t think there’s a provision because that’s what you’re raising now, Aaron. So I say that everything is possible because the legislation goes through a select committee.

Attorney Sonja Cooper has represented thousands of victims of state abuse over the years.

PROVIDED

Attorney Sonja Cooper has represented thousands of victims of state abuse over the years.

I quoted Sonja Cooper, a lawyer and advocate for victims of state abuse, who said the bill should be scrapped and the minister should start over.

“That’s his point of view,” was Sepuloni’s response. A view based on the fact that Cooper has represented thousands of victims of state abuse for more than 25 years, many of whom are teenagers who have just left state care.

When asked who she takes advice from – MSD? Of course, she replied. But MSD was responsible for responding to reparations for victims of state abuse, which Sepuloni colleague Chris Hipkins described as “a national disgrace.”

Sepuloni’s press officer had balked when asked for up to half an hour for the interview as there would be many unasked and unanswered questions otherwise. He relented and agreed to 15-30 minutes, as she would travel and have time to talk on the way.

Seventeen minutes later (which included a break to sort out a battery issue on a recorder), the minister began to object that she hadn’t received any questions in advance.

The drive from Rotorua to Auckland may have been a few hours, but the minister ran out of road.

So she hung up.

Joel C. Hicks