New Zealand Law Society - Survivor stories help shape state care abuse inquiry

Survivor stories help shape state care abuse inquiry

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A Law Foundation-supported hui has helped shape the final terms of reference for the Royal Commission into Historical Abuse in State Care.

The two-day hui in February, organised by a group of human rights academics and practitioners, brought together “survivor groups” and experts from New Zealand and overseas. It led to new recommendations on how the Royal Commission should operate, including the use of “survivor panels” grouped by experience and attributes such as disability. It also called for abandoning the proposed 49-year time limit on the Commission’s purview, and for explicit recognition of the Treaty of Waitangi in the terms of reference.

One of the hui organisers, Andrew Erueti of Auckland University Law School, believes the Royal Commission’s pre-consultation exercise is unique. The invited international attendees were impressed with the hui and consultations, including those involved with the Australian Royal Commission into Child Sexual Abuse. “They thought it was a great idea, and they wished they had done it too,” he says.

Royal Commission Chair Sir Anand Satyanand attended throughout the hui, and survivors played a central role.

“It allowed survivor groups to express their shared experiences and points of difference. It was the first major event Sir Anand had attended since the draft terms of reference were released, and was a great opportunity for him to get a sense of the key issues,” Dr Erueti says.

A key theme was rejection of the idea that the Commission should only consider abuse that took place between 1950 and 1999, when the new Child Welfare Code took effect. The number of children in state care has actually doubled in the last decade, and Dr Erueti says there is evidence of continuing neglect and abuse.

“The Government’s own expert panel report in 2016 says the current system is fragmented and lacks accountability, and that neglect and abuse is ongoing. The Royal Commission shouldn’t be closed off at all – it should be open to the date the Royal Commission was established.”

Despite 30 years of Treaty experience, reference to it had inexplicably been excluded from the draft terms of reference, and that had to be rectified. Other themes from the hui included a focus on compensation, including non-monetary assistance such as counselling, and careful consideration of how best to deliver a “heartfelt, authentic, frank and full” apology.

Dr Erueti was one of four leading practitioners who lobbied hard to establish a Royal Commission to deal with historic abuse in state care. While generally he favours a broader scope than initially proposed, he has concerns about extending the inquiry to include non-state institutions, as the Australian inquiry did.

“It’s intended to finish the inquiry within three years, and it will be difficult enough to complete it in that time. Including church-based institutions as well would be asking a lot of it,” he says. “Sir Anand has suggested that the churches establish their own inquiry.”

Andrew Erueti’s three co-advocates are former Chief Human Rights Commissioner Rosslyn Noonan, researcher Elizabeth Stanley and lawyer Sonja Cooper. Their detailed report on the hui outcomes will be an input into Cabinet’s decision on the final terms of reference, and is available on the Law Foundation’s website.

Lynda Hagen is Executive Director of the New Zealand Law Foundation. Further information about the Law Foundation can be found at

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