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The video the minister refuses to watch

Oranga Tamariki's leadership should be under scrutiny, not social workers who undertook the 'uplift' at the centre of a Newsroom video investigationsays the organiser of the national Māori inquiry into Oranga Tamariki's removals of children.

"A fish rots from the head," said Whānau Ora commissioning chair Merepeka Raukawa-Tait. 

"Oranga Tamariki leadership needs to take responsibility for its systemic failures, not throw its staff under the bus."

Raukawa-Tait criticised the responses of children's minister Tracey Martin and the ministry's chief executive Grainne Moss in blaming frontline staff.

The pair said there have been "serious consequences" for staff in Hawkes Bay involved in the failed 'uplift' - that an Oranga Tamariki internal inquiry has roundly condemned. Moss would not say if anyone had lost their job but said an employment process was under way. Martin said "there have been serious consequences for staff at that site, there will be other consequences. There have been changes in personnel at that site, but those are employment matters."

Moss had not offered to resign and would be kept in place.

The 'uplift' was abandoned at 2am once a local iwi leader convinced police it would be wrong to proceed. The teenage mother and her then week-old boy were able to go to a facility for young mothers and have since been settled in a house in Hastings - and joined by her 20-month-old daughter who had previously been removed.

The attempted 'uplift' in May had not been planned or undertaken properly, the ministry inquiry found, with poor reliance on out-of-date information, bad communication, no proper consultation with the whānau or iwi, and bad practice when the removal process at the hospital occurred.

But Raukawa-Tait said of the focus on the frontline workers: "The hypocrisy is not lost on us. Here you have a state agency destructively making its own determination on what's best for whānau, riding roughshod without any consideration of the far-reaching intergenerational devastating aspects.

"Yet ironically it is still perpetuating a violent act which is what it seeks to protect the pepi [baby] from."

Whānau Ora included in its statement comment from Professor Mark Henaghan, of the University of Auckland law school: "How Oranga Tamariki hung out its social workers to dry, blaming them, was a national disgrace, lacking taking responsibility. All when it's the system that's at fault."

Martin is separately being criticised for telling RNZ's Morning Report that she has still never watched the Newsroom video on the failed 'uplift'.

She attempted to say changes happening as a result of the internal Oranga Tamariki inquiry would have gone ahead irrespective of the video revelations. What wasn't said was there would have been no inquiry had the video not been broadcast and watched by more than 500,000 people.

"I personally won't ever accept that trial by social media is the way to do care and protection ... I don't need to watch the video," she told Morning Report.

She said she did not need to watch the video in order to conduct her job.

"It's a 45-minute video and this report is about what happened before what built to what was that video. I take issue with the fact that supposedly we would've done nothing, [that] I would've done nothing, unless a video had came out.

"The suggestion is I would've done nothing. The public response and everything that took place from that - Judge Becroft's response, the Ombudsman's response, the commissioning agency's response - absolutely, that is all a side effect of that video.

"You're suggesting I need to watch a 45-minute video, and I would say to you that the outcome we have now is me doing my job - making sure that we change Oranga Tamariki into the child and protection service that we need it to be, so this is part of me doing my job, and I didn't need to watch a 45-minute video to do my job."

But one of the midwives for the teenage mother at the centre of the 'uplift' at Hawke's Bay Hospital, Ripeka Ormsby, said: “How can she call an internal review on Oranga Tamariki when she hasn’t even watched the video that caused her to call the internal review? It doesn’t add up. It doesn’t make sense. It is actually mystifying.

"Once again it's sad. By not watching the video, Minister Martin is not recognising or acknowledging how abusive her government department is to its native people."

Newsroom investigations editor Melanie Reid, who was at the hospital as OT, police and hospital staff tried to remove the baby, said Martin's stance was inexplicable. "This is the biggest thing to happen in your portfolio for the term you've been minister and you don't want to know what hundreds of thousands of people have seen your department do? She's the Minister for Children not the Minister for Garden Gnomes."

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