Dr Michael Bassett

Dr Michael Bassett

Newspaper Columns

Grainne Moss and Oranga Tamariki


There is something genuinely nauseating about the witch hunt that removed Grainne Moss from the head of this oddly re-named state entity. Naida Glavish salivating on TV about her exit; the sight of those middle-class Maori Dames, most of them good mothers themselves, fulminating against a Pakeha trying to do the right thing for young Maori who constitute 60 to 70% of all the children taken into state care. The grande-dames dodged the real questions that need to be asked. Did any of them stop to ask themselves why, when Maori constitute 15% of the population overall, they make up 60 to 70% of the children whose lives are in such a parlous state that they need to be removed from their natural parents? Why are they blaming others? It's not colonialism, or institutional racism, and nor is it any failure on Oranga Tamariki's part.

Glavish argues that the tamariki don't need to be removed in the first place from the underbelly of the underclass that produces them. Some Maori leaders these days completely overlook the ever-present stories in the media about drugs, especially methamphetamine, alcohol addiction, domestic violence, adolescent under-achievement and mayhem, stolen cars, Police chases etc, and can be counted on to allege some form of persecution against young Maori. Surely some of them are capable of more thought? Through the Waitangi Tribunal and being Minister of Health years ago, I got to know some of these kuia and recognise them to have been exemplary parents themselves who knew the difference between right and wrong, and were devoted to their families. They must surely understand that prattling in the current environment about "rangatiratanga and mana motuhake being advanced" when Maori "look after ourselves in our own way" is just so much racist hot air. Indifferent parenting, or lack of it, produced the children who have had to be extricated from the underclass. Attacking Grainne Moss for problems that have been churning around in Maori society for decades is nothing more than throwing the blame for problems that are closer to home. Calls for the appointment of someone with Maori blood to replace Ms Moss only exacerbate the thoughtless racism that hides the real dangers many Maori children face. I'm hopeful that Sir Wira Gardiner, a man whom I hold in high regard, will pierce the superficiality of the current debate.

Let's scratch the surface of the problem beneath the slogans uttered by these kuia. In 2019, 79.5% of Maori babies were born to unmarried mothers compared with 35 percent of non-Maori. The same year over 6,000 parents added a new born to their existing welfare benefit - one in ten of all babies born that year. For Maori the ratio doubles to one in five. Children on a benefit from birth are more likely to experience abuse and neglect, material hardship, poorer health and educational outcomes, and contact with Oranga Tamariki and the justice system. A mother with a feckless approach to family responsibilities gets little or no assistance from the father with its upbringing. This will worsen now mothers are no longer required to identify the fathers, since the government seems to have given up on the "liable parent" contribution of a father to his children's upbringing.

Fewer Maori children go to preschool, more of them wag school without excuse, and too many of them miss out on health care that is readily made available to them. This isn't institutional racism or colonialism inflicted by others! Its inflicted by Maori on Maori! Some Maori welfare agencies are able to help a little, but what is desperately needed is that the steady flow of new recruits to the underclass is turned off, or at least down a notch or two. Reliable contraception is now more than a century old. The pill turns 60 any day now. Depo Provera injections are half a century old. There are other more sophisticated methods of birth control these days. But when did you last hear any of our righteous kuia advocating more resources for family planning? Did any of them utter a warning as Sir Apirana Ngata would have, when Jacinda Ardern's government gave mothers a baby bonus in 2018 for new children born to beneficiaries, thus incentivizing the production of even more potential recruits for Oranga Tamariki? It should be obvious to the kuia that if the babies weren't born in the first place, the agency, and society as a whole, would breathe more easily. Above all, those Maori children who are genuinely wanted by their parents would have better lives.

Grainne Moss and Oranga Tamariki were amongst the many ambulances gathered at the bottom of today's cliff face. Our kuia need to be spending more time thinking about the broken fences at the top of that same cliff, and urging improvements to Maori practices that push too many mothers and babies over the edge.