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Changes To Gloriavale Response Could Risk Gains - Ministers Told

The Gloriavale compound on the West Coast. Photo: RNZ / Jean Edwards

Work to protect members of the Gloriavale Christian community from exploitation and abuse could lose momentum with the end of an all-of-government response, ministers have been told.

The joint agency response was set up by the former Labour government in August 2022 to work on five key outcomes for community members, but the Cabinet mandate came to an end on 31 December and was not extended.



A decision not to extend the arrangement could undermine confidence and trust established between Gloriavale and government agencies, the Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment (MBIE) noted in a December briefing to six Coalition ministers. The briefing was released to RNZ under the Official Information Act.

"Closing out the coordination function in 2023 risks losing the momentum gained by agencies towards achieving the five outcomes and in terms of the community leadership's willingness to engage," the briefing said.

"Although agencies would continue to work co-operatively, the lack of a single all-of-government co-ordination point could undermine the confidence and trust of some of the groups within Gloriavale that agencies have started to engage with."

The agency response included police, Oranga Tamariki and WorkSafe, and was coordinated by the West Coast Regional Public Service Commissioner.

The previous government set five key outcomes: Gloriavale members working without the threat of penalty and receiving minimum legal entitlements, upholding children's rights, including receiving an education and not being exploited for commercial gain, no tolerance for any serious harm, and allowing people who wanted to leave to do so freely.

The MBIE document noted agencies working with Gloriavale's leadership had made considerable progress in helping the community achieve the five outcomes, although police and Oranga Tamariki were continuing to respond to allegations of harm towards children, including concerning sexualised behaviour in children.

"Overall, concerns remain about children's rights not being adequately upheld in the community, including but not limited to the right to an adequate education and the right to not be exploited for their labour," the briefing said.

"The approach to education is considered by agencies to contravene national and international children's rights standards."

The Education Review Office had carried out a special review of Gloriavale's private school, home-schooling programme and provision of Te Kura at the Ministry of Education's request.

The briefing was provided to Workplace Relations and Safety Minister Brooke van Velden, Education Minister Erica Stanford, Social Development and Employment Minister Louise Upston, Police Minister Mark Mitchell, Children's Minister Karen Chhour and Women's Minister Nicola Grigg.

Gloriavale's leaders supported the "collective joined-up agency focus" and had requested it continue, the document noted.

A Gloriavale spokesman said leaders had no problem with the five outcomes and would continue complying with them and working closely with agencies, particularly police, WorkSafe and Oranga Tamariki.

He said leaders had been assigned to each outcome to see that members were aware of their legal rights and that the community was complying with regulations.

Under the previous government mandate, they delivered progress reports to the Ministry of Social Development every six weeks, the spokesman said.

"We are keen to see that the five outcomes are maintained. It would be foolish to neglect something that is a benefit to community members," he said.

"The child protection policy is in full force, with regular meetings between community child protection leads and a representative of Oranga Tamariki.

"All members of Christian Partners - about 150 men and women - have their own bank accounts and are in control of their contributions to the partnership.

"Our community is subject to all of the same challenges found in New Zealand society at this time - the high cost of living, labour shortages, and the maintenance of infrastructure. However, we are confident that we can solve these problems and comply with the requirements of the law. Our main priority is ensuring that our children are safe and well cared for.

"The Gloriavale Christian School is working with the Department of Education to ensure that our children are well educated. We even had the police here for three days this week teaching the children about road safety and safe cycling.

"We are also engaged in ongoing negotiations with the Ministry of Social Development to ensure that the needs of people who choose to leave the community are met."

On Wednesday, barrister Brian Henry told Morning Report the all-of-government response was designed to reform Gloriavale rather than help victims of abuse.

"You have a government agency trying to keep an organised group of self-entitled males with power over females going. Why didn't they look after the victims called little children? That's my problem," he said.

"They enabled them."

Henry sent a letter to Prime Minister Christopher Luxon and other senior ministers on 6 December calling for Gloriavale to be shut down.

He said failures and inaction by previous governments and officials had turned them into "enablers" of a "sex cult cloaked in Christianity".

Henry this week filed High Court proceedings against Oranga Tamariki, the Department of Internal Affairs, Ministry of Social Development and Labour Inspectorate, accusing them of knowingly allowing abuse at Gloriavale.

Authorities are also examining concerns from human rights lawyer Deborah Manning about human trafficking and coerced marriage at Gloriavale's sister community in India, as a result of revelations in the documentary series Escaping Utopia.

A Gloriavale spokesman said the community was in constant contact with brethren in India and had not heard any complaints from them.

"Our New Zealand women who went to India and married there did so of their own free will and with the convictions they had in their own hearts. Some of those people have also returned to New Zealand with their families, and then gone back to India. Family relatives from New Zealand also visit them regularly," he said.

In two separate cases, the Employment Court's chief judge ruled nine former members were Gloriavale employees, rather than volunteers, working on the community's domestic teams, or factories and farms.

The six women and three men have lodged an Employment Relations Authority claim for lost wages and compensation, believed to total $5.2 million.

The MBIE briefing noted the women's court decision would allow WorkSafe to take enforcement action for any health and safety failures in Gloriavale's kitchen and laundry.

"WorkSafe has been engaging with Gloriavale and its health and safety consultant to seek voluntary compliance with expected standards," the document said.

Gloriavale's Overseeing Shepherd Howard Temple is currently facing 27 charges of sexual offending against 10 girls, over a period of more than 20 years.

He has pleaded not guilty to 14 charges of indecent assault and 13 of doing an indecent act and elected a judge-alone trial.

Police are also investigating allegations of forced labour, slavery and servitude at Gloriavale.

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