Five workplace changes coming into effect

There are five changes to workplace laws that come into effect from either tomorrow, 1 April, or from 6 May.

 1. Minimum wage increase

The minimum wage will increase to $17.70 per hour.

This follows an increase last year from $15.75 to $16.50, and is part of a Government plan to bump the rates up as per the Labour-NZ First coalition agreement to $20 per hour which is planned to take effect 1 April 2021.

The Starting-out and Training rates are fixed at 80% of the Minimum Wage so will increase to $14.16.

There are some exceptions (employees under 16 and others) – see Current minimum wage rates

2. Reinstatement of set meal and rest breaks

Rest and meal break rules will be introduced from 6 May 2019. There is a return to more regulation about the timing, frequency and duration of breaks. “Employers and employees will need to mutually agree when breaks are to be taken. This agreement could be outlined in the employment contract, in a roster or in another system.”

“If there is no agreement set out, the law will require the breaks to be in the middle of the work period, so long as it’s reasonable and practicable to do so. Employers must pay for minimum rest breaks but don’t have to pay for minimum meal breaks.”

It’s also important to remember an employee must be given their entitled breaks; “Breaks cannot be exchanged for extra pay or time in lieu.”

 3. Limiting of 90-day trials to businesses with fewer than 20 employees

From 6 May 2019, 90-day trial periods will be restricted to businesses with fewer than 20 employees. “If you want to use a 90 day trial period for a new employee, it remains crucial that, before starting work for you, the employee has signed an employment agreement containing such a clause.”

Larger businesses with 20 or more employees will no longer be able to use 90 day trial periods.  However, they may continue to use probationary periods to assess an employee’s skills against the role’s responsibilities.

 4. Leave entitlements and protections for victims of domestic violence

From 1 April 2019, victims affected by domestic violence will have the right to request a short-term (up to two months) variation of their working arrangements. This could include variation to days and hours of work, place of work, and duties. Requests can only be refused by an employer on certain grounds.

“If you receive a request in writing, you must respond to it within ten working days.  If you wish to request proof of the issue (such as a medical certificate, court order or police report), you must ask for this within three working days of receiving the request.”

An employee who has been working for you for more than six months will also be entitled to ten paid days leave to deal with effects of domestic violence on themselves or a child. “If you are in any doubt about how to respond to an employee, please seek appropriate workplace specialist advice without delay.”

 5. Strengthened collective bargaining and union rights

The 30-day rule will come back from 6 May 2019. This means that for the first 30 days, new employees must be employed under terms consistent with the collective agreement. The employer and employee may however agree more favourable terms than the collective.

Union representatives also have the right to enter workplaces without consent, provided the employees are covered under, or bargaining towards, a collective agreement.

“Union representatives can only enter your workplace for certain purposes, must be respectful of normal operating hours, and follow health, safety and security procedures. Where no collective agreement or bargaining exists, union representatives still need to seek consent before entering your workplace.”

Source: Ashlea Maley, Senior Workplace Consultant at Employsure

Victim focus from new family violence laws

Changes in the Family Violence Amendments Act emphasise the well being of victims in an attempt to reduce awful levels of family violence. This includes changes to the  Bail Act 2000 which makes the safety of victims the priority.

RNZ: New law aims to reduce family violence and put victims first

The new Family Violence Amendments Act will significantly improve the response to domestic violence, a domestic abuse organisation says.

The act aims to keep victims, including children, safe and reduce family violence. It also creates three new offences, including one of strangulation or suffocation, which carries a maximum sentence of seven years imprisonment.

The new legislation allows victims to give evidence via video recording made before the hearing. It also makes changes to the Bail Act 2000 by making the safety of the victim and their family the primary consideration when granting bail and imposing conditions.

Shine director Jane Drumm said the new legislation will help agencies and organisations deliver a unified approach to dealing with family violence.

“What they’re doing is they’re reflecting on all of the gaps that we’ve currently got and how we respond to family violence and they’re starting to mop those up,” Ms Drumm said.

“These amendments put the victim first. The challenge now will be ensuring these laws are enforced and supported by policies and procedures across a range of government agencies and service providers,” Ms Drumm said.

The safety of victims and potential victims should be the priority in dealing with family violence, but the rights of offenders and alleged offenders need to be protected as well (in a minority of cases allegations can be trumped up or overstated).

Green MP Jan Logie was interviewed about the changes on Q+A last night.

A focus here is changes to assault by strangulation or choking (it is horrendous what some people inflict on others).

Q+A Panel on new domestic violence legislation – & Meng Foon:

The Domestic Violence—Victims’ Protection Bill passed in July and starts to come into affect today.

The heart of Catriona MacLennan criticism – “freedom of speech itself”

At the heart of all three Judgments was what Lord Denning said was “freedom of speech itself” by

This is also at the heart of criticism of a judge by  lawyer Catriona MacLennan, and an inquiry into that by the National Standards Committee of the New Zealand Law Society into her criticism.

James Farmer Q.C. from Auckland does an occasional ‘legal commentary’. He has written on lawyers criticising judges, on MacLennan’s criticism of a judge who discharged a man who had assaulted his wife, daughter and (probably ex) friend and excused his violent reaction after finding out about an extra-marital relationship, and on the inquiry.

There is some useful context given here – Q+A: Lawyer Catriona MacLennan interviewed

In that MacLennan makes a number of good points. In particular:

‘I’ve been saying for a long time that I think judges need a lot more training in domestic violence, and this Court of Appeal decision last year certainly confirmed what I and other domestic violence advocates have been saying, that Domestic Violence Act is excellent law; it’s not being interpreted and applied properly by judges.’

However she made one contentious claim:

The other thing that we need is for male lawyers to speak out. There’s been, pretty much, a deafening silence from them. Sexual assault and sexual harassment are not women’s issues. It’s men that are the perpetrators, and we need male lawyers to step up and engage with this, and they need to make it culturally unacceptable to behave like that.

Males are the worse perpetrators, but not the only ones at fault in domestic violence, especially when verbal violence and abuse is taken into account. And while there may not have been many male lawyers speaking out Farmer Q.C. and others have.

First in CRITICISING JUDGES James farmer Q.C. summarises MacLennan:

Catriona MacLennan is an Auckand barrister and journalist who has distinguished herself for many years now by her perceptive articles in both legal and news media publications.  She has made a name for herself for her authoritative writings on family violence and related issues and is the spokesperson for the Auckland Coalition for the Safety of Women and Children.  She presumably knows quite a lot about the evils of domestic violence.  We need more lawyers like her willing to use the media to draw attention to deficiencies in the legal system and to expose injustice wherever it occurs.

Next he summarises the case and the initial criticism.

Recently, she wrote vigorously in her condemnation of a District Court Judge who discharged a man without conviction who had been charged with assaulting his wife and daughter quite viciously and also a friend who had exchanged texts with his wife declaring their love for each other.  Of course, one would not have expected the defendant to have learned that last fact with equanimity.  But the Judge went somewhat further and, in discharging him, said this:

Really, this is a situation that does your wife no credit and does [the friend] no credit.  There would be many people who would have done exactly what you did, even though it may be against the law to do so.  I consider that the consequences of a conviction are out of all proportion to what happened on this occasion.

Ms MacLennan’s commented vigorously on this to the NZ Herald, using strong language (“abhorrent”), said that the Judge displayed “a complete lack of understanding of domestic violence” and that such judicial attitudes and the lack of penalty “are part of the reason why women do not come forward to report domestic violence”.  She also said:

It is inappropriate for [the Judge] to continue sitting on the bench.

That certainly didn’t sound like an unreasonable opinion.  Making gratuitous comments that could be interpreted by many as condonation or even approval of domestic violence if the offender was aggrieved does not seem to possess a judicial character.  Nor does a discharge without conviction – reversed as it turned out on appeal by the Police – in those circumstances appear as a prime illustration of upholding the law.

Others might argue that the impropriety of the Judge’s comments did not warrant his resignation but certainly a good telling off and compulsory re-education on the evils of domestic violence.

So far so good.

But “Now we venture into fantasy land, a land where freedom of speech and observance of judicial process apparently do not exist.”

Following the publication of Ms MacLennan’s comments, the National Standards Committee of the New Zealand Law Society, which Society exercises statutory disciplinary powers (including the power to censure, the power to fine and the power to strike off), initiated of its own motion an investigation into her conduct in making those comments.  It has asked her to address a number of questions upon which they would rule on the papers i.e. without a hearing and, presumably without a right to have counsel address the Committee on her behalf or without the right for her to state in person her position.  Truly.

Poor legal process.

Those questions included:

(1) whether she undermined the dignity of the Judiciary?

(2) whether she failed to comply with a lawyer’s fundamental obligation to uphold the rule of law and facilitate the administration of justice in New Zealand?

In case, you think you may have misread this, these questions were addressed to Ms MacLennan, not to the District Court Judge.

He points out another male lawyer who has condemned the Law Society:

This turn of events has attracted strong condemnation of the National Standards Committee.  First, there was a gutsy letter written to the President of the New Zealand Law Society by a young Auckland barrister, Benedict Tompkins, who is himself the son of a District Court Judge and the grandson of a former High Court Judge and who is currently practising at the English Bar.

He deplored the actions of the Committee, called for the removal of its members by the New Zealand Law Society and then expressly adopted as his own Ms MacLennan’s views. He also referred to a recent instance in England where senior members of the Bar (including Lord Pannick QC) had publicly called for the resignation of a High Court Judge, without facing the wrath of the equivalent of our National Standards Committee.

Mr Tompkins also advised that his letter and, within it, his alignment with Ms MacLennan’s opinion, was being distributed by him to the media, to the legal profession and on social media.  That might be called throwing down the gauntlet.

It would have been good if MacLennan had acknowledged this support. However there has been more open support from female lawyers.

That has been followed by a letter from the Auckland Women Lawyers’ Association to the President of the New Zealand Law Society along the same lines.  Its letter affirmed Ms MacLennan’s qualifications to make the comments that she did.  It went on to condemn the fact that the Committee had determined that its hearing would be on the papers and characterised this as raising “serious questions in relation to due process and natural justice”.   Indeed.

I was myself more than troubled by all this.

Farmer Q.C. then gets very lawyery, quoting from a London case in that got to the Court of Appeal, which was strongly criticised by prominent Member of Parliament and Queen’s Counsel, the Rt. Hon. Quintin Hogg, who wrote a very forceful article in Punch.

The original plaintiff then moved the Court of Appeal for an order that Mr Hogg was guilty of contempt of court.

They dismissed the application…

At the heart of all three Judgments was what Lord Denning said was “freedom of speech itself”:

It is the right of every man, in Parliament or out of it, in the Press or over the broadcast, to make fair comment, even outspoken comment, on matters of public interest.   Those who comment can deal faithfully with all that is done in a court of justice.  They can say that we are mistaken, and our decisions erroneous, whether they are subject to appeal or not….

So it comes to this: Mr Quintin Hogg has criticised the court, but in so doing he is exercising his undoubted right.  The article contains an error, no doubt, but errors do not make it a contempt of court.  We must uphold his right to the uttermost.

Salmon LJ began his Judgment thus:

The authority and reputation of our courts are not so frail that their judgments are not to be shielded from criticism, even from the criticism of Mr Quintin Hogg….

It is the inalienable right of everyone to comment fairly upon any matter of public importance.  This right is one of the pillars of individual liberty – freedom of speech, which our courts have always unfailing upheld.

And Edmund Davies LJ:

The right to fair criticism is part of the birthright of all subjects of Her Majesty.  Though it has its boundaries, that right covers a wide expanse, and its curtailment must be jealously guarded against.  It applies to the judgments of the courts as to all other topics of public importance.

All three Judges expressed the view that criticism of the Courts’ Judgments should be accurate and fair because Judges normally do not have the ability to respond publicly.

But I think the implication here is that MacLennan’s criticism was accurate and fair enough.

It is to be earnestly hoped that the New Zealand Law Society will quickly rein in its National Standards Committee.

7 May 2018

James Farmer QC

Where the National Standards Committee inquiry into MacLennan’s criticism will be watched with interest by the legal profession, and by those with an interest in how justice is done in domestic violence cases.

The heart of this action by the Committee may be free speech itself, but dealing with a society that remains rife with violence is also a big deal.

Men are the main perpetrators (that shouldn’t diminish the problems with female instigated violence), and male judges have in part allowed a culture of violence to persist. The District Court Judge was symbolic of this, and deserved strong and fair criticism from MacLennan and the many others who spoke up condemning the outcome of the case.

It was good to see the Police also in effect criticise the judge in the means available to them, by appealing. They succeeded in overturning a poor judicial decision and unfortunate and unwise comments by the judge.

More on Domestic Violence – Victim Protection Bill

There are two very good things about the progress of Jan Logie’s Domestic Violence – Victim Protection Bill – it is an Opposition MP’s genuine attempt to make a difference in the battle against the scourge of domestic violence, and it is an excellent example of how MPs from all parties can work together on a common worthy cause.

The first two speeches:

Introductions and parts of the rest of the First Reading speeches:

DOMESTIC VIOLENCE—VICTIMS’ PROTECTION BILL

First Reading

POTO WILLIAMS (Labour—Christchurch East):

I have to first acknowledge my dear colleague Jan Logie, who is an absolute champion for women, and I have to say, Minister Amy Adams, I am actually rather taken aback by the emotion you expressed at the end of that speech.

I have to say for many women in the House, this is a very personal issue. I just want to tautoko my daughters and granddaughter in the gallery. Heaven forbid that anything that happens to many of the women in our country happen to those beautiful children up in the gallery.

I must acknowledge Heather Hēnare, champion of this particular cause and supporter of many victims of domestic violence. Your work will go on and you will continue to be recognised for the amazing work that you do.

What this bill, I believe, attempts to do is to really start to normalise the conversations that we must be having in each and every workplace about domestic violence. It must bring it down to the point where we stop being scared of opening the door and shining the light on what is going on in many of the families that we occupy—that we live in.

Each of our families is touched in some way by the abhorrence of domestic violence: whether we are impacted personally, whether our children experience it, and whether we are supporting our sisters and our brothers through difficult times.

This legislation is saying: “You know what? It happens.” Let us own it. Let us get real about this everybody. Because it happens, and because we are good employers, we are going to allow people the time that they need to address those issues. Ten days is not much but, you know what, it is a heck of a lot more than we used to get, and it is a good start. It actually says “Yep. We have a responsibility here. We have a responsibility as employers to support our employees through this, and you know why? Because they are good employees and we want to keep them and it actually adds to our bottom line at the end of the day.” Let us get real; it is all about the cost benefit for the employer…

SARAH DOWIE (National—Invercargill):

I too join in the line-up of people here today who are very pleased to be speaking in support of this bill, the Domestic Violence—Victims’ Protection Bill, in its first reading, to see it through to the select committee stage to have some honest conversation about how we move we forward in protecting women, the majority of women who are subject to domestic violence, and those men the workplace.

I am pleased that Jan Logie has referred this bill to the Justice and Electoral Committee. I think that our committee is up for the challenge to have these discussions, and, as I said before, I am very pleased to be part of this movement right now that has unanimous support in the House.

I do want to pay tribute to Jan Logie, because, contrary to popular belief, MPs do speak to each other outside this house, and I can also report that I had a conversation with Jan Logie just before we came into the house here tonight and I could see her genuine excitement that

(a) her bill had been pulled from the ballot and
(b) that she would receive unanimous support to see this bill through to the select committee phase.

So, well done, Jan, for championing this, and well done for that achievement.

CLAYTON MITCHELL (NZ First):

It gives me great pleasure to stand on behalf of New Zealand First to, first of all, acknowledge you, Jan Logie, for bringing this bill to the House. With tongue in cheek and with serious sincerity, I think divine intervention has played a little part in this.

Being International Women’s Day today says a lot, and the only time I have seen that happen again was with Sue Moroney’s bill when it was to do with paid parental leave. It was just again that the stars aligned, so well done and great courage. It just goes to show that the passion that you have for resolving this comes through with your speech and you speak very, very eloquently of that.

I would also like to acknowledge the Minister for her words and her sincere thoughts, along with all other members who have spoken here today, and it gives me great pleasure as a male to stand up and speak to this.

The fact is that New Zealand First wholly supports this. We certainly would encourage the conversation to continue in select committee. I think there are some potential drafting issues but that is not here nor there. We would like to hear from small and medium sized businesses to see what their take is with regards to the period of time, the 10 days, that has been allocated for people who are suffering at the hands of domestic violence…

JONO NAYLOR (National):

There is no doubt that domestic violence is an absolute scourge on our society. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that, firstly, we need to do absolutely everything we can to eliminate it to ensure that we do not have victims of domestic violence in New Zealand but also that, secondly, we as a society need to do everything that we can in the meantime to support victims of domestic violence….

…I also just want to acknowledge the delegation of people who I had come through my office door in Palmerston North a couple of weeks ago, the local representatives from the National Council of Women of New Zealand.

They came to me and said: “Jono, we’d really, really like you to support this bill, at least to the first reading stage, to ensure that this very, very important conversation gets on the table in Parliament and is debated, so we can work through all those different sort of nuances”—as I referred to before—”to ensure that we get the very best legislation we can.”

I am really happy to support this, at least at this stage, to ensure that we have that very positive discussion, because, as I said when I opened this speech, it is clearly incredibly important that we not only eliminate domestic violence from our communities but do everything we can to support the victims of it, and I commend this bill to the House.

SUE MORONEY (Labour):

At the outset, can I first of all acknowledge that this is International Women’s Day. What better day to be debating this bill than International Women’s Day, which is a day when we all stand in solidarity with women right across the world in order to, yes, celebrate how far we have come, but also pause and think about what we have yet to do. This bill clearly falls into the latter bracket. I want to congratulate the member Jan Logie on her foresight in bringing this bill forward…It is the ballot goddess at work again to make sure that this got debated on International Women’s Day, because, sadly, this is an issue that does affect women, in more numbers than it does men. In fact, what we would wish is that it affected nobody.

I agree with the last speaker, Jono Naylor, in that all of us would want to not be dealing with this end of domestic violence.

All of us would want to be putting our energy into preventing it from happening, and that is the world we really want to live in: where there are respectful relationships and people can deal with the pressures in life and the stresses in life without battering the people closest to them, the people who should be able to rely on the love and support of family members, but instead are hurt and have violence meted out against them from the people whom they should have the most trust and warmth and understanding from.

Sadly, that is not the world we live in, and I will not rest until we actually address the front end of this, and actually stop that domestic violence from happening in the first place. But it does happen, and so this bill is going to be something that will be a huge relief for those people, predominantly women, whom this happens to.

CHRIS BISHOP (National):

Can I firstly acknowledge the sponsor of the bill, Jan Logie. I was not privileged enough to see her first reading speech, but I understand it was quite a remarkable speech, and I want to pay tribute to you, Ms Logie, for your sterling work in bringing this bill to the House.

…one of the things I have been very privileged to have done since I became an MP just over 2 years ago is to go and spend time with our women’s refuge in the Hutt and to deliberately get out there into the community, to some of our marae and to some of those community organisations that are dealing with the front end and the hard edge of this issue.

One of the things—I suppose the biggest lesson—that I have taken away from those visits and those conversations is that the size of the problem is truly remarkable. You know, it is just almost unfathomable, the extent of violence—almost always by men against women—in our communities.

As Minister Amy Adams said in her excellent speech, which I watched in my office, it is not just going to take the Government to do something about this problem; it is a whole-of-society issue that we need to address.

The Government will do its bit and we will lead on this, and I hope, actually, that we will look back on the 2014 to 2017 Parliament and people will say that that was the Parliament—the 51st Parliament—when the New Zealand Government and elected representatives got serious about family violence.

IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY (Labour—Palmerston North):

I would like to start where others have started, by congratulating the member in charge of this bill, Jan Logie. She was very humble in her first reading speech, by recognising that the work—as is always the case with these things—started outside Parliament with Women’s Refuge, with unions bargaining for changes through collective bargaining, and with all the other groups that, I am sure, have worked closely with Jan Logie on formulating this bill.

But the truth is it does actually take someone in this Parliament to put the bill into the ballot, and then, when it comes out of the ballot, to actually champion it, to have the negotiations and to work with colleagues around the House, especially the hard work to get to the point where it appears we will have unanimity when we come to the vote on this first reading.

So I want to acknowledge that work by Jan Logie. We all like to be humble in this place, but we have a job to do, and when those opportunities come up—when that bill comes out of the ballot—it does take a lot of work to get to the position that this bill has got to. So congratulations to Jan on doing that.

I also want to acknowledge the Minister of Justice, Amy Adams, for her leadership, because—I will say this gently, and like the previous member, Chris Bishop, I do not want to be party political—the Government’s initial response was negative.

I think it’s reasonable for Lees-Galloway to bring this up but god of him to say it ‘gently’ in the context of general cooperation on this Bill.

The Government’s initial response was that this would cost too much, and Michael Woodhouse, as the Minister for Workplace Relations and Safety, stated that on the record.

Clearly, some conversations have gone on within the National Government, aided, I am sure, by the lobbying from the member in charge of the bill, and it is pleasing to see that Amy Adams’ leadership has won through and the Government has decided that this is a worthy piece of legislation to at least take to a select committee, where we can have the conversation.

MAUREEN PUGH (National):

I too stand in support tonight of the Domestic Violence—Victims’ Protection Bill, in the name of Green Party MP Jan Logie, and I add my congratulations to Miss Logie on her initiative in writing this bill and also on her good fortune of having it pulled from the ballot. I did hear her speech tonight. It was an impassioned speech, and I congratulate you, Miss Logie, on your dedication to this cause.

In my own conversations with NGOs that work with victims of domestic violence, there is a clear need to support women at work who have fallen victim of domestic violence. For women who work in front-line roles where they must interact with the public, it is essential for them to have their privacy protected, especially if a woman bears the marks, the bruises, the impacts from a domestic violence episode.

Also at work an abuser makes it very easy for a woman to be trapped, to be captured in her workplace, and to become yet a further target for abuse. The most effective way that an abuser does that is through violent or abusive phone calls or emails. But also it becomes a risk for others in the workplace, and thereto lies the impact for employers making their workplace a safe workplace.

JAN LOGIE (Green):

It gives me hope to stand up tonight, after having listened to all the speeches in the House. I could think of it as personally gratifying that this bill, with the community we have brought to the House, has support. But mostly what I am feeling is the message that you are sending to survivors in the country, that we are, together, committed to making their lives better. We have heard their experiences and we are committed to making their lives better in every way that we can. I think that, for me, at least is a moment to mark in time.

I have heard really clear support for wanting to eradicate domestic violence, for us to use what tools we can as a country to do that, and to support the victims and survivors in the meantime. I have also heard a very clear articulation from all members in the House that yes, this is not just the business of Parliament or Government. All of us have a role to play in that, and that part of being a good employer is caring for your staff, and that this is one way to do that, and it will pay off for businesses.

I have heard mention that there needs to be some work around the drafting of the bill. I am really happy to acknowledge that. Part of the reality of it was that I had different legal opinions on the current status of the law in relation to flexible working hours, but particularly in relation to the Health and Safety in Employment Act and the extent to which it covered domestic violence.

What we have drafted is something—it is quite hard to get something right, when you are not actually sure of the status of the existing law. I really do see it as an offering for us to be able to work together to come up with the best solution. When we are all on the same page about the outcome, then that gives me hope that this process is going to get the result that we need. I will say it again—it is a result that could save lives, so it is absolutely worth hanging on to.

I did appreciate the comments that maybe we could loosen up a little bit. It is not something that people usually suggest to me. The flexible working arrangements and the need for the domestic violence documents in here were based on some legislation from overseas, in the UK. But yes, we do not want to make it more difficult. We want to clarify that flexible working arrangements should be used and should be available, and that that needs to be visible, I believe, to be able to have that intent realised. But we do not want to make it more difficult.

Somebody did mention the point about the fact that perhaps this would be too onerous for small businesses, and I thank the member Iain Lees-Galloway for asking businesses to come with solutions, if that is a concern for them. But I am going to push quite hard on this, because the international research—in Australia 1.6 million workers are already covered by these provisions, and for most of them, although the provisions are there they do not take them. It is very rare. They will take some. They take what they need. It is not a mandatory 10 days. It is up to 10 days, and you use it when you need it. The experience overseas as well as in businesses here is that people do not exploit that. It is a relationship of trust that is working. I would want to put people’s minds at rest on that point.

In the final few seconds—just for all those people who have been fighting for this for so long, and for those women who went back because they had no other choice or felt that they could not get out, I hope tonight gives you some courage. Kia ora.

Bill read a first time.

Bill referred to the Justice and Electoral Committee.

Full draft transcript.

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.

Logie: Domestic violence – Victims’ Protection bill

Jan Logie’s Domestic Violence—Victims’ Protection Bill

This bill amends the Domestic Violence Act 1995, Employment Relations Act 2000, Health and Safety at Work Act 2015, Holidays Act 2003, and Human Rights Act 1993 with a view to enhancing legal protections for victims of domestic violence.

It was introduced and passed it’s first reading yesterday with all MPs voting for in favour. It will now go to Select Committee for consideration.

Read the Bill here.

Logie introducing the bill:

Transcript:


DOMESTIC VIOLENCE—VICTIMS’ PROTECTION BILL

First Reading

JAN LOGIE (Green): I move, That the Domestic Violence—Victims’ Protection Bill be now read a first time. I nominate the Justice and Electoral Committee to consider the bill. My speech today is for every victim of domestic violence who ever felt trapped and for every person who knew a workmate was being abused but did not know how to help.

It is no secret I used to work at Women’s Refuge, but the resilience and the strength of the women I worked with has always stayed with me.

I remember one woman in particular who left with her children when the violence escalated. She had been living under siege for years but he said he would kill her if she left. It was incredibly brave of her to leave, and she was not sure it was the right thing to do. He had racked up debt in her name and she was struggling to imagine how she would pay rent, childcare, and everything else as well as pay off that debt.

She was also understandably scared that he would kill her or her children. She needed her job to pay off the debt and look after her kids. She was a sitting duck at work. I called her boss and explained the situation and tried to organise time off for her, a change of shift, or a different work site for a while. They said “No.” I remember that night driving her up to the door of her work and she was lying down in the back of the van as I drove up to the door. Her fear was palpable, and I suspect mine was as well. She went back to him the next day and I do not know how things worked out. This situation will be different in some workplaces today but not all. People ask “Why do women go back?”, this is why. Victims of domestic violence are in the most danger when they leave. I absolutely understood her decision to go back, and I still feel the frustration and powerlessness of not having been able to help her.

Most victims, however, find it really hard to stay in work. The impact of the abuse has a profound impact, and often they struggle to concentrate at work, their partners actively try to make them quit, or get them sacked by using all the petrol when they need to go to work or disappearing instead of taking the kids to school etc. Without a job victims become more isolated and dependent.

Domestic violence reaches into workplaces all over our country. Evidence shows stalking, constant emails, phone calls, and attacks in or outside the workplace happen. Recent research funded by the Women’s Refuge, of New Zealand women who had been in a violent relationship showed 60 percent were in fulltime work before the relationship but that fewer than half of those women managed to stay in work through the relationship.

At any one time in this country over half of New Zealand businesses could have a staff member experiencing domestic violence. Workmates are often the only people who know, but we cannot expect them to automatically know what to do.

This bill is about saving lives. It provides victims with a pathway to safety and protects them from the effects of the abuse in the workplace by providing up 10 days’ leave every year, which can be used to cover time lost through injury or other impacts of the abuse.

It can also be used for counselling, moving house, settling kids into a new school, dealing with the Family Court, or safety planning.

It also clarifies that victims can request flexible working arrangements to minimise the impact of the abuse outside or in the workplace, and that domestic violence is a workplace hazard that employers should create the environment to be able to identify and mitigate. F

inally, it adds being a victim of domestic violence as grounds for non-discrimination to the Human Rights Act so victims cannot be sacked or otherwise penalised for the behaviour of their abuser.

International research has found that although CEOs think domestic violence is a major problem they underestimate its impact in their companies. I suspect the same is true here. The argument that these policies will cost businesses too much is amoral. It assumes the domestic violence is not already costing businesses, well it is. It is costing them great staff and it is reducing productivity. Economist Suzanne Snively’s research shows that the provisions in this bill, if we get them right, will provide a net benefit to businesses in terms of increased productivity as well as, I hope, knowing that they are doing the right thing.

Last year former Prime Minister John Key said “It’s easy to think this [family violence] is someone else’s problem. But it’s not [someone else’s problem]… if you are a New Zealander who cares,” and in this case I agree with him. This bill helps workplaces and employers show they care and make sure every victim of domestic violence gets the support they need. If someone is in danger and we can help we should. That is the right thing to do. Everyone deserves a safe workplace where they can get the support they need to leave a violent relationship. Being protected at work and getting the help to leave should not come down to luck. We need a standard across all of our workplaces.

Last year after hearing thousands of submissions the Victorian Government Royal Commission into family violence found that having a supportive workplace provides financial security to victims at a major time of need and that work colleagues are among the most common source of support for victims. They recommended national employment standards and specific leave provisions, pretty much what this bill intends to do.

I bring this bill to the House in the context of social change. This bill did not just appear out of the brilliance of my own mind. Progress is being made internationally and here at home.

I really want to acknowledge the New Zealand Public Service Association Inc. (PSA) who started championing and providing an evidence base for these policies way back in 2011, and all the other unions including FIRST Union, E tū, New Zealand Post Primary Teachers’ Association (PPTA), and New Zealand Nurses Organisation (NZNO) that have been putting these policies on the table at bargaining for a long time now.

It has been wonderful to see Countdown, The Warehouse, GCSB, GNS Science, ANZ, and many other smaller businesses and agencies responding and putting these provisions in place.

The chambers of commerce and Business New Zealand publicly supporting this discussion, I think, is a milestone for this country.

Of course I want to acknowledge Shine and Women’s Refuge who have been working with businesses for years to develop supportive policies as well as research to support this work. National Council of Women of New Zealand, Zonta International, and the New Zealand Federation of Business and Professional Women have all been championing this cause for a few years now too.

Equal Employment Opportunities Commissioner Dr Jackie Blue has set up business work network using her power to promote these policies. That is the context of this bill. All of these groups and people get that we are in this together, that domestic violence is something that we all have a stake in reducing.

For me, politics becomes inspiring when we work in partnership with the communities to solve problems and create social change. For me, that is the Green way of doing politics. But I really want to acknowledge with gratitude and appreciation all of my parliamentary colleagues who are supporting this bill tonight.

My faith in humankind has really taken a leap. I think it is a testament to the importance of the issue, but it is also a signal to survivors who are watching this that we care, and we should. Today we are starting a process that, if we get it right, will save lives and support victims, so that going back or quitting their job is never again the better option.

Today is International Women’s Day, and although this bill will apply equally to victims of domestic violence, regardless of gender, the majority of victims are women and children, so it seems a very appropriate day to be having this debate.

I hope everyone listening will go away thinking that in Parliament we are prepared to listen, engage, and get this right. Let us be bold together.

 

 

Domestic violence bill progresses

Jan Logie’s domestic violence bill passed it’s first reading in Parliament yesterday with all parties supporting it after NZ First and National announced that they would support it yesterday morning.

Logie has done well to get her Bill this far. This is a good use of the Private Members’ Bill system – submitting things that have a chance of succeeding rather than using them to futilely grandstand as sometimes happens.

If there is one thing that deserves all of parliament and all parties to get in behind is initiatives that will help reduce domestic violence, which is a major and insidious problem in New Zealand.

Violence is costly, in personal terms, in family terms and also for the country as a whole.

The Government is planning more.

RNZ: Overhaul of domestic violence laws on the way

A new group, the Backbone Collective, says courts are failing to protect women and failing to hold abusers accountable, and the system’s response for women who have experienced violence and abuse is broken and dysfunctional.

The collective wants to hear from abused women so it can change the way the justice system deals with violence against them.

The government plans to unveil sweeping changes to the country’s domestic violence laws in the next few weeks.

Women’s Refuge chief executive Ang Jury applauded the collective’s aims.

“The more stories we have from women who are interacting with the system, the better. Things can’t be fixed unless unless we actually do hear and provide the evidence that things do actually need fixing.”

But she said changes were under way, including an overhaul of legislation and the way the police handled cases. Police were training officers “to try and shift some of those responses that they know to be inappropriate and wrong.”

There have been various changes over the last few decades – it’s not long ago that police ignored what were referred to as ‘domestics’, leaving violence problems for families to sort out themselves. This was ludicrous when one partner was being beaten and intimidated and had limited ways out of the violence.

University of Otago dean of law, Professor Mark Henaghan, said it was a sad fact that people were still being killed in their homes and children were being abused, but to describe the system as broken was a step too far.

Courts, judges and police took domestic violence seriously and court orders could be granted quickly. “Throughout all the legislation it’s the highest principal, people must be safe, that’s what the law requires,” he said.

New Zealand has the highest rates of violence against women in the western world, costing the country an estimated $7 billion a year.

The problem isn’t just violence against women. Many men are also affected, as are children, and damaging them can ruin their lives and lead to lifetimes of problems – which can be expensive for the state through crime, the justice and prison systems and health and mental health systems.

Justice Minister Amy Adams acknowledged the country’s poor record on family violence, but said the government was making improvements across the entire system for dealing with it.

She expected to table new legislation in parliament in the next couple of weeks.

The government had sought views across the entire sector. “We’ve also been working on court processes, the way we support victims through the system, the way the judiciary gets information to support what they do.”

Good. Adams has made addressing violence as one of her priorities.

But legislation was only part of the solution, she said. “[Domestic violence] will stop when men and when perpetrators stop thinking it’s okay to abuse family members. And the government and the court system are part of that response, but fundamentally it’s about the attitudes we have as New Zealanders to each other.”

Professor Henaghan said it was a much bigger problem than just the courts.

“We’ve got to look at better ways to get people changing their attitudes towards their partners so they don’t use violence as a way of resolving their disputes.

It’s a society problem that society has to do more to address.

Non-violent people have to do and say more to make it clear that violence is not a norm and is not acceptable in a decent society. Remaining silent sends the wrong signals to those who think violence is ok.

Logie’s bill is a small step but a worthwhile one, and will add to the building momentum to reduce violence and violent attitudes.

 

Unanimous support for domestic violence bill

So this means all parties will support Jan Logie’s private members’ bill through the first reading. Good move.

Stuff: Govt support first stage Green Party bill for additional leave for domestic violence victims

The Government will support a Green Party bill to allow domestic violence victims an additional 10 days annual leave, through the first hurdle.

They actually mean National and all other parties will support it at this stage.

There was a chance the bill could have progressed without National Party support – Labour and Act had already confirmed their backing of the bill past its first hurdle.

Interesting to see ACT supporting a bill that will cost the Government and/or employers more money.

Justice Minister Amy Adams has announced the Government support, a U-turn on its previous stance, would at least see the bill to select committee.

The Government still had concerns about the bill, but Adams said it held enough merit for wider discussion, as part of the Government’s domestic violence work.

“And we want to have the opportunity to discuss at select committee, what sort of support employers can add to that piece of work.”

Prime Minister Bill English last month, said his would not support it. Employers could already offer specialised leave to domestic violence victims. While Workplace Relations and Safety Minister Michael Woodhouse had said the bill would be too costly to businesses.

Cost is always an issue with bills like this.

But the cost of domestic violence is a much bigger issue, and better ways of dealing with it should be explored.

Green Party social development spokeswoman Jan Logie said it was a welcome change from the Government.

She’s done well to get the support to progress her bill.

I was hoping. When victims support agencies, women’s organisations, human rights organisations and business are all saying the want the discussion, I think the Government certainly would have been on the wrong side of things not to.”

Arguments that it would cost too much were not backed up by research, Logie said.

“Actually, the research is really clear that domestic violence is costing business great staff and productivity now. And what this bill is about, is setting up a system to help mitigate that cost, so that they can keep great workers.”

 

 

Domestic violence Bill

Domestic and family violence is an insidious and entrenched problem in New Zealand. A Private Member’s bill from Green MP Jan Logie aims to make it easier for victims who are working to deal with violence – Domestic Violence Victims’ Protection Bill – will have its first reading in Parliament on Wednesday.

RNZ: Govt urged to support domestic violence bill

It would give domestic violence victims, or a person in their immediate family or household who is supporting them, 10 days of paid leave to help them move house, attend court hearings and meet with lawyers.

Countdown, The Warehouse Group, ANZ and the University of Auckland already offer family violence leave to their staff.

A few of Countdown’s 18,000 staff had sought help since the policy was November last year, spokesperson James Walker said.

It provided 10 days paid leave, access to counselling services, and help changing emails and phone numbers.

A few of Countdown’s 18,000 staff had sought help since the policy was November last year, spokesperson James Walker said.

“It [the bill] allows us to have a conversation in New Zealand about what more can be done and what the role of business is in that,” Mr Walker said.

The Women’s Refuge helped develop the domestic violence leave policy adopted by The Warehouse over a year ago.

The Refuge’s chief executive, Ang Jury, said the issue was already a huge cost to business.

“If you have got somebody who is trying to deal with violence in their personal life you’re not going to have a productive worker,” she said.

I hope that the bill at least passes it’s first reading so that it can be given further consideration at Select Committee.

National has not yet indicated whether it would support the bill but it could pass without their joint votes. They could also decide whether or not to make it a conscience vote.

The National Council of Women of New Zealand has sent an open letter to Minister for Workplace Relations, Michael Woodhouse.

Domestic and family violence is at epidemic levels in New Zealand costing the economy an estimated $8 billion a year. This is not ok. We are writing to urge you to support MP Jan Logie’s Domestic Violence Victims’ Protection Bill (Supporting victims of domestic violence) at its first reading on Wednesday so that it can go to Select Committee.

Among other provisions, the Bill proposes that people affected by family violence should be able to take up to 10 days’ leave. This will help them move house, attend court hearings and meet with lawyers.

Put simply: this Bill will save lives. It will make it easier for people to leave violent relationships and stay in employment. It will also keep victims safe at work from their abusers.

We acknowledge the government has taken action on domestic violence but more needs to be done. This legislation acknowledges that violence at home also impacts the workplace. There is research to suggest that businesses benefit financially and in other ways when they support their staff. Supporting victims of violence is the right thing for employers to do.

If you and your colleagues support this Bill, it can be heard at select committee. There, we can debate its effectiveness and the best way to support victims of family violence in the workplace.

I would be surprised if the Bill isn’t passed unopposed at least at the first reading.

The letter was signed by Rae Duff, president of the National Council of Women of New Zealand. It was also supported by:

  • Dr Jackie Blue (ex National MP) Equal Employment Opportunities Commissioner
  • National Collective of Independent Women’s Refuges
  • New Zealand Council of Trade Unions Te Kauae Kaimahi
  • The New Zealand Public Services Association
  • Janet Hope, Governor Zonta District 16
  • Vicky Mee, President NZ Federation of Business and Professional Women
  • NZ Nurses Organisation
  • Jane Stent, National Representative Soropimist International NZ

 

 

Domestic violence and gender

A documentary series on the ‘Dunedin Study’ has been showing on TV1 – the third programme will broadcast tonight, and all four programmes can be viewed on demand.

The  issue covered in the last programme was criminality, and one aspect covered was domestic violence.

The study found that domestic violence was fairly evenly split between male and female perpetrators, and many ‘domestics’ involved both male and female partners being violent.

However if police attend domestic violence incidents they will usually treat the male partner as the violent person.

The Dunedin Study that found this was controversial and internationally shunned because it didn’t fit the modern ‘male violence’ focus. But it was later supported by studies done elsewhere in the world.

This goes back at least a decade as this Stuff article from 2006 shows:

Domestic violence campaigners accused of bias

Two top health researchers have accused the Families Commission of “ideologically driven” bias in presenting domestic violence as a problem of men battering women.

Professor David Fergusson and Associate Professor Richie Poulton said their respective long-term studies of people born in Christchurch and Dunedin in the 1970s showed that most domestic violence was mutual.

“In a high proportion of these couples, we are seeing mutual fighting. It’s brawling,” said Professor Fergusson.

In contrast, the commission is backing White Ribbon Day on November 25, which asks men to wear a white ribbon to show that they do not condone “men’s violence towards women”.

Male violence is usually more damaging physically as men are usually bigger and stronger, but violent domestic incidents often involve both male and female culpability.

And the Dunedin Study documentary made the point that female violence against children has an even greater imbalance of strength and potential to cause physical damage.

The two professors wrote to the commission in March objecting to this claim.

Commission principal policy analyst Radha Balakrishnan said Mr Curry now accepted that he had made a mistake but stood by the claim that the worst domestic violence was perpetrated by men.

“We are talking about the most serious and lethal cases where perpetrators are predominantly men and the sufferers are predominantly women and children,” she said.

“The gendered nature of intimate partner violence is really important.”

But evidence from the Dunedin Study debunks the notion that violence is overwhelmingly a male problem.

But in an email to the Herald, Professor Fergusson said: “It is my frank view the commission’s stance on domestic violence is not being guided by a dispassionate and balanced consideration of the evidence.

“Rather, it is being guided by an ideologically driven model that assumes on a priori grounds that domestic violence is a male problem and that female-initiated domestic violence does not exist or is so trivial that it can be ignored in the commission’s policy focus.”

The country’s longest-running study of a birth cohort, covering 1037 people born in Dunedin in the year ending March 1973, found that 37 per cent of women and 22 per cent of men who had partners by the age of 21 had perpetrated acts of violence against their partners ranging from “pushing, grabbing or shoving” (29 per cent of women, 21 per cent of men) up to “beating up” (1 per cent of both men and women).

At age 21, 360 of the young people in the sample agreed to bring their partners to be interviewed too, providing what was said in 2001 to be the world’s “largest study of abuse in a representative sample of couples to date”.

The results showed that both partners abused each other in most couples where any abuse occurred.

Only 6 per cent of men committed abuse when both partners agreed that the woman did not commit any abuse, but 18 per cent of women committed abuse where the man did not. Male and female abusers shared “the same history of childhood conduct disorder and adolescent juvenile delinquency long predating their partner abuse”.

The researchers concluded that women were not simply defending themselves against male attackers but that both sexes’ violence stemmed from deep-rooted personality traits such as distrusting other people and being prone to anger, arising from a mix of genetics and upbringing.

They therefore recommended therapy for men and women, possibly including joint counselling for couples – an approach that is strongly opposed by anti-violence agencies.

These results were mirrored last year by Professor Fergusson’s study of 1265 people born in Christchurch in 1977, of whom 1003 were re-interviewed at age 25.

Again, similar numbers of men and women reported violent acts against their partners – 6.7 per cent of men and 5.5 per cent of women said they had carried out minor assaults such as pushing or shoving, and 2.8 per cent of men and 3.2 per cent of women reported severe assaults such as punching, kicking or beating up their partners.

There is other research:

Ms Balakrishnan said both studies used a wide definition of “violence”.

“Most people would consider it family violence where there is physical violence, where there is fear, where you are afraid for your safety,” she said.

She pointed to a national Justice Ministry survey of 5300 households in 2001 which found that 21.2 per cent of women, but only 14.4 per cent of men, said they had ever had a partner who “used force or violence on you, such as deliberately hit, kicked, pushed, grabbed or shoved you, or deliberately hit you with something, in a way that could have hurt you”.

But even going by those numbers female violence is about two thirds of male violence, which is far from insignificant.

Police statistics also show that men dominate the worst cases of family violence, including 31 out of 35 family homicides last year.

Professor Fergusson agreed that the homicide figures showed that the worst family violence was perpetrated by men. But that was such a small group that it did not show up in his sample of 1003 people.

He said the commission was “trying to have a bob each way” by saying that it was focusing on this tiny proportion of severe violence, yet also suggesting that domestic violence affected a fifth of the population.

Gender complicity in domestic violence is still a very contentious issue.

Focussing solely on male violence ignores the reality that a significant number of females are also violent and contribute to the substantial ongoing problem of domestic violence.

Violent males should in no way be excused and their violent behaviour should not be condoned in any way. The same should apply to violent females.