Adams: Domestic violence – Victims’ Protection Bill

Minister of Justice Amy Adams spoke in support of Jan Logie and domestic violence bill yesterday in Parliament – see Logie’s speech Logie: Domestic violence – Victims’ Protection bill

Adams has made addressing domestic violence one of her priorities. She has some concerns about the bill, and some of her Caucus colleagues do to, especially the cost to businesses. But the cost of unresolved domestic violence can also be costly to businesses.

…last year in New Zealand we had notifications to police of family violence upwards of 105,000 times over the year. That is once about every 5 minutes.

If that is not appalling enough, and it is, police will tell us that, actually, on average, a woman victim—where it is a woman victim—will often have suffered episodes of violence up to 21 times before an initial reach out for help is made.

When you think about those two facts, beyond anything else, 105,000 to 110,000 notifications a year represents the very smallest part of the scale of the problem.

At this stage Adams is “going into it with an open mind, registering some genuine concern about the bill as drafted, but very happy to engage in the process.”


DOMESTIC VIOLENCE—VICTIMS’ PROTECTION BILL

First Reading

Hon AMY ADAMS (Minister of Justice): I am very pleased to come and take a call on the Domestic Violence—Victims’ Protection Bill tonight and on this issue. Can I begin by just acknowledging the member whose name the bill is in—Jan Logie—for her very genuine commitment to this issue.

I know that it is one that the member feels, and has felt for a long time, very strongly about. I want to acknowledge her not only for her work on the bill but also for her work in the area and the work that she has done with me as we have discussed issues around domestic violence in the time that I have been the Minister of Justice.

Can I just reflect on one of the aspects of Ms Logie’s speech, which is to share her joy when Parliament can recognise issues that are of importance to us all. I have certainly found, in the time that I have been working on these issues, which is the entire time I have been the justice Minister, that right across Parliament, actually, it is probably the one issue where party affiliations go by the by. I want to just acknowledge not only Jan but all of my colleagues across Parliament for their work on the issue.

I have got to say that I have been utterly appalled, as I know other members of the House have, at the sheer scale of this issue in New Zealand. I have said from the outset that I certainly do not claim to stand before any group and suggest that I have all the answers.

But what became patently clear to me very early on is that, as a country, the first thing we had to do is ensure that right across New Zealand, the conversation is had about the importance of the issue, the scale of the issue, the severity of the issue, the trauma it causes, and the intergenerational flow-through effects of those families that experience family violence.

Let us be quite clear that whether or not the victims are getting physically assaulted and whether or not the violence is interpersonal violence between partners, everybody in that family—everybody in that whānau—is affected, particularly when it involves children. They suffer tremendous trauma.

I am sure this House will know that last year in New Zealand we had notifications to police of family violence upwards of 105,000 times over the year. That is once about every 5 minutes.

If that is not appalling enough, and it is, police will tell us that, actually, on average, a woman victim—where it is a woman victim—will often have suffered episodes of violence up to 21 times before an initial reach out for help is made. When you think about those two facts, beyond anything else, 105,000 to 110,000 notifications a year represents the very smallest part of the scale of the problem.

I must say that I never thought I would be in this House long enough to hear a member of the Green Party quoting John Key with respect, and ka pai to you; I think that is a great step forward, Jan.

Jan Logie: Building bridges.

Hon AMY ADAMS: Yes, building bridges. But you are absolutely right. The former Prime Minister was equally absolutely right when he said that this is a problem for everyone—everyone.

I am not in any way shying away from the responsibility of Government to lead in this space and the responsibility of this House, but, equally, we kid ourselves if we think that this Parliament or any Government can fix this on its own. If there was a bill that you could pass, if there was a programme you could fund that would put an end to it, no Government would have said no to that. We all acknowledge that.

That is not to say that we cannot do more, and that is why, with my colleagues, Anne Tolley in particular, but colleagues across all the portfolios that impact on this space, 16 in total, we are overturning every rock and asking every question about what we can do better, because we have to do better. But it has to be more than Government; it has to be a problem for New Zealand and every New Zealander.

The point I made when I made the commitment on behalf of the National Government to support the bill, certainly through to first reading and through to select committee, was that what we do know and what we must know is that whatever the answer is, business has to be a part of that. I am in absolute agreement with the member on that.

Actually, I think that there is far more common ground that the member and I share on this than we may differ on, which is not a bad starting point. But, nonetheless, it is incumbent on us to test carefully everything we do. Although the issue is significant, serious, and real, with anything in this space, we have to be very careful to ensure that we get our responses as right as we can.

What we absolutely know, what I agree with the member on, and what we have a chance to discuss, is that that does have to involve how we support these victims and their employment.

I agree with the statistics that the member quoted around the impact on victims and the additional trauma, difficulty, and challenge if they also lose contact with employment relationships.

Equally, we know that someone going through particularly serious domestic violence when they are trying to get out of an abusive relationship, or trying to stay in one safely and successfully, will put needs, pressures, and requirements on that victim and their support network that are unique to them. Again, it is incumbent on us to think about how the system supports that.

Although, in terms of the Government, we are not yet sure whether the answers in the bill as drafted are exactly the right mix, we are very happy to have an open conversation and explore that.

Can I also say and put on record my—”delight” is the wrong word in this context—great pride, I guess, in New Zealand, that so many parts of New Zealand and the public and private sector have already taken steps down this road. I have been an employer; I have run businesses.

You know when you run businesses that your staff are your biggest asset. Frankly, it is just good business and good economics to look after them. It is not about doing something because you have to do it; it is about investing in the people who pay you far more in dividend when they have a happy, productive, and successful life.

I also know, as a mother of young children who had to balance things, that when businesses are prepared to be flexible with you, it engenders a loyalty, a commitment, and a productivity that I have always thought paid itself off in spades.

I do want to acknowledge, with pride in my fellow countrymen, the businesses that have seen this and that do work—and I know they are many and varied—to support their employees when they are in situations of domestic violence. I also want to acknowledge that across the Public Service we are seeing a tremendously strong response in this respect.

We tested it with our 10 biggest Public Service agencies—no, I think all of them—covering 84 percent of all public sector employees, who all had arrangements in place to think about and work through how they would respond to an employee in this situation.

What I think would be very valuable through the select committee process is to hear more and learn more from those businesses that have put arrangements in place—what has worked, what they have found works best, and what has not worked.

The member, in her introduction, made reference to the five pieces of legislation that this bill amends. Each one of those will have its own impacts that we need to carefully understand. I will admit to some nervousness around, for example, the width and the concept of the domestic violence document and how we frame that, how it works, how we set it up, and what impact that has on victims.

We do have to tread very carefully around how that is, simply, operationalised. These are things that I think are worth exploring.

I think it is also worth reflecting if those 110,000 incidents that I calculated last year would have qualified under the domestic violence document heads. That would be a conservative estimate because we only know what is formally reported. There is a huge continuum of circumstances in that.

Parliament and laws are, by definition, blunt instruments. I think we have to be very careful to ensure that our response is not so blunt across that huge continuum of circumstances for New Zealand men, women, and children who are represented in those 110,000 incidents and that we are able to arrange a framework that is proportionate, responsive, sensitive, and appropriate from that whole continuum.

All incidents are serious, and we take none of them lightly, but there is a very different support system required, for example, when the police are called out to a very heated verbal argument, to obviously where a woman and children are desperate to get out and keep themselves safe.

We have to ensure that our responses recognise those differences and reflect the needs of parties in each case. This is a discussion that we are interested in having because, as I said, how we think about and support domestic violence victims is a multi-faceted approach. We have a huge programme of work under way looking at a number of aspects, but we are never so closed-minded that we are not prepared to consider other aspects.

What I will say though, is fundamentally—and on New Zealand women’s day, or International Women’s Day, I am going to be unashamedly gender-biased for one moment because, actually, in most of the serious cases, it is women who are the victims. Yes, men are victims, but more often than not it is women who are victims.

If you want to know when the women of New Zealand will be safe, it is when the men of New Zealand respect them and stop beating them. Fundamentally, we can keep women safe and we can do what we can to support the women, but if we want to stop this, we have to change the behaviour of the men who beat the loved ones in their life. Nothing will change until we change that.

Can I just end by again welcoming the discussion, welcoming the debate, going into it with an open mind, registering some genuine concern about the bill as drafted, but very happy to engage in the process.

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  1. Adams: Domestic violence – Victims’ Protection Bill – NZ Conservative Coalition

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