Govt agencies no longer required to meet over Gloriavale concerns

Govt agencies no longer required to meet over Gloriavale concerns

| The Press | Joanne Naish |

Ten government agencies monitoring the Gloriavale community are no longer required to meet fortnightly.

The all-of-Government response to the remote West Coast community, looking at issues raised by leavers, employment and education investigations and criminal court cases is no longer active since the end of last year.

It comes as a victim of child sex abuse in Gloriavale has called for the Government to take action to protect children in the Christian community, saying the court has proved multiple times that it “isn’t a safe place”.

The ten government agencies were involved in a Gloriavale-West Coast Stakeholder Group, which included police, WorkSafe and Oranga Tamariki, in a joint response set up in August 2022, reporting regularly to the previous Government.

The current Government’s move to disestablish the group has been met with concern from the leavers’ support group and the opposition who say agencies need to work together to combat continuing concerns and risks for those living in the community.

The previous Government asked for five key outcomes: community members work without the threat of penalty, receive minimum legal entitlements, children have their rights upheld – including receiving an education and not being exploited for commercial gain – no tolerance of serious harm including physical and sexual abuse and those who want to leave Gloriavale could do so freely.

MBIE’s workplace relations and safety policy general manager Anna Clark said the group’s mandate from Cabinet came to an end on December 31.

“Since August 2022, agencies working alongside the Gloriavale leadership have made progress towards supporting the community to achieve the five outcomes,” she said.

Agencies would continue working with Gloriavale for the foreseeable future, and take a collaborative approach where it made sense to do so.

Decisions by the Employment Court found women and men who worked in the community were entitled to workers’ rights and the men were employed by Overseeing Shepherd Howard Temple. Since the employment case, police are investigating claims of slavery and forced labour, made in court.

Labour Inspectorate Head of Compliance and Enforcement Simon Humphries said issues identified at Gloriavale remained a concern and the Inspectorate was investigating and working with the leaders to educate them on their legal responsibilities.

Gloriavale Leavers’ Support Trust manager Liz Gregory said the meeting of Government agencies signalled to the country that there were some significant issues of concern around Gloriavale, their culture and practices.

She believed Gloriavale failed to meet most of the five key outcomes the Government set for them.

She hoped the meetings were not just a “talk fest” and believed the group missed vital information by not inviting leavers and the Leavers’ Support Trust to be involved.

However, she called on the new Government to “actually do” something.

“I think we have learned not to rely on Governments to create cultural changes in organisations who have no honest internal desire to change. But we can call them to be courageous and to use the law to the fullest extent,” she said.

Labour’s spokesperson for workplace safety Camilla Belich said the previous Government set up the all-of-Government monitoring response so that those people who chose to remain in Gloriavale were living as safely as possible and to check that Gloriavale was complying with its legal obligations.

“It’s disappointing to see the Government step back from its commitments, abandoning the residents of Gloriavale. It is a step backwards in relation to accountability and transparency for those families who live there, who are still at risk,” she said.

Remaining risks and concerns included appropriate education and general wellbeing, access to commercial banking services and minimum wage entitlements.

A police spokesperson said they had been working on a range of criminal investigations at Gloriavale for a number of years.

“We cannot at this point comment further as the investigations are active — that includes any overseas connections,” she said.

On March 18, Gloriavale man Jonathan Benjamin was sentenced to 11 years and 10 months in prison on 26 charges against nine victims, including indecent assault on girls under 12, sexual violation by unlawful sexual connection and indecent assault on a boy aged 12 to 16.

Speaking after the sentencing, Gloriavale child sex abuse victim Virginia Courage called on the government to protect children in the Christian community.