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Child and Family Protection Bill

First Reading

Thursday 11 February 2010 Hansard source (external site)

Debate resumed from 10 February.

BridgesSIMON BRIDGES (National—Tauranga) Link to this

I do not intend to take all of my remaining time, at all. Prior to the break last night I was making the point that it has been an excellent thing, for me in my very short time as a member of Parliament, to see this Parliament united against domestic violence. Certainly, it is a topic deserving of our concern, given the very serious problem we have in this country.

As I said, I will not take all of my time, but I will just speak on one issue addressed in this Child and Family Protection Bill, in relation to amendments to the Adoption Act 1955. The Adoption Act is reasonably comprehensive law, as I understand it, but it does not really live up to some of the international obligations that we have today.

Charles Chauvel talked in this House about the phenomenon of child trafficking. Clause 30 of the bill before the House makes it quite clear that we are living up to our international obligations, and, in particular, meeting our obligations under the UN Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, by creating a new offence with this bill. We are increasing the penalty from a very low 3 months’ imprisonment to 7 years’ imprisonment. We are also making this legislation extraterritorial, so that the offence will no longer apply just in this country but throughout the world. Certainly, in my view, that is very much a worthwhile thing to do.

Human trafficking is a serious international problem. We may feel we are insulated from it, and to some extent we are, but my research has made it quite clear to me that human trafficking is the fastest-growing criminal industry in the world. The total annual revenue for trafficking in persons is estimated to be worth between US$5 billion and US$9 billion a year. The Council of Europe has stated: “People trafficking has reached epidemic proportions over the past decade, with a global annual market of about $42.5 billion.”

We could go into all the details, but what we are dealing with here in relation to children is probably the saddest and the worst set of examples that we can think of. The trafficking of children often involves the exploitation of their parents and their extreme poverty. Parents may sell their children to traffickers in order to pay off debts or to gain income, or they may be deceived about the prospects of training and a better life for their children. In West Africa, trafficked children have often lost one or both parents to AIDS, and thousands of male and sometimes female children have been forced to become child soldiers in that continent. The US Department of Justice, in a study in 2008, found that more than 30 percent of the total number of trafficking cases that year involved children who had been coerced into the sex industry.

The adoption process is fraught. As I say, often a number of illegitimate factors are at work—coercion, pressure, financial incentives—that create this serious global situation. For example, thousands of children from Asia, Africa, and South America are sold into the global sex trade every year. Often they have been kidnapped or are orphans, and sometimes they are sold by their own family. I am talking about a wider problem than perhaps this bill deals with, but, nevertheless, by living up to some of our international obligations in this area, we are doing a good thing through this bill.

I have highlighted only one of a number of things that this bill does in relation to children and family violence. It has been a pleasure to be part of a united effort from all members of the House to combat this issue, not only in our country but also extraterritorially in the world we live in.

MoroneySUE MORONEY (Labour) Link to this

It is a pleasure to rise and speak to the first reading of the Child and Family Protection Bill. Labour supports the bill but does so with some misgivings, because we think this is an opportunity missed.

The bill is very important and I certainly wish the select committee members well in their deliberations. I know that in deliberating on this bill they will hear many heart-wrenching stories. They will hear some facts and some information that will be difficult for them and for officials to comprehend and to deal with, but hearing those stories will be incredibly important in terms of making the bill the best legislation that it can be. Labour already knows that this bill is not the best that it can be. It is a reasonable start but we are deeply disappointed that while this bill is being promoted, the Domestic Violence Reform Bill, which had been prepared by the previous Labour Government, still languishes on the Order Paper. In fact, that bill would address the issues contained in the Child and Family Protection Bill as well as many other bills.

I will spend some time pursuing the other issues. It is appropriate that we debate this bill today, as today the lobby group It’s Still Not OK took the opportunity to brief the Government on work that it believes the Government should be pursuing through legislative means on the issue of domestic violence. Sadly, not many of those issues are covered by this bill, but some of them are covered in the bill that sits languishing on the Order Paper. The Government has the opportunity, right now, to bring forward and debate that much more comprehensive bill, which would address some of the issues of the lobby group that has been to see the Government. I hear the Government making some supportive noises about the recommendations that the group has made, yet the Government has an opportunity, right now, to address some of the recommendations that the group has brought forward. A bill already sitting on the Order Paper, which could be debated right now, is stronger than the one we have before us, and it would address some of those issues.

I have not had a lot of time to have a look at the report that the group delivered to the Government; I have had access to it only over the last few hours. The group is mainly made up of women who are survivors of domestic violence. They were looking for someone to discuss their concerns with, and, interestingly, when they approached the Ministry of Women’s Affairs they were shuffled off. That is appalling. It is a great shame. I would like the Minister of Women’s Affairs to take a call on this debate. So many times I have heard her say that family violence and domestic violence are a priority for her ministry, yet when this very important lobby group went to see her ministry they could find no one. I will quote from the recommendations in the group’s report: “Women’s Affairs: We approached this department first when looking for someone to discuss our concerns with. There was no one who could discuss our issues with us. We were referred to the Ministry of Social Development.” That is a poor response from the Ministry of Women’s Affairs. Its Minister claims that she sees family violence as a top priority for her ministry, yet it was not interested to hear what this particular lobby group had to say. So that is something that I would like the Government to resolve. Clearly, domestic violence affects many more women than men. More often than not, women are the victims and men are the perpetrators. On the odd occasion, it happens the other way round, but let us not fool ourselves for a minute: the gender analysis is very, very clear on this issue. It is mainly women and it certainly is, in the main, women who end up losing their lives as a result of extreme acts of domestic violence.

The It’s Still Not OK report talks about the group’s experiences as women who have suffered at the hands of people whom they thought loved them. It is an interesting observation that all of them found that Women’s Refuge singularly provided them with the support to leave behind domestic violence. I reflect on that and on their observation that Women’s Refuge is underfunded. Certainly, in the area that I come from in Hamilton it has been significantly underfunded by this Government—

GoodhewJo Goodhew Link to this

The Community Response Fund has had tens of thousands of dollars. Have you not heard about that?

MoroneySUE MORONEY Link to this

The Community Response Fund? OK. Jo Goodhew thinks that the Community Response Fund has fixed the problem. Well, I am sorry to give that member a dose of reality but it has not fixed the problem, at all.

GoodhewJo Goodhew Link to this

You clearly haven’t talked to people in women’s refuges.

MoroneySUE MORONEY Link to this

If the member would care to listen to the story of Te Whakaruruhau, the Māori women’s refuge in Hamilton, then she might learn something about the very real situation that is happening on the ground. In this particular situation the women’s refuge in Hamilton had the money that other women’s refuges have, but also they had additional funding brought about by the previous Labour Government through Te Puni Kōkiri.

GoodhewJo Goodhew Link to this

They’ve had $1.6 million extra.

MoroneySUE MORONEY Link to this

I wish the member would listen to the facts. The Hamilton women’s refuge had additional money to provide a proper service. Every time the police were called to a domestic violence incident they were accompanied by a women’s refuge worker. That was trialled in Hamilton. The Labour Government gave additional funding to the Hamilton women’s refuge to trial that very successful pilot. As a result, there has not been a domestic violence - related death in our city for some years since that service was instigated.

GoodhewJo Goodhew Link to this

I don’t see what that’s got to do with the extra $1.6 million that National has provided to Women’s Refuge.

MoroneySUE MORONEY Link to this

Well, I am sorry, but if that member does not see what having a successful pilot that has stopped domestic violence deaths in my city has to do with the issue, then she is missing the issue altogether.

When the Te Puni Kōkiri money finished, it was to be replaced by the Pathways to Partnership funding that the Labour Government had put in place. When the election happened and National came in and took away the Pathways to Partnership funding, then so went the money that that women’s refuge depended on to provide a proper service in terms of helping the victims of domestic violence. What has been the outcome of that? They have actually seen a funding shortfall of some $400,000. As a result of a National Government being elected, the Hamilton women’s refuge is $400,000 worse off in terms of providing that service.

BennettHon Paula Bennett Link to this

That is not true.

MoroneySUE MORONEY Link to this

That is true, and that Minister knows it. The Minister for Social Development and Employment knows this, because she has actually been told this information by Women’s Refuge. It meant that they had to make redundant 14 staff members. They also had to stop leasing some of the properties that they were using to keep women safe in the community. With that funding shortfall of $400,000, 14 staff members were made redundant. But those 14 staff members are so committed to dealing with the issue of domestic violence that they came back and volunteered their time over Christmas. They knew that rates of domestic violence over Christmas were going to be particularly bad, particularly in an economic recession, for our community. Out of the goodness of their hearts—even though they had been made redundant because that Government took away their Pathways to Partnership funding—they came back and volunteered and kept that service going over Christmas. That is what people do when they really care about the issue of domestic violence.

I call on the Government not only to pass this legislation but also to deal with the recommendations that the lobby group came to talk to them about today. Part of doing that would be to actually proceed with the Domestic Violence Reform Bill that was put forward by Labour. Let us not play politics about this. Yes, Labour came up with that superior piece of legislation but it is on the Order Paper, so the Government should pick it up and run with it. I also urge the Government to sort out the situation in Hamilton. I am really proud that my city has not had a domestic violence - related death since the Hamilton women’s refuge started implementing this very good programme. I do not want to say to members in a few months’ or a few weeks’ time that I told them so. Not having that service in place will put women at risk. It puts women at risk. I think the Government should be not only passing this legislation, which we support, but also filling in the gaps of the other legislation on the Order Paper, and making sure that Te Whakaruruhau, the Hamilton women’s refuge, is funded appropriately.

BakshiKANWALJIT SINGH BAKSHI (National) Link to this

I stand to support the Child and Family Protection Bill. Since this National-led Government, under the leadership of John Key, was established it has passed many laws to make our society safer. The purpose of this bill is to focus on providing greater protection for child victims and from family violence in the home, ensuring that the courts can act to protect children and families from all kinds of violence and abuse, and addressing the risk of children being wrongfully removed from New Zealand.

This Government is committed to looking after the welfare of children. The amendments proposed by this bill will include the safety of children in New Zealand. As most of us are probably aware, police are called about 80,000 times to domestic violence incidents every year. Over 200 women and children were killed from domestic violence over the last 12 years. That is a clear indication that New Zealand is facing an epidemic of domestic violence.

During the past year I have visited many organisations, including the Counselling Services Centre in Manukau City, the Manukau Indian Association, the Swaminarayan temple, and the Punjabi Cultural Association and discussed this issue with them. There has been an increase in the number of cases of domestic violence in ethnic communities in recent years. This bill is aimed at reducing domestic violence in our society. The Child and Family Protection Bill is the continuation of this Government’s ongoing commitment to dealing effectively with family violence.

This Government has not stopped working on addressing the issues of domestic violence. Within a year of coming to power the National-led Government passed the Domestic Violence Amendment Act 2009, which gives the police the power to issue on-the-spot protection orders and to take action when they have good grounds to believe that those orders are not being complied with. Another important Act was the Sentencing (Offences Against Children) Amendment Act 2008, which sent a clear message that offences against children are not acceptable.

This bill proposes three main changes. First, it extends protection under the Domestic Violence Act 1995—which includes the Family Court process—by clarifying that a data protection order will continue to apply for a child of the deceased applicant who is under the age of 17. This will provide clarity, so that when a protected person dies his or her children will remain protected. The changes proposed and added power will ensure that the courts can act to protect children and families from all forms of violence and abuse. Currently, only a judge can direct attendance at the programme. This process can become problematic if the respondent has not been served with a copy of the protection order containing the direction prior to the date specified for his or her first attendance at the programme. The bill therefore enables the registrar to amend the direction to require attendance at the later time.

The second proposed change is in relation to psychological abuse. The bill amends the Care of Children Act 2004. The aim is to increase the protection of children suffering from psychological violence by allowing the court to review the parents’ contact agreement within a week of a temporary protection order being made, thus avoiding any opportunity for a gap between a temporary and final protection order, which could result in the protected person having no protection.

The third proposed change relates to adoption under the Adoption Act 1955. This change will strengthen the protection of children who are at risk of unlawful removal from New Zealand, in order to ensure that New Zealand legislation fully complies with the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, so that it may be ratified. The bill includes a new offence under the Adoption Act 1955 of improperly inducing consent of the child to be punishable by a term of imprisonment of up to 7 years. The previous Government failed to progress domestic violence legislation, despite in September 2000 signing the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, as part of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. The previous Labour Government failed to implement the legislation necessary to ratify it. Now, 10 years later, the National Government is meeting those international obligations.

In conclusion, the ultimate aim of this legislation, along with the Domestic Violence (Enhancing Safety) Bill 2008, is to ensure victims are placed at the heart of the justice system. The Government, with this bill, is working hard to reduce violence in our communities and is ensuring a focus on the best interests of children. We are a step closer.

ChadwickHon STEVE CHADWICK (Labour) Link to this

Labour will be supporting this bill. In fact, the objective of this bill is to protect and enhance child and family safety, and I am sure that that sentiment is shared across the House. It was great to see the member who has just resumed his seat speak out, too. Ethnic communities in our country need to be part of the solution to the appalling rates of child abuse.

Last year in the House I remember the Minister for Social Development and Employment standing up and haranguing Labour in Opposition, saying that the previous Labour Government did nothing about child abuse in this country. I was hurt, and I took great offence at that remark from the Minister; so did Annette King and so did all other Labour members. We had started a journey, facing up to the fact that there were appalling levels of child abuse in this country, and we did many things to start the journey that is now beginning to produce legislation to try to fix the levels of domestic and family violence in this country. We set up things like the Taskforce for Action on Violence within Families, which had Ministers of every portfolio overlapping in effort, and an all-of-Government approach to address the systemic and complex issues of family violence. We also set up a cross-party committee. I have to state in the House today that Judith Collins, as the spokesperson at the time, was invited to attend those meetings, but she did not attend even one. That is why I was so distressed when Minister Paula Bennett said that Labour had done nothing when in Government for 9 years.

Labour was implementing the Te Rito family violence strategy very, very consistently across all Government portfolios. We also facilitated a breakfast session of all parties called the Littlies Lobby, which had good support. This Government has been in office for 1 year but has not set up or continued any cross-party forum, like the Littlies Lobby, to discuss issues that impact on children and families. That support stopped at the end of the election, and here we are now, 14 months later, and there is no opportunity for us to network across parties with all those who care about the incidence of family violence and the protection of children in our society. We also thought that we would see a platform for Every Child Counts. When in Opposition, National asked: “What are you doing about children? The five strategic planks of Every Child Counts matter to us.” But there was nothing, absolutely nothing, about our all getting together, and getting experts and advocates to come to speak to us as MPs, to talk about what we can do along programme lines and legislation lines to make a difference. I think that is a shame, and I think it is arrogant; the answers lie with all of us here, as legislators in this House.

From the Littlies Lobby we moved on to do things like repeal section 59 of the Crimes Act. We brought in an assessment tool used by GPs, midwives, family doctors, and accident and emergency staff to assess and diagnose the early signs of child abuse—that manifestation of family violence. Those early intervention models were well established by the Labour Government. I want to put that on the record to show that Labour certainly did not just sit on its hands.

But the sad thing about this bill, even though Labour will support it and it does go some way towards the legislative end of addressing domestic violence and the impact of child abuse, is that it does nothing to address the causes and drivers of child abuse. That needs an early intervention model, which we have not heard of from this Government. The Government just wants to legislate, and then to sentence people and put them away. It is doing nothing about the development of early intervention models and community development models that make a difference in the lives of dysfunctional families.

There is a wonderful resource, Dr Annabel Taylor, who is the chair of the Family Help Trust in Christchurch, and she says that it is not just about programmes or resources; it is about everybody working together. She says that for every $1 spent on early intervention models, the cost-benefit effectiveness is $19 saved by the State, at the end, on legislation like this that addresses offending and puts people in jail. Early intervention models work, but we are not seeing any evidence. We look forward to Whānau Ora to see evidence of early intervention and community development, because that is what builds resilient children, resilient families, and then resilient communities. It is no good just looking at legislation.

I also want to point out that last night we saw that approach again in the “Boot Camp Bill”. What a great answer: just kick offenders in jail and put them on boot camps. That is not the way we should address the problem; we should address housing, poverty, and parenting. Those are the drivers of children who later on become dysfunctional—and that has been my lifework as a midwife. But here we are again with more legislation.

In 2008 Annette King, as a result of the ministerial taskforce, introduced the Domestic Violence Reform Bill. It was a wonderful bill that was a result of our going out to communities, with the National Council of Women and all of the intervention and support services, to see how to make protection orders work. The National Council of Women came and gave lots of great ideas. That bill now languishes on the Order Paper as No. 45, yet here we are addressing a bill that has omitted so many aspects that were in Cabinet papers and that would address domestic violence.

BridgesSimon Bridges Link to this

Steve, you’re not in Government any more.

ChadwickHon STEVE CHADWICK Link to this

I will tell that member where the Government bill comes up short, because I know that he, too, is committed to making sure that we address all of the multi-tenanted facets of family and child abuse. Five major planks are omitted from this bill so it is an imperfect tool, but we will support it and try to make it a little bit better. Our Domestic Violence Reform Bill changed the age of the child, but that provision is missing in this bill. There we were last night talking about children going into boot camps, but this bill has a different age again. That is something so simple that it could have and should have been addressed in this bill, so that the Domestic Violence Act could cover someone under the age of 18, which is in accordance with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. Currently, a child is anyone under 17.

This bill does not provide the court with the power to direct attendance to an addiction treatment programme, but Labour’s bill would have fixed that. How silly! Why did Government members not refer to the Cabinet papers in the drafting of this bill, rather than put the bill forward and say that they will fix the drivers of domestic violence.

There is another aspect here about information. This bill does not require people to have an information session when they have had a protection order issued against them. It would have been so good to have the victims of domestic violence know where to go to keep the other children in the family safe, or the women themselves, or in some cases the men. But in the paper today we see a manifestation of Government members sitting on their hands and doing nothing. The headline says: “Survivors speak out for family violence reforms”; we will go and listen to them. Everything in our Domestic Violence Reform Bill that was covered off to look after victims of domestic violence is missing in this bill, and I think that that is terribly sad. It is an oversight.

This bill is a response that shows that the Minister, Simon Power, who really is keen on law and order, has moved too fast and has not looked at the detail in order to correct the provisions that have gone into this bill. If he had stacked up his bill side by side with Annette King’s bill, which was the result of the ministerial taskforce, we would have had a much more perfect bill. I think it is a shame that her bill is not the one we are talking about today.

FinlaysonHon Christopher Finlayson Link to this

How can something be more perfect?

ChadwickHon STEVE CHADWICK Link to this

That is right; it can because ours was. I thank the member for that.

This bill falls short. When Judith Collins came in she ranted on in all the press releases about doing something for victims of family violence, but this is a short order. It falls short for the victims, for the women involved in domestic violence. We will support it and we will try to make it better, but what a pity the Government has missed the detail.

QuinnPAUL QUINN (National) Link to this

As this is the first opportunity I have had to address the House this year, I extend New Year greetings to you, Mr Assistant Speaker, and your office. I also extend greetings to my many friends on the Opposition benches. I have spoken to many of them, but there are some I still have to get to. So I give New Year greetings to all members.

As the last speaker in this debate on the Child and Family Protection Bill, it falls to me to capture, if you like, the threads of the debate, bring it all together, and sum up. I thought I would start by reiterating, so that everyone in the House understands, what this bill does. This bill amends the Domestic Violence Act 1995, the Care of Children Act 2004, the Adoption Act 1955, and it makes consequential amendments to two or three other Acts. Its purpose, as many speakers have canvassed in their presentations to the House, is to focus on providing greater protection for child victims of family violence in the home, ensure the courts can act to protect children and families from all kinds of violence and abuse, and address the risks of children being wrongfully removed from New Zealand.

All those issues have been adequately covered during the course of the debate, certainly by my colleagues on the Government benches and by some minor contributions from the other side of the House. I want to correct the record, because a number of Opposition speakers have focused in their presentations on their disappointment at the lack of action in this area, and they have criticised the Government.

The previous speaker, my very good friend Steve Chadwick, made a contribution that I was somewhat disappointed with. I enjoy her company. She has a lot of offer, but one of the things she has not yet realised—along with all the members on that side of the House—is that the National Party is the party of Government. We are not implementing Labour Party policy. We are here to implement National Party policy, and just because the stuff that Labour likes is not happening does not mean we are doing a bad job. I think that Labour members need to come to grips with the fact that we are doing what the people voted for us to do, which was not to carry out Labour policy.

This bill builds on the excellent work that has been achieved last year in terms of law and order under the leadership provided by the Minister in charge of this bill, the Hon Simon Power. Let me mention some of that work. The Government has passed the Violence (Enhancing Safety) Bill and, of course, amendments to the Sentencing Act. A suite of other law enforcement measures have also been passed under this outstanding administration led by the Prime Minister.

So I reject the accusations that have come from the other side of the House about this bill. I look forward to hearing submissions on it and making sure that it progresses through the House. Thank you.

GoodhewJO GOODHEW (National—Rangitata) Link to this

I rise to take a brief call on the Child and Family Protection Bill. New Zealand has a comprehensive set of laws designed to protect children and families from violence and abuse. However, issues have been identified with current legislation that restrict the ability of the State to protect the welfare and best interests of children and their families. Therefore, I commend this bill to the House.

Bill read a first time.

Bill referred to the Justice and Electoral Committee.

Speeches

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