Ombudsman report – significant breaches by Oranga Tamariki ‘uplifting’ babies

Following revelations by Newsroom in June 2019 the Ombudsman investigated the Oranga Tamariki (Ministry for Children), and in a report to Parliament “the ministry used its most extreme powers as a routine way to remove babies” from mothers.

Newsroom: An orchestrated litany of uplifts

The inquiry, by the Office of the Ombudsman, is the fourth following Newsroom’s revelations in June last year of an attempted ‘uplift’ by Oranga Tamariki of a newborn boy at Hawke’s Bay Hospital.

It looked back two years before that June 2019 case and in 74 of the 74 cases of baby removals it inspected, the ministry had applied to the Family Court for the draconian ‘without notice’ orders to take babies from parents. 

All 74 cases.

The ‘without notice’ provision is supposed to be the final option in cases of urgency where a baby is at serious risk and all other options have been tried.

Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier’s report presents a litany of failure by Oranga Tamariki, saying in three quarters of the cases the ministry had more than 60 days to prepare for the baby’s arrival, hold meetings with whānau and iwi, seek ministry legal officer input, consult with hospitals and hold Family Group Conferences but did not do so.

He accepts applications were made because ministry staff had serious concerns for pēpi (babies), but it was essential staff understood and followed the law. Instead, OT failed its obligations under New Zealand and international law.

Boshier flatly declares the Oranga Tamariki decision making practices in the two years covered by his inquiry to be “unreasonable”.

“The evidence I have considered did not demonstrate that the ministry consistently met the objects and principles of the Act and the obligations under international law.”

From the report Foreword:

In May 2019, approximately halfway through the Ministry’s five-year transformation programme, Newsroom published a story about an attempt by the Ministry to remove a newborn pēpi from their young mother. The video documentary that later accompanied the original written article gave rise to public dismay and a questioning of the Ministry’s policies and practices.

The Government expressed confidence in the actions of the Ministry, yet media reports of further examples continued.

That confidence appears to have been misplaced.

My investigation found that the Ministry was usually aware of the pregnancy and reported concerns for a significant period before the birth of pēpi. In 77 percent of the cases I examined, the Ministry had 60 working days or more to assess and explore options, and to develop plans to ensure the safety of pēpi. However, the Ministry did not consistently utilise the available tools and mechanisms, such as hui ā-whānau and FGCs, to engage early with parents and whānau.

The Ministry also did not use that window of opportunity to plan early with professionals and external parties. In most of the cases, the Ministry did not meet the formal timeframe for completing its assessments. I also found variable use of the key checks and balances, such as referrals to Care and Protection Resource Panels, use of the Child and Family Consult, professionals meetings, completion of the Ministry’s assessment tool (Tuituia) and professional supervision.

The outcome is that in many cases decisions were being made late and without expert advice or independent scrutiny, and, most concerningly, without whānau involvement.

Key findings:

  • I found that urgency was created through the Ministry’s inaction and lack of capacity to follow processes in a timely and effective way. As a consequence, parents were disadvantaged—first, by not having an opportunity to respond to the allegations or challenge the information relied upon by the Ministry before their pēpi were removed, and second, by having to challenge orders after they were made, and when the parents were vulnerable because they were either heavily pregnant or had just given birth.
  • I found that the rights of disabled parents were not visible in either policy or practice. All the cases I reviewed required a disability rights-based response from the Ministry but this did not occur. That is a significant breach of the Disability Convention.
  • In terms of the Ministry’s practices relating to the physical removal of newborn pēpi, my investigation also found there was late or limited planning and engagement with parents and whānau and other external professionals.
  • I also found limited support was offered to mothers who wished to breastfeed.
  • Finally, I am not satisfied that, when the removal was executed by the Ministry, it provided parents and whānau with the opportunity for ngākau maharatanga me te ngākau aroha; a period of ‘quality time’ that reflects consideration, empathy, sympathy and love.
  • In addition, the Ministry did not ensure that the parents and whānau had their support people present. Nor did it provide them with clear information on next steps. There was also no support offered to parents and whānau to deal with the trauma and grief of child removal, or to help their healing.

This is strong criticism of Oranga Tamariki – Newsroom says the report is ‘scathing’ and is a ‘damning inquiry’.

In a Beehive media release Minister for Children – Subsequent children legislation to change – Tracey Martin downplayed the problems.

“There are times when children need to go into care for their safety – the safety and care of children must always be paramount,” Minister Martin said. “But we all know that the best thing for children is that they are safe and loved at home. Interpretation of the current law has meant that some children may have been unnecessarily traumatised and kept apart from their parents.”

Minister Martin said the Government will remove the provisions covering cases where a parent had a previous child permanently taken into care but will retain those for subsequent children where a parent has a conviction for the murder, manslaughter or infanticide of a child in their care.

Martin didn’t specifically mention the Ombudsman report, which I think is a remarkable avoidance, but did refer to “a review of the provisions this year found that they are not always effective, and can have a negative impact on children, parents and whānau.”

“The review showed that change to the law is needed,” the Minister said.

Amended operational policy and guidance will ensure robust assessments of safety and wellbeing when younger siblings come to the notice of Oranga Tamariki. New monitoring and reporting for subsequent children will also support better oversight of social work practice and monitor changes over time. Interim guidance will also be developed to support social work practice between now and when the partial repeal takes effect.

“Oranga Tamariki will also do further work on developing supports for parents and whānau who have had a child permanently removed from their care,” Minister Martin said.

This will be focused on reducing the risk of possible future children requiring care or protection, maintaining the best possible relationship with their children in care and supporting them with the associated grief, loss and trauma.

The timing of changes to operational policy and practice, monitoring and reporting, and potential changes to support for parents and whānau, will be aligned with the passing of an Amendment Bill to partially repeal the subsequent children provisions. The work to support this is being done now so that the Amendment Bill can be introduced to the House next year, and once passed, the changes can be implemented together.

This from Stuff seems to have pre-empted the report, in part making excuses and downplaying the problems – Tracey Martin on uplift controversy: Oranga Tamariki ‘believed the child was in danger’:

Oranga Tamariki minister Tracey Martin is to scrap Children’s Teams, small task forces set up to stop at-risk children from falling into state care.

The move comes as the Government tries to wrestle back control of the narrative in an explosive debate over the number of Māori children taken into care.

Hundreds of protesters rallied at Parliament on Tuesday, calling for a halt to Government uplifts of Māori babies. Protests were also held in other cities.

Martin said the “emotive” language used by organisers Hands off our Tamariki wasn’t helpful.

I hope she finds the report from the Ombudsman a lot more helpful.

The full report from the Ombudsman:

A Matter of Urgency:

Investigation Report into policies, practices and procedures for the removal of newborn pēpi by Oranga Tamariki, Ministry for Children

Local councils failing to meet OIA obligations

The chief ombudsman has said that local councils are failing to meet their obligations under the Official Information Act.

RNZ:  Local councils slammed for failing to supply information

Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier said councils are not meeting their responsibilities under the Local Government Official Information and Meeting Act and that some councils seem to resent having to be held accountable.

“The performance of many councils is disappointing. Local government is absolutely fundamental to democracy, and in that respect the need for accountability and supply of information is just as strong as it is with central government, and yet many local councils don’t see it that way.

“We will commence a better process of publicising our data on complaints, giving better guidance and encouraging an earlier dispute resolution process so ratepayers who often have legitimate complaints can get to the end of the journey earlier than before.”

Last year 248 complaints were received under the act, Mr Boshier said.

There was a mix of a failure to supply information and other queries about process, he said.

People wanted to know why a council came up with certain rates, what had happened at meetings, and follow up information, for example.

The whole idea of the act was to make sure there was accountability and so ratepayers could participate in democracy.

The Dunedin City Council was slammed in an ODT editorial on Monday – see ODT editorial on secrecy and the OIA

In one case, the council is choosing not to answer questions which have been put to it by this newspaper for nearly a year about alleged bullying and other problems in its city property department. Despite Official Information Act requests, it is withholding a Deloitte report, saying it needs to protect privacy and also citing commercial sensitivity. Elected representatives and council staff all ran for cover when asked for comment. The ODT has now referred the matter to the Office of the Ombudsman.

This refusal to engage is a very troubling development. Stalling, fudging and engaging in sophistry make any organisation look bad.

Especially when the mayor and councillors campaigned on greater transparency. Politicians want transparency on successes, but want secrecy on failures and embarrassments – that’s a natural human trait, which is why the OIA is important to make sure they are transparent about everything, not just what they choose to reveal.

Provisional support from Ombudsman for secret document

The Chief Ombudsman has given provisional backing for Jacinda Ardern to keep the so-called secret coalition document secret – or at least the contents of it anyway.

Newsroom:  Ombudsman sides with Govt over coalition document

The refusal of the new coalition Government to release a lengthy coalition negotiation document, despite promises of transparency, led to a complaint to the chief Ombudsman. Peter Boshier has now ruled that the Government was within its rights to withhold the material.

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters revealed the existence of the document in late October after signing his party’s official coalition agreement with Labour, describing it as “a document of precision on various areas of policy commitment and development”.

“These are directives to ministers with accountability and media strategies to ensure that the coalition works, not in a jealous, envious way, ‘We got this and they got that’, but as a Government successively, cohesively working.”

While Peters said at the time the document would be publicly released, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s office refused to release it to Newsroom under the Official Information Act, arguing it was not official information.

Ardern later described the document as “notes” made during negotiations that were yet to be finalised, not a formal government document.

“Where we’ve committed ourselves to a piece of work and a policy piece of work, we’ve released that. Where there’s more work to be done, that will be released at the time when we’ve reached a conclusion.”

In a provisional opinion sent to Newsroom, Boshier said he had “carefully read and considered” the document, saying it was “clearly made for the purpose of assisting the parties with coalition negotiations”.

“It contains discussion points designed for negotiation and, despite certain public comments to the contrary, does not include information such as directives to Ministers,” Boshier said, in an apparent reference to Peters’ comments about the document.

Ardern’s office told Boshier the document had not been passed on to any ministers or government departments, or used by any ministers in carrying out their official duties.

“It has played no part in policy decisions, and is not available to Ministers as reference material when making official decisions.”

Boshier said he was therefore satisfied that the information had not used by Ardern in her role as Prime Minister, and was held “solely in her capacity as Leader of the New Zealand Labour Party”.

He said he would consider any comments on the provisional opinion before forming a final opinion.

So a provisional win for Ardern.

I don’t really care whether the document remains secret or not, especially this long after the negotiations. It’s not likely to change anything.

Reform for Official Information act

It’s debatable whether the Official Information Act needs reforming, or if Government Ministers and officials need to be required to comply with the Act as it is. There has been creeping avoidance of complying properly with the Act over successive Governments.

Listener: Information wants to be free – why is the OIA an obstacle?

Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier has been blunt: the advice that ministers receive from their officials has been deliberately dumbed down, as a consequence of the Official Information Act (OIA).

Its vital contribution to our freedom and governmental accountability has, over successive administrations, been undermined by fear. Subtle and even blatant political heavying from ministers and officials’ self-protective desire not to cause trouble have led state agencies to increasingly refrain from offering potentially contentious advice, because they know it will become public and embarrass them and/or their minister.

Another growing trend has been deliberately to delay compliance with an OIA request, or flat out deny it.

Boshier has reversed the latter trend in his two years in the role, partly by making it clear he will name and shame those who fail to co-operate in good faith with the OIA’s processes. But he’s right to say we need new leadership to restore the Act to full efficacy and public respect. In his briefing to the incoming Government, he has usefully clarified the law as it stands, and as he believes officials should adhere to it.

That suggests that the Act may be sufficient as it is as long as it is complied with.

The headline clarification is a presumption that all official information will be released, and released in a timely manner, unless there are special reasons not to.

A further one is that officials asked to release something under the OIA must not then ask their ministers whether they may do so. It is their obligation to release it unless exempted, and they are only duty-bound to tell ministers to avoid surprises.

Ministers shouldn’t be involved in decisions on what should be a process, not a choice.

Boshier is on the record as noting a culture of transparent Government has to start with strong leadership.

Some have called for the Ombudsman’s office to have stronger powers of coercion, including making serious non-compliance an imprisonable offence. But a better buttress to information freedom would be to automate Boshier’s newly elucidated presumption that all information can be released unless it would cause a serious mischief.

Why not a system where, by default, all background papers to a governmental decision are released automatically? This could perhaps happen after early consultations, but before legislative proposals are finalised. Rather than relying on people to request information, why not put the onus on a department or minister to seek, via the Ombudsman, permission not to release it?

It is, after all, our information.

The OIA came up in Parliament yesterday, with Brett Hudson questioning the Minister of Justice Andrew Little. Transcript (with bickering and diversion edited out):

9. BRETT HUDSON (National) to the Minister of Justice: What reform is he planning to make to the Official Information Act 1982?

Hon ANDREW LITTLE (Minister of Justice): The Act is almost 35 years old, and the public’s expectations about access to official information are greater now than ever before…the Official Information Act is the responsibility of the Minister of Justice. As stated in the Speech from the Throne, this Government will foster a more open and democratic society—

Brett Hudson: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I just note that the Minister in his response claimed that the Act was under the responsibility of the Minister of Justice. I refer that Minister, and your good self, to the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (DPMC) website, which is very clear in the delegations for the Associate Minister of State Services (Open Government) that all matters of official information and the Official Information Act are under the delegations for that Minister.

Mr SPEAKER: And I’m going to deal with that. It was a matter that was referred to because it was a question about where the question was going. The Act is administered by the Minister of Justice.

Brett Hudson: Under his planned reform, will it be the norm for the Chief Ombudsman to have to make a recommendation in order for documents to be released?

Hon ANDREW LITTLE: The approach that this Government has taken to official information is to look to the report of the Law Commission in 2012, which the previous Government did nothing about; the recommendations of the Chief Ombudsman in 2015, which the previous Government did nothing about; and to look to questions of attitude and behaviour, because that is the way we will change the effectiveness of the Official Information Act.

So will Little, Ardern and the government walk the walk and “to look to questions of attitude and behaviour, because that is the way we will change the effectiveness of the Official Information Act”, because the OIA ball is in their court.


Ardern ‘will absolutely co-operate with the Ombudsman’

After PM Jacinda Ardern refused to release the 33 page coalition document that Winston Peters had promised to make available a complaint was laid with the Ombudsman. The Ombudsman has read the document and now requested a response from Ardern, who has said she will co-operate with the Ombudsman.

NZH:  Jacinda Ardern ‘will absolutely co-operate with the Ombudsman’ over unreleased coalition document

Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters described it as a “document of precision on various areas of policy commitment and development” and “directives to ministers with accountability and media strategies”.

Ardern…describes as an unofficial “record of some of our [coalition] conversations”.

Ardern’s refusal to release the document is now the subject of a complaint to the Office of the Ombudsman.

Peter Boshier told Radio New Zealand’s Nine to Noon that he had read the document.

“I’ve written to the Prime Minister and my expectation is a five-day time turnaround for a reply.”

Ardern says she will co-operate with the Ombudsman on the issue of whether to release the 33-page coalition document that she has so far refused to release.

Ardern confirmed this afternoon at her post-Cabinet press conference that she had received a letter from Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier regarding the document.

“I am willing and will absolutely co-operate with the Ombudsman.”

She has made that commitment after receiving and presumably reading the letter from the Ombudsman, so presumably knows what she saying she will co-operate with.

Ombudsman asks for response on ‘secret’ coalition document

The Chief Ombudsman has asked Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern for a response over the now 33 page coalition document that she has refused to release, despite Winston Peters offering to release it.

NZH:  Ombudsman steps in over unreleased coalition document, asks PM for response

Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier has written to Jacinda Ardern in relation to the 33-page coalition document that she has refused to release, asking her to respond within five days.

Ardern’s refusal to release the document is now the subject of a complaint to the Office of the Ombudsman.

Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters described it as a “document of precision on various areas of policy commitment and development” and “directives to ministers with accountability and media strategies”.

Ardern has been under pressure from the Opposition to release the 33-page document, which she describes as an unofficial “record of some of our [coalition] conversations”.

Boshier told Radio New Zealand’s Nine to Noon that he had read the document.

The document that Ardern has described as a few notes.

“I’ve written to the Prime Minister and my expectation is a five-day time turnaround for a reply.”

He said he could not talk about this individual case, but described the general process.

“I set my own timelines as to what’s appropriate. I see the document. I go through it. I form my own view. I then take that provisional view to each side and say, ‘This is what my view is. What do you say in relation to my view?’

“And then I release my decision. It’s very rare that my decision is not complied with.”

Sounds like Ardern is now also under pressure from the Ombudsman.


Human rights in prison

On The Nation this morning:

Lisa Owen talks to Chief Ombudsman Judge Peter Boshier about whether inmates’ human rights are being violated in our prisons and what his office can do to deal with the issue.

Prisoners lose some rights, like freedom and voting, but a decent society still has to provide human rights in prisons.

Boshier says resourcing is “at the heart” of issue of cruel and degrading treatment of prisoners.

“You can’t have someone in prison with high mental health needs and no appropriate way of treating that prisoner”.

“Frankly I’m horrified… that Serco occurred under our noses” says Boshier.

An unfortunate experiment at Mt Eden prison.

Boshier says he’s concerned about use of restraints in private secure dementia units.

“I’m deliberately signalling that we need to watch this space” he says.

Boshier says he’ll go to Parliament in a year to ask for more funding to expand monitoring of secure dementia units.


Judge Peter Boshier on family violence

Judge Peter Boshier, law commissioner and formerly chief of the Family Court, talks to Duncan Garner about Government plans to find better ways of addressing family violence and on protection orders.

Duncan Garner: The Law Commission is about to release a discussion document on this domestic violence law review, what’s likely to be in it and what we need to do.

What do we need to do with these domestic laws. Do we need to beef them up and sort them out?

Judge Peter Boshier: I think that we need a stand alone domestic violence charge. I think it would focus on the issue and really make everyone much more aware of the true extent of family violence.

At the moment it tends to get a bit merged into other forms of crime, so I think what’s happened in terms of initiatives this week – very very encouraging.

Garner: I was looking at that family violence review report that showed 139 people including 37 children died from family violence and related homicides between 2009 and 2012, so that’s an average of 35 a year. It’s too many isn’t it.

Boshier: Yes, and I think what the Minister’s concentrating on this week is the fact that half of our homicides each year, 50%, the basis of those is family violence.

And when I look at the extent of it that passes through the courts, I’m still doing Family Court work, and I just look at what the extent of family violence is, I’m not surprised that a lot of it ends up in homicide.

So I think there’s a recognition that this is probably our number one social evil right now.

It has probably been our number one social evil for a long time.

Garner: So if it does end up in homicide what can we do earlier in that process so it doesn’t?

Boshier: Two things. One is, and I wanted this to say I’m speaking to you as Chair of White Ribbon, and the importance of me just saying that is that this is very much an attitude change organisation.

It’s aimed at saying that all the enforcement in the world won’t stop people who are determined to kill, but what you can do is begin attitude change.

And I think we’ve done that in New Zealand with things such as drunk driving, smoking, there are other examples where we’ve changed our attitude and we accept that something’s simply not acceptable.

So the first thing I think is attitude change.

Garner: How do you change attitude?

Boshier: I think you breed an ethos that instead of resorting to the fists and power imbalanced by intimidation you resolve conflict in a way in which there’s dignity and there’s a talking through of issues. That’s after all what old cultures of the world have done for years.

Garner: That could take a generational change for some people because they’ve never seen it in their own families.

Boshier: And I think you have hit the nail on the head. There is intergenerational  family violence which means that people grow up against that background, that’s what they’re used to.

I’m not at all daunted by the fact that it may take a long time. What I’m encouraged about when I heard the Minister talking on Q & A yesterday was that if there’s leadership at the top.

You know if there is a commitment by people like you, like me, like the Minister to achieve change, I think society can do it.

Garner: What about protection orders, I’ve heard from people on my show this afternoon, from a mother, a woman called Sue and her daughter who both have protection orders against the daughter’s ex, the son-in-law of Sue, who has breached the protection order three or four times and only been fined or different curfews put in. No prison time.

Boshier: Two things about that. One is that the Police, I believe, understand the importance of intervening meaningfully when there’s an alleged breach of the protection order, and i think that is a change that will occur.

With the courts quite often breaches of protection orders occur with other things and may get a bit lost or diluted when other crime is going on. I don’t want to apologise for that or sanction in any way.

What I would like to say is that if we can focus on a breach of a protection order being just as bad as any other breach of a court order like driving while disqualified, and we say that there is no excuse, and there will be no way out other than accountability, and I want to re-emphasise that word, accountability, by all of us, then I think we’re going to take things more seriously.

Garner: Could I just ask that question again though, with protection orders do you think we will see change then, I think you hinted there that there might be change in that area.

Boshier: My understanding of what I heard the Minister say yesterday was that in the overall review of family violence legislation, which I think is going to be unfolded by the Minister this Wednesday, it’s expected that there will be a number of suggested changes to the extent of protection orders and their enforcement.

I have not been privy to the discussion paper that the Minister is going to release, but I pick up the signs that what’s this far been just a breach of a protection order might now become elevated to a default position where someone’s in real trouble.

Last year I taught in Palau which is in Micronesia, and their family protection legislation has a default position, whereas for the first breach you get seven days imprisonment. For the second breach you get fourteen, and for the third and subsequent you get twenty eight days imprisonment. It’s snap.

Unfortunately our prisons have serious problems with perpetuating violent behaviour.

There’s no real way out of it. And I think the messaging is absolutely unequivocal, so it may be that our messaging needs to be clearer and women.

Look they should expect that if they go to the trouble of getting a protection order it will give them meaningful protection.

AUDIO: Law Commission to propose changes to domestic violence laws and protection orders

From the Q & A interview here are Amy Adam’s comments on protection orders:

CORIN One of the areas where you’re not getting the cut through is clearly around protection orders. Researching for this interview – a staggering number of breaches of people who have gone on to kill and do terrible things. They clearly aren’t working. Will you make it tougher to— easier to get protection orders and tougher if they are breached?

AMY Well, first of all, I wouldn’t say that they’re not working. I think they have a very valuable role in our system. But clearly if they’re being breached, serious consequences can flow. So absolutely we’ll be looking at protection orders, how they work, how you get them, what the consequences are of breach, who takes what action, who has to lead that, does it have to be victim-led, can the police act on their own initiative? So all of these things are being looked at. What we’re seeing is actually an increasing number of prosecutions for breaches of protection orders, which is a good thing, an increasing number of convictions every year for breaches, and we’ve already put the penalties up.

CORIN Do you need, though, to take more—? And this is one of the things that came through from the likes of Women’s Refuge when we talked to them. Do you need more of a zero-tolerance approach to protection orders? Because it seems as though, you know, a bit of a warning, first breach and nothing’s done. You know, and the police miss it or something. Does there a need to be a much tougher approach to the first breach of that order?

AMY I think we need to have very clear expectations that breaches of protection orders are taken extremely seriously. Now, the police do have to look at their arresting practices and how that works and getting it in front of the courts, and then the courts and the judges have to think about how they handle them. As I say, we’ve put that penalty up, so from the first breach, an offender can be liable to three years in prison, and I think that’s right. But I still think there are questions around how can they be more effective, how can we secure the victim’s protection under them more effectively, how can we make them easier to get, how can think about all of the myriad of things that flow from that, like where are the people going to live, how do we physically keep them safe? So there’s a lot of questions to ask, and as I said, the goal of this is to start that discussion, ‘How do we do this better?’

Amy Adams on overhauling family violence laws

Addressing family violence

On Q + A yesterday Susan Wood interviews former Principal Family Court Judge Peter Boshier on family violence.

Boshier talked of three things he things he thinks need focussing on to address family violence:

  1. Attitudinal change
    “We’ve managed to do this with drink-driving.  We’ve managed to do it with smoking.  We can do it with family violence, and we’ve seen some top rugby players beginning to come out and acknowledge”.
  2. Give women options
    The second thing is we’ve got to give women other options.  We’ve got to enable them to feel that there is something that they can do and somewhere they can go.
  3. Men being accountable
    “We’re beginning to see it more and more, men being accountable, talking, acknowledging and making change.  And we have seen  men who have been violent in the past who have come out and said, I no longer want to be violent, so were beginning to get men talking about it”.


SUSAN WOOD: Do you think we will get there?  Do you think we will get there in a generation or two with domestic violence?

PETER We will make change.  Look, the fact that I’m here today speaking about this – this wouldn’t have happened 20 years ago.  And the fact that so many mayors, people are our ambassadors- John Key, Len Brown, Ruben Wiki, the famous rugby league player, are ambassadors, this wouldn’t have happened years ago.  I’m ever the optimist.

We need more optimists like Peter.

Men are not the only perpetrators of violent behaviour, but they are more violent and can be more physically damaging.

But it needs to be said that some women are also violent. And many women are non-physically abusive.

In probably the majority of cases both partners contribute to violence, by their attitudes, by their actions and by their inactions.

We need more work on attitudes, more and better options, and being accountable.

And we need to learn to understand each other better.


Full transcript:


SUSAN A very good morning to you.

JUDGE PETER BOSHIER – Former Principal Family Court Judge
 Good morning.

SUSAN This campaign is about men speaking to other men.  Is there any evidence that men are listening – that there is less family violence?


PETER  Well, I think what were doing is beginning to talk about it much more.  Unfortunately, only about 20% of family violence ever surfaces.  Theres an enormous, enormous amount that hasnt been talked about, so one of the real-
SUSAN How did you get that number?  Thats a huge amount we are not talking about.

PETER It is.  It is a huge amount.  Well, people are often unwilling to seek help.  They feel locked in, they feel unable to share it, so one of the real purposes of White Ribbon is to flush it out and to get people talking about it.

SUSAN But you’re talking to the men, and so often in these cases we are talking about, generally here, women as the victims of it, and the trouble is they are tied up.  They are tied with children; they are tied up economically, aren’t they, so often?  How do you break that?  How do you get these women to speak out?

PETER  Well, I think there are three things – three things that I would focus on for change in New Zealand.  And first of all, its attitudinal change.  We’ve managed to do this with drink-driving.  We’ve managed to do it with smoking.  We can do it with family violence, and we’ve seen some top rugby players beginning to come out and acknowledge.  The second thing is weve got to give women other options.  We’ve got to enable them to feel that there is something that they can do and somewhere they can go.

SUSAN And what are those sort of options?  I know well get to the third one, but what sort of things specifically do you need to give women?

PETER  I think there are two things.  The first is if youre in a violent relationship, you cant just go back to it once the person whos perpetrated the violence has been arrested, otherwise the thing goes round and round in circles.  And the poor children, just like the Once Were Warriors situation, are huddled, listening to their parents fighting.  So weve got to give women, first of all, somewhere to go, secondly, to empower them to make and force change.
SUSAN And the third point?  So weve got a chance in attitude, something for women to do, and whats your third point?

PETER Well, the third thing, and were beginning to see it more and more, is men being accountable, talking, acknowledging and making change.  And we have seen- We have seen men who have been violent in the past who have come out and said, I no longer want to be violent, so were beginning to get men talking about it.

SUSAN So they can change?  At the moment, probably a 20-week course is the best youll get.  Is it enough to get what is possibly ingrained behaviour changed?

PETER  It is not enough, and in legislation that is coming through to reform the Family Court, one of the good things about that legislation is enhanced programmes – broader, more customised.  Look, violence varies, Susan, as you probably know.  Some is contextual – it happens as a result of a marriage break-up.  Other is lethal.  We have men who are virtually pathological, and one 20-week programme isnt enough.  They may need a programme stretching over years.

SUSAN Across society- We have heard often that domestic violence is right across society.  Is that your experience?

SUSAN It doesnt matter if youre a doctor in Remuera or whatever – its right across?

PETER It is, and dont forget that family violence isnt just punching and kicking.  It is often much more insidious, and the control – the psychological violence which there is out there – is just as bad as the physical.

SUSAN Do you see that?  Did you see that in your job – the psychological violence?

PETER  I listened at times to voice recordings on answerphones which women had had in the Family Court and I had access to the recordings that men had made.  Its terrible stuff.  And the other thing were beginning to see more and more is the text messaging and the use of emails.  So now everyones pretty marked – if you sent a bad text message, the chances are itll surface.  And some of the melancholic, awful, intimidating text messaging, often during the night, now is beginning to surface.

SUSAN This week, interestingly, Professor Greg Newbold from the University of Canterbury came out saying that Maori are overrepresented in many of the bad statistics in this country, as we know, sadly.  He was blaming the warrior culture and patriarchal culture of Maori for domestic violence.  Do you buy that argument?

PETER  I dont necessarily buy that argument at all.  The evidence that I have suggests that pre-colonisation many, many years ago, violence was not part of Maori culture, and thats certainly the case in the Pacific.  So I dont think its- I think its far too simplistic to say that we can blame that.
SUSAN Now, in a legal sense youre also advocating some changes, arent you, one being there is actually an offence of domestic violence.


SUSAN Because at the moment, you could be charged with assault, common assault, assault against a women, but it doesnt actually show if its domestic violence.

PETER  Correct.  You see, my point on this is that if you are a drink-driver, you get charged with drink-driving.  Youre branded – you are a drink-driver, and you have to be accountable for that.  But not so, and I cannot understand or fathom this- with violence, there is no offence of domestic violence.  The most that we get is male assaults female, and thats the biggest clue you get that it could be domestic.  We can and should do much better than this.

SUSAN So it would make a difference to have on someones record domestic violence?

PETER  Yes, it would.  I would like, when I see someones list of previous convictions, to be able to see that they have assaulted a woman, a partner, maybe more than one over a period of years and that its been domestic.  At the moment, I dont know.
SUSAN Youre also suggesting some sort of 0800 Crimestoppers, if you like, centralised place for women to go when there is a case of domestic violence.

PETER Yes.  One thing I would very much like us to promote through the Blue [White] Ribbon campaign and other things is who do you go to where you can be safe?  And women may feel fearful that Child, Youth and Family might intervene and take away the children.  They might feel fearful that the police will act in a way they dont want.  Theres got to be a safe way to talk about this.

SUSAN Youre also suggesting somewhere for men to go, like a man stop I think you called it.


SUSAN How would that work?

PETER  Well, it does work.  Im from Gisborne, and Im proud of that fact because its one of the few places in the country thats set up a house where men can go.  One of my points is if men are violent, why should it be the women that have to leave?  I cannot see what the rationale or wisdom of that is, and so I think a place where men can go and talk about whats going on in their lives and how they might change might be a very very constructive thing.
SUSAN You mentioned earlier in the interview men starting to speak.  Are you seeing that more – starting to speak amongst themselves, starting to put the, I guess, peer pressure on each other in a positive way?

PETER Well, I am.  You may have heard of the White Ribbon motorbike ride, where a whole bunch of people visit 86 centres.  And one of these which I went to was just wonderful – very very empowering.  Because I think a lot of men do know – do know that theyve been violent.  They are ashamed of it.  To be able to talk about that with others who have done similarly is a way of getting out there that they need to change.

SUSAN How do you help them, though, if they do want to come out of it?  As we said, a 20-week course isnt going to do it.  A decent man whos done a bad thing – how do you get him right?

PETER  Well, we all know that there is aggression.  There is aggression on the sports field, and controlled aggression is acceptable.

SUSAN We admire it on the sports field.

PETER  We do.  But what we dont admire is the sportsman that then loses the plot, and we used to see this in the old days on rugby fields, but I suggest less so now.  In the old days, aggression was uncontrolled.  There were free-for-all punches.  Its dreadful stuff.  So what Im trying to say, through the White Ribbon campaign, and we all are, is this fact – theres a big difference between controlled aggression and violence. 
SUSAN Do you think we will get there?  You mentioned drink-driving as a good example.  Its a very good example, because in my youth, no one even thought about it.  These days, none of the youth I know would think of drink-driving, and there is a real social stigma on it.  But do you think we will get there in a generation or two with domestic violence?

PETER We will make change.  Look, the fact that Im here today speaking about this – this wouldnt have happened 20 years ago.  And the fact that so many mayors, people are our ambassadors- John Key, Len Brown, Ruben Wiki, the famous rugby league player, are ambassadors, this wouldnt have happened years ago.  Im ever the optimist.

SUSAN Well, good luck.

PETER  Thank you.

SUSAN Very good to talk to you.  Thank you, Peter Boshier.