Wellington Scoop

Head of Oranga Tamariki stepping down; Wira Gardiner will be temporary leader

Report from RNZ
Controversial Oranga Tamariki chief executive Grainne Moss has decided to step down.

It comes after repeated calls for her to resign amid a number of scathing reports bringing the Ministry into question.

Moss has been under pressure since a Newsroom investigation into attempts by social workers to remove a week-old baby from its mother in Hawke’s Bay sparked multiple inquiries and reports.

In a statement, Moss said it has been a privilege to lead the ministry for over four years through a time of significant transformation, challenge and change. However, it was the right time for the agency for her to step down and make way for new leadership.

“I feel the focus has been on me rather than how we work together to improve the well-being of children,” she said.

Public Service Commissioner Peter Hughes said Moss is a dedicated public servant and leader who had made a number of significant improvements in what was one of the biggest and toughest roles in the public service.

“I commend Mrs Moss for doing what is, at this time, in the best interests of the agency,” Hughes said. “What she has done today is selfless.”

She has accepted a new role as the chief executive leading the public service’s pay equity work.

“Mrs Moss led the successful pay equity claim for social workers at Oranga Tamariki- Ministry for Children and was also part of the team which developed and delivered pay equity to aged care workers. As such she has significant experience and expertise,” Hughes said.

Sir Wira Gardiner will step in as acting chief executive while the recruitment process for a new head will be underway shortly. Sir Wira (Ngāti Awa, Ngāti Pikiao, Te Whānau-ā-Apanui and Te Whakatōhea) has been involved in significant interactions between the Crown and iwi on Treaty settlements and negotiating between parties on complex issues. He was the founding director of the Waitangi Tribunal, head of the Iwi Transition Agency, and founding chief executive of Te Puni Kōkiri, the Ministry of Māori Development.

Last month, one of Oranga Tamariki’s most senior Māori leaders, Hoani Lambert, resigned, saying that his departure was not a protest against Moss. When asked last year about rumours of her departure, Moss remained adamant she had the confidence of her leadership team and was committed to her work at the ministry.

The Minister for Children, Kelvin Davis, has refused to express his confidence in Moss.

On 14 December when Moss confirmed Lambert had resigned, she said she would not step down. She said she was looking forward to continuing the work of Oranga Tamariki.

In November Moss also refused to step down following a submission to the Waitangi Tribunal’s urgent inquiry into Oranga Tamariki in which she admitted the children’s ministry was yet to eliminate structural racism, or fully adopt the recommendations of a 1998 report.

Dame Tariana Turia is among those who have insisted Moss should step aside. During the Waitangi Tribunal hearing investigating the ministry’s role in uplifting Māori babies from their whānau Dame Tariana said Moss “kept on blaming the Crown” for the shortcomings at Oranga Tamariki which was an unusual approach. She said she did not have confidence in Moss.


  1. Luke Fitzmaurice, 23. January 2021, 10:02

    The search for a CEO for OT should include every kaupapa Māori org in the country. If the boss of Bupa is sufficiently qualified then so is the CEO and Chair of every runanga, urban Māori authority and iwi social service provider. The time has come, no more excuses. [via twitter]

  2. D'Esterre, 23. January 2021, 12:58

    From the mid to late 1980s, I’ve taken an interest in child welfare/protection services in NZ. So I watched the National government’s reorganisation, to see how it would work out. In my view, the departure of Gráinne Moss is unfortunate. The child protection area is very difficult, and the stats suggest that during her tenure, OT has largely succeeded in its objectives. My impression is that there’s been a concerted attempt to bully her out of her job, so I hope that she’s been able to see out her contract period.

    “….attempts by social workers to remove a week-old baby from its mother….” Like many citizens, I watched the video of that incident. It was a difficult watch, to be sure. The practice of uplifts has exercised many commentators. I think they’re probably not being honest with themselves. It’s better that OT prevents harm to children, rather than waiting until said children are damaged or killed, as used to be the case under previous iterations of child welfare services. I note a recent NZ Herald report that the child in question is no longer with his mother.

  3. Claire, 23. January 2021, 16:21

    The children need to come first. This is not about politics but processes and cooperation with iwi. Whoever heads OT it’s not about what race they are but skill, and co-leading with Iwi. And coordinating the wraparound agencies and whanau.
    The fact is children are killed in NZ. Why is that happening? Safe places for children will always be needed.

  4. D'Esterre, 23. January 2021, 23:58

    Claire: “The children need to come first.” They do. Hence the structural changes introduced by the National government, such that uplifts became part of OT’s modus operandi. Better to take newborns from risky situations before they could be harmed. OT’s prime job is to protect children, not to hold the hands of parents who can’t look after their offspring.

    “Whoever heads OT it’s not about what race they are but skill…” I agree that the ethnicity of the CEO ought to be irrelevant. Skill is what matters. On that basis, Moss appeared to fill the bill.