Merepeka Raukawa-Tait believes Māori are not passive bystanders. She says that's evident in a newly released report calling for prisons in their current form to be abolished.
The Hui Māori report, "Ināia Tonu Nei – The Time is Now: We Lead, You Follow", was released by Hui Māori yesterday and captured the kōrero at a national Hui Māori held in Rotorua in April.
The hui highlighted Māori experiences within the justice system calling for changes such as a Māori-led approach, the abolishment of prisons and the disestablishment of Oranga Tamariki.
It came after the Government established and launched
in 2018, to develop long-term solutions to keep people safe, allow communities to thrive and build a new justice system.
As part of the programme a summit was organised and, of the more than 600 people who attended, 200 were Māori.
In response, Māori called for a Hui Māori, to ensure Māori voices would be heard within the current justice reform process.
As of March 2019, 51.3 per cent of the prison population identified as Māori, up from half last year supporting the claim made in the report the "highest-ever numbers of Māori are being caught in the justice pipeline than at any other time in the history of Aotearoa".
Tā Mark Solomon and Katie Murray, who were both involved in the compilation of the report, said it reflected both the reality for Māori at the hands of a colonial justice system and the need for Māori to lead a new design of the system.
"For generations, Māori have suffered disproportionate adversity from a justice system that has been imposed on our people," Murray said.
She said the justice system's negative impact on Māori was a "crisis" for New Zealand.
Soloman said it was time for Māori and the Crown to enter in a partnership to design a new justice system.
The report highlighted the impact that Oranga Tamariki and the Family Court had on a child from birth, as many who had previous interactions with these entered the criminal courts or prison.
The report even called for Oranga Tamariki to be disestablished.
Raukawa-Tait, the chair of Te Pou Matakana, Whānau Ora's commissioning agency said anybody who had been around for a number of years would know what the report said was nothing new.
"But what it does say is Māori are no longer prepared to be passive bystanders."
She said if the Government was going to stop the continued incarceration of Māori, then it needed to do something different.
"If we were starting again with a new justice system it should have Māori input right from the design and concept stage."
She said the report was well-informed and needed to be taken seriously.
"This could be thrown in the wastebasket but if the Government knows what's good for it then they won't allow that to happen."
The report also called for the "abolishment of the current prison system" as it continues to "fail Māori".
It underlined that the system did not focus on rehabilitation and instead was based on a
Rotorua criminal lawyer Wiremu Te Are agreed.
"We need to get rid of them. We can't afford the system to absorb so much of our GDP just to keep people locked down."
He said the country should be looking at alternative punishments, treating problems such as addiction and health issues and identifying criminals who were mentally unstable and placing them in the right facilities.
Te Are believed mainstream New Zealand did not want separation and all ethnicities should be treated the same.
"But if we stay in our current justice system, it is inherently biased because it was set up by Parliament."
He said community-based initiatives should be adopted throughout the country.
Justice Minister Andrew Little acknowledged there was work that must be done to improve the justice system and said the report would be carefully examined by the Government.
"We need a criminal justice system that holds to account and that strives to change the factors in offenders' lives that cause offending.
"The objective must be less offending, less re-offending, and fewer victims of crime who are better supported."
Waiariki MP Tāmati Coffey applauded Little for his commitment to te ao Māori in his role as minister and also the work which had been done to compile the report.
"One that recognises overhauling our criminal justice system is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and it will take us all working in partnership to maximise its potential.
"This report will now help us to consider the best way forward, to address the inequality for Māori, and to take the time needed to get the required transformation right."
New Zealand First MP Fletcher Tabuteau was contacted for comment but did not reply in time for print.