Abuse redress overdue

Plans for proper redress for the thousands who suffered abuse in state care or faith-based institutions in New Zealand have been a long time coming. Too late for some whose agony cannot be recognised now because they are dead.

In its report on the issue released this month ‘‘He Purapura Ora, he Mara Tipu From Redress to Puretumu Torowhanui’’, the Abuse in Care Royal Commission calls for a new independent redress scheme which would facilitate apologies, financial payments, and access to a wide range of support services for survivors and their whanau.

The new system would have a survivor focus and take a holistic approach.

Inquiry chairwoman Judge Coral Shaw says the term puretumu torowhanui is used rather than redress to describe a wider wellbeing approach, enhancing the mana of those affected to help them restore their lives.

Over decades many survivors, who suffered abuse described by the inquiry as often criminal and sometimes torture, have become accustomed to being ignored, not believed, blamed, fobbed off with inadequate compensation and sworn to secrecy.

The institutions’ behaviour has been shameful, worried about the cost of compensation, denying the systemic nature of the problem, and avoiding doing anything comprehensive to ensure abusers were brought to account and future abuse avoided.

As the report put it, neither State nor faith-based institutions were willing to accept the widespread abuse that could have easily been uncovered.

‘‘The scale of the abuse was simply too horrific to acknowledge, the financial ramifications too huge to contemplate. So, they told themselves these cases were not symptomatic of any wider problem. Society was also in denial, despite calls over the decades f-or an inquiry into abuse in care — abuse that was going on in hospitals, boarding schools, orphanages, foster and other care homes, homes for unmarried mothers and churches,’’ the inquiry report stated.

The commission said such denial was fostered by the common and negative social attitudes of the time about race, gender, disability, mental health and the place of children, deaf and disabled people. Many of those in care came from already disadvantaged or marginalised parts of the community and a disproportionate number were Maori. Pacific people and the deaf and disability communities were also overrepresented in abuse in care statistics.

At this point there is much we do not know about the new scheme as it is yet to be designed, in partnership with Maori and involving survivors and their whanau and supporters.

Discussions about the process will begin next year and it is hoped the new scheme will be in place in late 2023 with redress for older or terminally ill survivors prioritised.

The new independent redress system will replace existing claims processes for government and faith-based institutions.

Public Service Minister Chris Hipkins, acknowledging the failings of the Crown, was right to describe it as a national disgrace that it has taken so long to get to this point.

The inquiry has described its 95 redress recommendations as more ambitious than anything established overseas.

Among the recommendations are that the governor-general, prime minister and leaders of faith-based institutions publicly acknowledge and apologise for the abuse and the harm caused.

Getting this right will be important. It must have gravitas and be delivered in a way which properly and genuinely recognises the horror of what has gone on and what continues to affect thousands of survivors and their families.

Those involved in the planning should take note of the feeble apology attempts made by faith-based institutions during the inquiry and not repeat those mistakes.

Mr Hipkins says the Government will work with survivors on this.

It is understandable some survivors, let down for so long, have reservations about what might come next.

There is still much to do, and it will not be easy, but the momentum created by the inquiry and those whose voices it has heard must continue.

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