The whistle blower who leaked video of Oranga Tamariki staff using excessive force on young people at a care and protection unit in Christchurch wants an independent inquiry. Melanie Reid reports.

Oranga Tarariki acting CEO, Sir Wira Gardiner, announced on Thursday it would be closing Te Oranga – the Christchurch facility where footage of staff manhandling a young teenager was captured and leaked to Newsroom – and initiated an investigation into the actions of those staff.

On Sunday he emailed staff saying he had asked Matt Winter, deputy chief executive, Corporate Services to lead human resources investigations. Newsroom has a copy of the email.

Gardiner urged staff to “put forward your questions and concerns. I cannot fix what I don’t know about.”

But the whistle blower who revealed how some staff were using excessive force on children says HR at Oranga Tamariki have been part of the problem.

“I am concerned that the HR investigation will not look into the actions of managers, senior managers, executives and of their own HR staff, who have allowed this behaviour to occur. It is known as “dangerous dynamics,” when numerous people collude together to minimise and deny the abusive behaviours which are occurring, do nothing to address these concerns, and isolate and discredit those who speak a different truth. This behaviour goes right to the top of Oranga Tamariki and this is why we need an independent inquiry.”

In his email, Gardiner told staff that there were other options if they didn’t want to speak to HR or their manager. These included unions, friends and family, and anonymous external reporting services Kōrero Ake and KAIMAIA.

According to the whistle blower, staff had tried to communicate their concerns through appropriate channels but had got nowhere.

“It is good that Sir Wira has offered alternatives to speaking with HR and the Manager given their roles in what has occurred, however surely a competent and professional manager and HR team would have listened to staff concerns and resolve such serious behaviour themselves. Staff have followed due process including talking to HR, the residential manager, senior managers, unions and numerous other institutions but nothing has changed. How are they meant to believe that one of the other options offered will have the authority and capability to do anything different?

“Sir Wira is correct that he “cannot fix what he doesn’t know about.” A number of staff have tried to raise their concerns through the internal and external processes, so the question must be who is advising Sir Wira and why does he not know about the concerns?

“Given the Children’s Commissioner reviewed Te Oranga only two months ago and was made aware of concerns at the time, what have they done? The PSA and NUPE [unions] have had concerns raised to them by members, however these too seem to have gone unheard, until now. This involves numerous agencies and systematic failings which need to be understood and addressed and are outside the scope of an internal investigation. “

“We need an inquiry now, not in 25 years like the current Royal Commission into abuse in state care.”

In his email, Gardiner said he was aware some Te Oranga staff had not been able to come to the meeting last Thursday when he announced the unit would be shut.

“I would very much like to meet with you all face to face,” he said.

The email said he was committed to returning to Christchurch on Tuesday July 13.

Melanie Reid is Newsroom's lead investigations editor.

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