Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Minister of Internal Affairs Tracey Martin have announced a Royal Commission of Inquiry into historical abuse in State care.
Ardern said, “We have a huge responsibility to look after everyone, particularly our children in state care. 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,” she says.
“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,” Ardern says.
A Royal Commission is a form of public inquiry. It has the same legal powers as other public inquiries but is generally reserved for the most serious issues of public importance.
Former Governor-General, Rt Hon Sir Anand Satyanand, will chair the Royal Commission.
“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,” says Ardern.
Minister Martin said that the draft terms of reference approved by Cabinet task the Royal Commission with looking into what abuse happened in state care, why it happened and what the impacts were, particularly for Māori. They also ask the Commission to identify lessons that can be learned from this abuse today.
“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,” says Minister Martin.
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.
“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,” Minister Martin says.
The Minister said that Sir Anand’s first task was to consult on the draft terms of reference for the Royal Commission. “We want people to have their say before we even start.”
The draft terms of reference provide for the Inquiry to provide its final report within the current Parliamentary term and a process for agreeing to any extensions to reporting deadlines if needed. They also authorise the Inquiry to make interim findings or recommendations and consider ways of working that will ensure public understanding of its work.
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.
The Prime Minister said that establishing the Royal Commission delivered the final commitment from the Government’s 100-Day Plan.