Acting Prime Minister Winston Peters says some criticisms against Oranga Tamariki are unfair and that since it attempted to uplift a baby at Hastings hospital in May, three Māori babies had been killed.
Peters was responding to questions about a planned rally at Parliament on Tuesday by a group trying to stop Oranga Tamariki putting Māori babies into state care – or as the Hands Off Our Tamariki Network calls it, "stealing Māori children."
"If you ask me personally what my view is let me say that three Māori children have been killed since this issue broke," he said at a post-Cabinet press conference in the Beehive yesterday.
"I don't see many headlines about that and that's a tragedy.
"If any of you understand Māoridom, you'll know there is some deep disquiet with respect to the treatment of women and children in particular," he said.
"So let's not wipe our hands of this - and own up to the fact that if there's going to be a change, then there has to be a cultural renaissance in Māoridom itself as to its internal responsibilities to help fix this issue."
The taxpayer in good faith was putting in a lot of money into Oranga Tamariki and there were a lot of motivated and hard-working social workers.
"All sorts of people are being put in the gun, so to speak, but this criticism as though it is some sort of insensitive system where no one cares. That could not be further from the truth."
Peters did not list the children who had been killed since the attempted uplift but they are:
• 16 month old Malcolm Robert Bell who died of head injuries in Starship hospital in June. A 51-year-old man was last week charged with his murder. Five of his older siblings had all been previously removed from their mother's care by Oranga Tamariki.
• A 10-month-old Hokitika boy who died of injuries in Christchurch hospital. A 30-year-old man has been charged with his murder.
• A Northland infant who died of injuries.
One of Peters' MPs, Tracey Martin, is the Minister for Children and the minister in charge of Oranga Tamariki.
Uplifts were thrust into the public arena after Newsroom produced a video showing the trauma of an attempted uplift at Hastings in May, which is the subject of an internal review by Oranga Tamariki.
Asked if he thought the system was fit for purpose, Peters said he did not.
"But it is a system we inherited and the system got to keep on working to improve. But having said that, let's not have this massive condemnation of a lot of people doing the very best they can for society in very, very difficult and sometimes dangerous circumstances."
Hands Off Our Tamariki Network will hand over an open letter to Green Party co-leader Marama Davidson demanding a stop to removing Māori children from whānau.
In a statement today, it said that Tracey Martin and the previous National minister, Anne Tolley, who replaced Child Youth and Family with a reformed Oranga Tamariki, had rejected clear evidence that the current system was highly abusive of Māori children.
"The failure of the Government to take a clearer position and to make significant changes indicates a failure of leadership and, as such, a failure of the Labour-led Government as well," it said.
Among the speakers at the rally will be former Māori Party founder Dame Tariana Turia, lawyers Moana Jackson and Annette Sykes, and some of those involved in stopping the Hastings uplift, Ngāti Kahungunu kaumātua Des Ratima, and Māori midwife Jean Te Huia.
Peters was filling in for Jacinda Ardern who was in Tokelau. He also answered questions about the Ihumātao dispute over a Fletcher Building property development planned in conjunction with Te Kawerau a Maki.
Peters firmly took the side of the iwi involved over what he called "outsiders".
"At the end of the day it will come down to this – and it will in Māoridom always come down to this – who has been keeping that land warm over the centuries, all the way to 2019?
"That in the end will be what guides the system in this country and indeed Māori understanding and tikanga as well, not just the view of a whole lot of outsiders."
He said ministerial colleague and local MP Peeni Henare had handled the issue "adroitly". He remained non-committal on whether the Government should buy the development site from Fletcher but said he believed it would open up Treaty of Waitangi settlements.
Fletcher has agreed not to progress the development, a commitment conveyed by Ardern on Friday.
Peters dismissed a call by protest leader Pania Newtown to get that in writing.
"I believe such a statement is a statement of bad faith where the Prime Minister is concerned. She gave her word and she is entitled to be believed."