Karen Chhour's Speech At ACT's 'Change Makers' Rally

Published: Sun 9 Jun 2024 07:38 PM
Thank you.
I look out to this audience today and it truly makes me reflect on how far we have come from the very first speech I gave at rally just like this one on the campaign trail for the 2020 election. Back then, I never imagined I'd end up in Parliament, let alone become the Minister responsible for the very organisation that I wanted to improve through having those tough conversations and holding the government of the day to account.
It's all thanks to people like you who wanted real change, not just in this space, but across government, Your votes made a big difference, and I'm truly grateful for that.
Many of you will know that I came to Parliament with a promise — to put the safety and wellbeing of the child at the centre of the state care system. Not the Treaty. Not whakapapa. Not politics. Just the best interests of the child.
No child should be taken out of a loving foster home because their carers are the “wrong” race, and no child should be placed back in an unsafe environment because that’s with the “right” race. But that’s what we’ve seen under Labour’s reforms of Oranga Tamariki, with Section 7AA being the justification for these decisions.
I have seen firsthand the devastation on caregivers’ faces and the pain in their voices after being told a “forever home” did not necessarily mean just that.
I have had caregivers tell me of being forced to send children to visit previous abusers just to keep the family connections, with the attitude that the child needs to know where they came from.
I’ve watched the footage of a reverse uplift where four young siblings were taken, crying, traumatised, from a forever home after three years, because Oranga Tamariki disapproved of the foster parents’ “British culture” and “discovered” a more culturally appropriate relative, unknown to the children, at the other end of the country.
I saw the damage caused to a family being threatened with a reverse uplift because they were not Māori, who by the grace of God managed to find a Māori ancestor generations back in their bloodline. That was enough to save them from a reverse uplift.
Connection to whakapapa is a positive thing. But a child should be able to experience that connection in a positive way.
A few weeks ago, my legislation to repeal Section 7AA of the Oranga Tamariki Act passed its first reading in Parliament.
Parliament’s debating chamber is smaller than it looks on television. When I’m speaking in that room, and the Opposition tries their hardest to rattle me with insults and heckling from just a few metres away, I can hear the words that don’t get picked up on the microphones, and don’t get reported by the media.
Much of it doesn’t bear repeating. But here’s a taste.
“Killing babies”, shouted one opposition MP.
“Sell-out”, a Labour MP called me.
And “You’re disgusting” from another.
Then there was the Te Pati Maori MP who, halfway through her speech, turned to me, switching to Te Reo so the Speaker wouldn’t understand, and said, “How sad that you have been made a puppet by your party.”
To be clear: I alone brought a bill to repeal Section 7AA to Parliament as an opposition MP. No-one else told me to do that. For Labour, the Greens, and Te Pati Māori to suggest that I'm not a real Māori or I can't think for myself because I don't follow their beliefs is a disgrace. It brings shame to our Parliament and makes a mockery of all New Zealanders who voted for change.
On Facebook, that same political party made a post saying that my own experience is evidence of the need for Section 7AA. That if that law was around when I was a child, I would have been "raised Māori" and would have been connected with my whakapapa.
That is the sad, narrow-minded worldview that underpins some of the opposition to ACT’s work. The idea that there’s a “right kind” of Maori. That children with any Maori ancestry should be defined by that whakapapa, put into that box, lest they grow up to be like me.
My four children are Maori. They are also Pakeha. And through my husband’s side, they are Cambodian. But above all, they are individual people, with unique experiences and their own perspectives on the world.
I find it offensive, and frankly racist, that anyone would put one aspect of their identity on a pedestal, above all the rest.
That would be the result of a twisted interpretation of the Treaty that divides New Zealanders into two groups — tangata whenua, who are here by right; and tangata Tiriti, who are lucky to be here.
This is why it’s not enough to just repeal Section 7AA.
The so-called Treaty Principles are not written down or defined in any one place. They have emerged in the last few decades, one court decision at a time, from an unelected judiciary.
These principles, which New Zealanders were never consulted on, are the foundation of the countless policies that seek to divide you from your friends and neighbours.
Race-based university admissions. Race-based procurement policies. Compulsory tikanga courses for real estate agents. A Waitangi Tribunal that thinks it has the power to summons a Minister that you elected into government.
It all comes back to the Treaty Principles.
And that’s why ACT is advancing a Treaty Principles Bill. To finally define the principles, through a democratic process, based on what was actually written and signed in 1840. The promise of the same rights and duties for all. The same respect and dignity for all.
Because it’s the basic humanity you share with your neighbours that allows you to be the change in your own life.
It’s your aspirations and your efforts that should matter, not who your ancestors were.
It’s your actions, your decisions, and your values that make you who you are.
That’s ACT’s promise to you, and to every child growing up in New Zealand. To give you the chance to find your own identity and build a happy, safe, and free future for yourself and the people you love.
Thank you.

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