Scrapping Section 7AA of the Oranga Tamariki Act: An assault on Māori

A guest post by Kendra Cox (Te Ure o Uenukukōpako, Whakatōhea, Ngāi Tūhoe, Ngāti Porou)

Last week, Minister for Children Karen Chhour’s Oranga Tamariki (Repeal of Section 7AA) Amendment Bill had its first reading in parliament. Iwi, hapū, hāpori and whānau Māori have been fighting against this possibility since it was put firmly on the agenda when the coalition agreement of the three-headed taniwha was made public late last year. The repeal of 7AA has been a project of Minister Chhour’s and the ACT party since 2022 – and indeed a prior version of the current Bill was voted down by the house without making it to first reading in July 2023.

Since that initial voting down of the Bill last year, Oranga Tamariki released its fourth report on the work done under 7AA at reducing the disparity of tamariki and rangatahi, and for the third time it has shown incremental – though positive – results. Though Minister Chhour and others in government have presented their reasoning for the repeal with language of putting children’s safety before their cultural affiliations, there is no actual evidence that suggests section 7AA is negatively impacting children’s safety. Along with a host of other transparently racist attacks on Māori communities the government has caught a whiff of policy steps toward power sharing. This Bill represents something much bigger than the sum of its parts.

Section 7AA of the Oranga Tamariki Act outlines the duties of the Chief Executive, and the broader Oranga Tamariki system, to practically respond to the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi. Setting aside the significant problems with the idea of principles that can somehow bridge the foundational differences between the Treaty and Te Tiriti o Waitangi, 7AA does give – for the first time in our state care and protection system – a directive for Oranga Tamariki to partner with Māori communities for the betterment of mokopuna. 7AA legislates that the policies, practices, and services of the Ministry have regard to the centrality of whakapapa and whanaungatanga for mokopuna. It provides the foundation for the state to delegate some functions regarding important decision making and supervision of children and young people to Māori and other community organisations.

Of critical importance, the inclusion of 7AA means that the Chief Executive must ensure that Oranga Tamariki seek out and respond to invitations for “strategic partnerships” with iwi and other Māori organisations to reduce these disparities and improve outcomes for tamariki and rangatahi. What 7AA means, in practical terms, is that Oranga Tamariki must share information, power and resources with strategic partners to reduce the number of Māori kids in care. Since 7AA took effect, reporting has shown a small but positive impact with less tamariki and rangatahi entering state care.

Section 7AA took effect in July 2019 following multiple reviews into the ongoing failures of the care and protection system, consultation between iwi and community leaders with Oranga Tamariki, and sustained political pressure from Māori communities. Hapū, iwi, and hāpori Māori have long called for the state to meaningfully devolve decision making power and resources to respond to and prevent mokopuna Māori being subjected to harm and neglect both in, and outside of, state care.

Aotearoa New Zealand is only now beginning to reckon with the enormous violence and trauma inflicted on thousands of children and young people in state care since the 1940s, the majority of whom whakapapa Māori. While the final report of the Royal Inquiry into Abuse in State Care has yet to be finalised, the subjection of tamariki and whānau to racist care decisions, strained or broken whakapapa and cultural ties, violence, and ill-treatment from the care and protection system is widely known among Māori communities and has been taken as a given for decades.

Image credit: Teirangi Klever

In both the recent Whānau Ora-led review of Oranga Tamariki (Kaiwai et al., 2020) and the Waitangi Tribunal review (Waitangi Tribunal, 2021), whānau, kaumātua, experts, advocates, and professionals raised the issues of the deep distrust and fear that whānau feel towards Oranga Tamariki. Whānau reported that this fear – which is well founded, given the long history of racism, intergenerational trauma, and heavy handed state intervention into the lives of whānau Māori – stopped whānau accessing basic statutory social support and health services for their tamariki, lest Oranga Tamariki investigate the apparent crime of being pōhara and wanting help.

Let me repeat: some whānau Māori report being so afraid that Oranga Tamariki will unjustifiably uplift their children that they avoid taking them to see a doctor. This long-held fear, distrust, and anger – as Co-Leader of Te Paati Māori argued during the first reading of the Bill last Tuesday – this righteous anger that Māori hold towards Oranga Tamariki is well known. This is the legacy of Oranga Tamariki, of Child Youth and Family, of the Department of Social Welfare, and of the borstals and church homes that caused so much harm to the tamariki who are now many of the pākeke and kaumātua of our communities.

The commitment made by 7AA is to partner not only in words but in real, material ways. This is legislation that embeds a recognition of the Treaty in policy and practice and commits to funding and power sharing in decisions related to the care and protection of mokopuna. It gave hope to Māori that, for the first time in thirty years, the care and protection system might actually, finally, start the work to change the way it treats tamariki and whānau Māori.

When government’s intentions to repeal 7AA was announced, Māori organisations with close connections to Oranga Tamariki were given no process for consultation and were advised to lodge public submissions with the rest of Aotearoa. Some of these claimants, raising the issue at the Waitangi Tribunal (2024), argued that this process was in direct violation of Te Tiriti o Waitangi and 7AA itself as it exists now.

One of the most concerning issues with the proposed repeal is that there is no empirical evidence to support the Ministers anecdotal claims that childrens safety and wellbeing is being negatively impacted by the existence of 7AA. This was made absolutely clear in both the Waitangi Tribunal 7AA urgent inquiry held in March (which the Minister declined to attend and to which she provided only the barest written responses) and the Regulatory Impact Statement prepared by Oranga Tamariki. Both the Waitangi Tribunal (2024) and Oranga Tamariki (2024) recommended that the repeal not go ahead. Oranga Tamariki advised in the Regulatory Impact Statement that:

“Repealing section 7AA is unlikely to contribute to improvements to safety and stability. However, a repeal of section 7AA may undo some of the progress that Oranga Tamariki has made in building trust, relationships, and accountability in the communities we work with. This may worsen the safety, stability, and well-being of our children with the greatest needs.” (p.24).

While both Minister Chhour and the Chief Executive of Oranga Tamariki, Chappie Te Kani, have stated that a repeal of 7AA would have no impact on strategic partnerships with iwi and others, some claimants to the Waitangi Tribunal urgent inquiry – which included several of the strategic partners themselves – believed the opposite and advised that a repeal had the potential to seriously damage the relationships between Oranga Tamariki and Māori.

At the same time as the attack on 7AA plays out in parliament, Oranga Tamariki has proposed to axe 21 specialist Māori roles within the organisation as part of their cost-saving measures. This includes Māori practice coaches and advisors who support frontline social workers to work in culturally responsive ways with whānau Māori, and the Treaty response team (“Oranga Tamariki plan to cut Māori specialist roles causes concern on impacts”, 2024). These assaults on relationships with Māori, on power-sharing with Māori, and on Māori expertise and cultural knowledge within Oranga Tamariki, must be understood as part of a broader project.

The language used by Minister Chhour since she first raised the repeal of 7AA as a priority for the ACT Party has capitalised on the increasingly reactionary political discourses regarding “separatism” and “identity politics”. In her initial video introducing the Bill, the now-Minister Chhour suggests repealing section 7AA will “put children before ideology”. This is a transparent misrepresentation of what is an ideologically motivated policy with no evidence base. The deeply racist rhetoric of pitting “safe and loving homes” against homes within the bonds of whānau, hapū, and culture continued through the Ministers media interviews and into the parliamentary debate at the first reading of the Bill last week. It ignored what Māori have always known about tamariki and rangatahi – that the ability to live as Māori and with Māori is absolutely critical to wellbeing.

This repeal and the rhetoric surrounding it is an extension of the wider coalition government’s ideological attacks on Te Tiriti o Waitangi and any pro-Māori changes in public services. After all, ACT is a party planning a referendum that seeks to redefine tino rangatiratanga as “individual private property rights”. This is a government that destroyed Te Aka Whai Ora before it had a chance to crawl, let alone walk. A government that wants to reverse the introduction of Māori wards across the country, and that has attacked the use of basic te reo Māori terms across public services. As Jack McDonald wrote weeks ago when this repeal was placed firmly on the agenda for the year, the attack on 7AA is part of the “culture wars” that members of the current government have engaged in, and inflamed, since 2020 (McDonald, 2024).

However, even the transparently anti-Māori actions of this government fail to capture the full story of the harm that will be caused to Māori communities due to sweeping cuts and changes to our health and social services: the reintroduction of “military-style boot camps” for rangatahi, the $1.9bn injection of extra funding for prisons, the reintroduction of the “Three Strikes” law which massively increased the prison population last decade, harsher sanctions on beneficiaries, austerity measures imposed on our hospitals, the return to no-cause evictions and 90-day trials for new employees. Every one of these measures will disproportionately impact whānau Māori, and jeopardise the safety and wellbeing of the tamariki and rangatahi Māori the coalition government claims to care about. We know the statistics, we understand the impact that austerity measures have on our communities, and so does this government. To suggest that the repeal of 7AA is not ideological, not rooted in the nakedly anti-Māori and anti-Tiriti orientation of this government, is simply not true. Māori know it, and Māori will do what we can to stop it.

When news of the repeal broke last year, Associate Professor in Social Work Shayne Walker said that “7AA has meant that the organisation itself is being rehabilitated so that it is a fit-for-purpose organisation” (“New Govt Set to Scrap Parts of Oranga Tamariki Reform”, 2023). When enacted, Section 7AA was an extreme compromise on the recommendations made by almost every review since 2016 and advocated for by Māori for decades: that the child care and protection system be radically reformed if not abolished, with power, expertise, and resources invested into both reactive and proactive community (including Māori) approaches to the safety and wellbeing of our mokopuna and whānau.

Section 7AA was not the end goal for tamariki, rangatahi, and whānau, it was a hard-won concession made in partnership with a system that has harmed generations of mokopuna Māori. That said, with 7AA on the chopping block, along with every other step towards power sharing between the Crown and Māori, Māori will struggle to protect it. Resistance has begun in the form of the urgent Waitangi Tribunal inquiry, the launch of the Hands Off Our Babies petition by Te Pāti Māori, and pushback from the National Iwi Chairs Forum and the Iwi Leaders Group (Paewai, 2024).

With public submissions on the repeal now open, it is imperative that whānau and hāpori Māori, social workers, students and educators, professional bodies, community organisations, and those who want to protect the inclusion of Te Tiriti o Waitangi and the safety of mokopuna and whānau submit and organise in diverse ways against the repeal.

For now, the struggle against the three-headed taniwha and their assault on te ao Māori and Te Tiriti o Waitangi continues – for as long as it takes.

Image credit: Teirangi Klever


Kaiwai, H., Allport, T., Herd, R, Mane, J., Ford, K., Leahy, H., Varona, G., & Kipa, M. (2020). Ko te wā whakawhiti: It’s time for change: A Māori inquiry into Oranga Tamariki. Whānau Ora Commissioning Agency.

McDonald, J. (2024, 18 April). How culture wars impact on peoples lives. Dominion Post.

New govt set to scrap parts of Oranga Tamariki reform. (2023, November 30). 1 News.

Oranga Tamariki (2024, March 12). Regulatory impact statement: Repeal of section 7AA. Oranga Tamariki.

Oranga Tamariki Act 1989.

Oranga Tamariki plan to cut Māori specialist roles causes concern on impacts. (2024, April 26). RNZ.

Paewai, P. (2024, May 19). Iwi Leaders Group united against Oranga Tamariki scrapping Treaty obligations. RNZ.

Waitangi Tribunal (2021). He pāharakeke, he rito whakakīkī nga whāruarua: Oranga Tamariki urgent inquiry (Report No. Wai 2915).

Waitangi Tribunal (2024). The Oranga Tamariki (Section 7AA) urgent inquiry 10 May 2024 report. (Report No. Wai 3350).

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