Marama Davidson - Coroners (Access to Body of Dead Person) Amendment Bill — First Reading

Tēnā koe, Madam Speaker. Thank you. It's really special and important, actually, to be standing on behalf of the Green Party to support the Coroners (Access to Body of Dead Person) Amendment Bill.


- for so many reasons that other members have outlined, and I will absolutely start with a mihi of heartfelt thanks to former co-leader Metiria Turei of the Green Party, who brought this piece of work to the Māori Affairs Select Committee, borne from personal experience. And what I will say is that across the select committee—and this was, again, typical of the Māori Affairs Select Committee—this was a very collaborative, very united piece of work and approach, partly because across the Select Committee - Māori Affairs Select Committee - members, we had each knowledge either personal experience of or knowledge of a person close to us who had experienced or undergone some challenges and difficulties when wanting to maintain some control and feeling of control of the dead person, of the tūpāpaku, at such a grief-stricken time. And we were all able to relate personally in some way to the very problem at the core of what this piece of legislation is trying to address. That's what drove this inquiry to be such a unified and cohesive inquiry across the select committee, because we all saw the heart issue at the core of what we were trying to address. So I’m absolute appreciation  profound grateful to –profoundly grateful to Metiria Turei, but I did want to acknowledge Nuk Korako, the chair of that Māori Affairs Select Committee, in the way that we took that process through.

As you can imagine, asking for people to come and talk to a bunch of – a formal room and a bunch of mostly strangers, in the MPs, about one of the most incredibly personal experiences that a human could ever go through, and pouring their experience out to a very formal room, to a room of MPs is a really generous thing to ask them to do, but they came, and they shared their stories with us, simply to try and help us do better as lawmakers, to try and help us make a decision about what needs to be changed. Some of these stories were harrowing, Madam Chair, and I want to particularly acknowledge—I did some travel to Parihaka, actually, to listen to their marae and the whānau at Parihaka about their stories of engaging with agencies around accessing tūpāpaku. One of the particular stories was about the loss of a baby. That is probably the most harrowing event that a human could ever go through. It was that particular story of the difficulties that a grieving mother, in a state of emotion that I personally cannot imagine or do justice to with words, and how a baby was ripped from her arms after passing away.

So there needed to be an understanding that this is such an important issue, for us, we have the opportunity as lawmakers, to address this. And actually, I want to acknowledge those coroners. Most times, there is an incredible effort to try and cater to the needs of families and whanau. I want to acknowledge the efforts that coroners and various other agencies make when it comes to accessing their bodies of the dead person of the loved one. They are being innovative and going out of their way. Recently, for example, we lost our community leader in Manurewa, Damon Heke, and I understand that some incredible consideration was made to allow the whānau to stay with him when ordinarily that wouldn't happen.

I mean, things like family being able to stay at the agency, things like family being able to travel with and stay with that tūpāpaku for as much as is practicably possible. And I did think - if Madam Chair would allow me somewhat, I did think - there was a story, a memory that came back to me tonight with this bill that I wouldn't mind just putting on the floor of the House to indicate, again, the importance of feeling like you are in control of the process when your loved one has passed on and that you can be near. When my cousin passed away many years ago—he drowned in Lake Pupuke, and we didn't find him for a night. He was diving, and he was on the bottom of the lake, and we stayed on the lake—slept under the stars and stayed on the lake—until he could be found, because such was the importance to remain as close as we possibly could to the tūpāpaku, as much as was practicably possible. That's a night that I will never, ever forget, and the privilege of sleeping on the side of the lake, taking care of staying close. So, to get back to the bill, this is where this amendment bill has come from.

So what it actually is doing—because I too did want to pick up on the fact that in the actual legislation, it is very clear. It's amending section 26, which provides a list of matters that a coroner must take into account when determining "whether to authorise a person … to view, touch, or remain with or near [a] body" and whether to impose any conditions. And then that particular matter, that list of matters to be taken under account—what this bill is doing is inserting a section which says what must be taken into account: "the ethnic origins, social attitudes or customs, or spiritual beliefs of the person who is, or of a person who is suspected to be, the dead person, or of an immediate family member of that person, that customarily require viewing, touching, or remaining with or near the body". So it's very clear that it applies to all ethnicities, and not just ethnicity. It actually requires coroners to take into account social attitudes or customs, and that will apply to any person, no matter what your background or customs or practices are. So this is not just a bill of compassion and humanity but it's also incredibly inclusive, and I'm really proud that this House is putting this through tonight for its first reading.

So I think I've covered a lot of what I wanted to cover—oh, I wanted to note that under this legislation, it appears, my understanding is that the Minister of Justice will also consider whether a code of best practice balances cultural considerations with the public interest in finding the cause of death. And I think if we partic- and I just do have to mention—because it is relevant to this legislation and why this legislation is good is because there is discrepancy in the ethnicity of which deaths are referred to coroners, and Nuk Korako will remember that that did come up before us, particularly in the death of babies. So, if that is the case, then we need to make sure—and, you know, looking at the systemic biases in the agency practice is a whole other thing, but if the case is that certain ethnicities—in this case, it is Māori—are going to be referred more than other ethnicities to coroners, then we need to make sure that the tikanga and cultural considerations are a requirement rather than just a discretionary choice of coroners, and the other stuff will have to be addressed as well.

So Madam Speaker, I want to finish by saying this is just one part of one of the recommendations that came through the inquiry into the management of tūpāpaku. Oh, by the way, I just want to commend all the members across the House. Tūpāpaku is probably one of the most difficult Te Reo words that you could ever have—

Hon Christopher Finlayson: Not really.

MARAMA DAVIDSON: —I think it is, Chris—but I think that everyone has been making a good effort—and it is hard. Tū-pā-paku—tūpāpaku. The inquiry—this is one of the recommendations but, in my view, possibly one of the more important ones. So it is a good opportunity that we are putting this through the House tonight. Thank you, Madam Speaker.