Urgent Waitangi Tribunal hearing for Kohanga Reo

Te Kohanga Reo National Trust Board is very pleased with the Waitangi Tribunal’s decision to urgently hear its claim that the Crown has unilaterally treated kohanga reo as early childhood education providers and failed to recognise the kaupapa of kohanga reo.

Dame Iritana Te Rangi Tawhiwhirangi, Trustee of the Trust Board, said, “We gave the Waitangi Tribunal numerous reasons why they should hear our claim urgently, and they have agreed with every single one of them”.

The Tribunal found that:

* On balance the Trust Board could demonstrate it was suffering or likely to suffer significant and irreversible prejudice as a result of current or pending Crown action or policy. In particular:

o Reputational damage by the ECE Taskforce Report may have been aggravated by the consultation survey document.

o The Trust Board was not consulted by the Minister of Education or officials.


o There was likely to be a reduction in enrolments for kohanga reo in 2012 and 2013 with long term prejudice to te reo Maori.

o There was an imminent likelihood the Crown will make, and is making, decisions on the basis of the Taskforce’s recommendations, particularly around funding in preparation for the budget rounds commencing in December 2011.

o The Crown did not say why it sought comment from parents and other stakeholders across the entire ECE sector on the Trust Board.

o The Crown’s offers of relief were “limited” and did not go far enough.

o The Tribunal was not reassured that work on policy affecting kohanga reo and the Trust in the long term was not already underway.

* There was no alternative remedy for the Trust Board to exercise and the Crown did not offer sufficient options to address issues raised by the Trust Board.

* The risk of decline in kohanga reo enrolments also constitutes significant and irreversible prejudice to the health of te reo Maori and further consequential prejudice to Maori as a result of language loss.

* The seriousness of the subject matter of the claim (involving nearly 10,000 children) also justified an urgent hearing.

* The Trust Board was ready to proceed to a hearing.

“We understand that the Waitangi Tribunal will only grant an urgent hearing in exceptional cases, and therefore we are pleased that the Tribunal has recognised the seriousness of our claim”, said Ms Tina Olsen-Ratana, Co-Chair of the Trust Board.

The Tribunal’s decision today means that the Trust Board’s substantive claim will be heard urgently. The substantive hearing will consider the treatment of kohanga reo by the Crown, specifically whether the Crown has breached its duties under the Treaty of Waitangi to:

* actively protect taonga such as te reo and tikanga Maori and kohanga reo;
* allow the Trust Board and kohanga reo to develop such taonga;
* allow the Trust Board to exercise its role as kaitiaki of kohanga reo kaupapa;
* exercise kawanatanga appropriately;
* act in accordance with the principle of partnership;
* make informed decisions in relation to kohanga reo;
* treat the Trust Board and kohanga reo fairly and not subject them to discrimination; and
* take special measures to ensure Maori attain equality with other citizens of New Zealand.

The Tribunal will commission independent expert evidence, regarding Education Review Office (ERO) reports and supplementary reports regarding kohanga reo. The Taskforce made findings that kohanga reo were of low-quality without consulting the Trust Board. Supposedly this was because kohanga reo had received a disproportionate number of supplementary ERO reviews. This independent expert will determine whether such findings were warranted.

Ms Olsen-Ratana said, “The Trust Board has serious concerns about the possibly defamatory statements in the ECE Taskforce Report regarding the quality of kohanga reo, and we are pleased that the Tribunal will be seeing the evidence of ERO reports themselves”.

The hearing is set to take place in February 2012. The Trust Board is grateful to kohanga reo whanau and supporters and for the great work and commitment from our lawyers, Chen Palmer.

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