Royal Commission blows $56m budget, loses power
Thursday, April 29th, 2021
The government is seeking to tighten controls on the Royal Commission into Abuse in Care.
Besides insisting on a firm 2023 deadline to wind up the investigation, the government has told the Abuse in Care Commission that they may not investigate modern care providers and post-1999 cases of abuse.
In addition, the Commission’s budget blow out has led the government to rope in the Treasury to look at the Royal Commission’s spending and to improve its financial management.
The Royal Commission is examining abuse that occurred in state and faith-based care between 1950 and 1999. When it was established in 2018, it was given the discretion to look outside of that time period.
Minister of Internal Affairs Jan Tinetti (pictured) removed this power to ensure the work is completed by 2023.
Last December, the Commission estimated it would need another three years to complete its work – taking the total investigation period to seven years. “Their explanation was… the work was a lot more complex and larger than what they anticipated. To be able to hear all of the evidence in-depth, they felt that a three-year extension was needed,” Tinetti says, to avoid risking being “overly drawn out and legalistic” Tinetti says.
The government is comfortable revising the scope, she says, because of the other investigations into modern daycare providers like Oranga Tamariki.
Tinetti has also moved forward the due date for the Royal Commission’s report on redress and how the redress process can be improved. That will help the government progress redress for survivors and will ensure the inquiry’s report is brought into Budget 2022 negotiations.
Law firm Cooper Legal, which represents survivors in the Commission and about 1400 people in civil claims for historical abuse in care, is disappointed at Cabinet’s decision and wants it revisited. Cooper Legal says the move is inconsistent with the wishes of survivors, would silence survivors in care after 1999, and place children in care at risk. “If we are not prepared to listen to those with the most recent care experiences, we have to question the commitment of this Government to change,” the law firm’s spokeswoman says. The changes come in the wake of sky-rocketing spending at the Commission.
Former New Zealand First MP Tracey Martin, who was the internal affairs minister when the inquiry was established, says there were many unknowns at the time.
“We put in place the appropriate amount of money, that at the time when we didn’t know how many victims would come forward. So at that time, we took our best guess at what was the sum total that the Royal Commission would need,” she says.
In the current period that spending has shot up by 82 percent to almost $42m because of a big increase in the number of survivors who had come forward to tell their story.
“It’s more complex, there have been more inquiries that they are actually running, more times they are touching base with those survivors. It is an incredibly large and complex inquiry,” Tinetti says.
There was always the possibility that the money would run out before the Royal Commission had finished its work of investigating the abuse of people ‘in care’ (including the care of the Churches of Aotearoa/New Zealand). The Minister of Internal Affairs, Jan Tinetti, announced that the Commission would be terminated in 2023 – with no power to extend beyond that deadline.
Here is the story of the response from the legal firm in charge of the current investigations:
‘Law firm Cooper Legal, which represents survivors in the Commission and about 1400 people in civil claims for historical abuse in care, is disappointed at Cabinet’s decision and wants it revisited.
‘Cooper Legal says the move is inconsistent with the wishes of survivors, would silence survivors in care after 1999, and place children in care at risk. “If we are not prepared to listen to those with the most recent care experiences, we have to question the commitment of this Government to change,” the law firm’s spokeswoman says.’
‘The changes come in the wake of sky-rocketing spending at the Commission.’
One might be excused for wondering at the efficiency of the Royal Commission of Enquiry into this particular matter. As Advocates for the ‘wishes of the Survivors’, one wonders whether the law firm is pursuing the most cost-effective means of ensuring justice for its clients – and at what cost to the taxpayers who will be footing the bill – in a time of national economic stringency.
Justice must, indeed, be served! But will there be enough money in the common purse to meet the demands of the legal team charged with the process?
It is hoped that the new strict regulations being employed by public organisation (including the Churches) concerned for the well-being and safety of people within their charge, will help to stem the culture of serious abuse of those in their territory of public service.
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand