Doing things differently to end family and sexual violence

Speech to Māori Women's Welfare League conference, Gisborne, 28 September 2018

E ngā mana, e ngā reo, e rau rangatira mā
Tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou katoa

Ki te mana whenua o tēnei rohe ko Ngāti Porou
Kei te mihi, kei te mihi, kei te mihi

Ki ngā kaiwhakahaere o tēnei hui
Tēnā koutou

E ngā wāhine toa o Āotearoa  
Kei te mihi mahana  

Ko Jan Logie ahau.
Kia ora tātou katoa.

 

And firstly to acknowledge Madam President, Prue Kapua, and Peter Hughes, who I’ve already acknowledged, Michelle Hippolite, and my Parliamentary colleagues who I understand are in the room, Louisa Wall and Kiritapu Allen, kia ora.

So I’m really pleased to be here with you today, alongside Ariana, though now I have a better sense of why politicians hold the space all to themselves, because how do you follow that? And the purpose is really to share our vision for preventing and reducing family and sexual violence, and I’ll be announcing some significant changes in the way that government agencies will be working to address these issues.

And just to start, I want to acknowledge and take a lead from Princess Te Puea Herangi, the first patron, I understand, of the League, who said, Ko te puawaitanga o nga moemoea, me whakamahi - dreams become reality, when we take action.

And probably like everyone here in this room, I have a vision of an Aotearoa where family and sexual violence is actually a true aberration rather than the commonplace event that it is now. And that vision for me has been strengthened by the stories of the women and the advocates like Ariana, and the women I know who have experienced this violence, who have shared their stories of its impact on them and their families, and have asked repeatedly for a better future for themselves and for our society.

And many have been violently harmed, and we all know this, and abused by loved ones, acquaintances and occasionally strangers, and have struggled to come forward to be heard and to get the help that they deserve.

And I know that most, if not all of us, here today have personal experience of this violence, and that’s what drives a lot of us, including myself, to envision that better future.

So I’m here today because this Government is committed to doing what we need to, to make that a reality. And that it’s time to take action and do things differently. And I do want to acknowledge that this work is clearly dear to your hearts, and it’s an issue that Māori have been calling for action on for years.

And so first I honour Te Rōpū Wāhine Māori Toko i te Ora, the Māori Women’s Welfare League, and the long history you have of being at the forefronts of efforts to restore sovereignty and mana of whānau and wāhine Māori. Your movement is one of the nation’s best examples of the power of wāhine working collectively for our whānau and communities. You were leading the way, as Ariana mentioned, providing social services before there were social services, working with communities and before that wider women’s movement, and its coordinated response to domestic and sexual violence, organising, connecting and supporting each other by maintaining tikanga and protective factors for whānau and communities, to nurture themselves and thrive.

So I also want to acknowledge those that have come alongside you, and in the footsteps that were started by the League. Particularly the women and groups like Ariana and Te Whakaruruhau, and a shout-out to Whare Tiaki in the house, from my backyard, who are represented here, and the many of you represented here who created and hold the specialist kaupapa Māori responses to family and sexual violence in our communities, and have often had to justify what you do, and why it matters. It’s time the rest of us caught up.

So violence impacts all of us. It permeates across age, disability, class, race, gender and sexualities, and these factors don’t exist separately from each other, but are interwoven to form us, as people and as families and as communities. This is not a Māori issue, this is an everyone issue. But there are some communities that have been failed more than others.

Family and sexual violence are endemic in our country, and that’s got huge consequences. And for me, it feels as if we’ve forgotten that this is something we can fix. And it’s not easy to acknowledge that this kind of violence happens to ourselves, let alone to someone else, particularly when it’s done by somebody close to us, somebody that we love, who has hurt us. It’s even harder when women reach out to ask for help, and have to re-tell their story again and again, and prove that they need help. And then we fail to provide it to them.

For too many years, I’ve been hearing about women and children disclosing violence to their doctors, their counsellors, their social workers or their colleagues at work and not getting the help that they need. There are women looking for a way out for themselves and their children, who go to Work and Income for help with money or housing and don’t get it. There are children who disclose abuse to their teachers and don’t get the help they need. There are women and children who are forced into poverty when they leave, and spend years being persecuted by their ex-partners through the courts. And we heard the story from Ariana of women having to flee from the government agencies to be able to hold their family together. There are men worried about their own thoughts or behaviours who reach out for help with no success.

Doctors, counsellors, teachers, social workers, employers, Work and Income, Housing New Zealand, ACC, Police, Oranga Tamariki, the courts, Corrections, can all help or hinder. We need to make sure they help. We’ve been saying that family and sexual violence is not OK for quite a few years now, but all too often the way our institutions respond to women and children and whānau sends a different message. A survivor recently described the process of trying to get help to me as being sent into a forest full of landmines with no map to get out the other side.

And so much of our mental health challenges and crime and poverty are driven by our failure to address this violence. We have to connect these harms to the violence that’s underlying them, that is so prevalent in our communities, and to the way that we’ve forced people to hold onto their trauma with no healthy pathway to heal, and acknowledge that we have been all too often compounding the harm.

The system is also challenging for our community organisations, who are dealing with multiple agencies providing different bits and pieces of funding. And I want to acknowledge the providers and the amazing workers who keep pushing through these challenges to support people up and down the country with often really limited resources. We know there are so many things that we could be doing better. You’ve been telling up this for years.

And I do want to let you know that the people I’m talking to within those government agencies, they know it too. They’ve been hearing what you’ve been saying, and have also been really frustrated at not being able to make these changes.

So I want to talk now a little bit about the kind of system that we need, one people work through to get help, justice, safety or healing. One that covers government agencies, the frontline and our communities. So we need a system where everyone knows their role in preventing and responding to family and sexual violence. And where everyone feels competent and resourced to be able to do their bit. Where people who disclose abuse are heard and where the risks are understood and they can all access the supports they need, whether they need housing, income, counselling or just the support from the right people in their community. We need to acknowledge that there is no-one-size-fits all solution, and no quick fix. This is hard work.

The system needs to intervene and hold people to account, enabling them to change their attitudes and behaviours so that they stop using the violence. And we really need to focus our efforts on doing that, instead of making the people affected by the violence responsible for doing that. We’ve been putting too much pressure on them, and we’ve got to give our children a chance for a future free of violence. We need to make sure that we’re not just waiting until the Police have been called before we do anything.

We need to put as much effort into preventing the violence in the first place, intervening early, as we do around crisis. And then we also need to make sure that we’re really getting involved and putting the resources behind helping people to change, to be supported, to be safe, and have healthy families. And almost all of government’s effort up to this point has just been on that really small point after the Police have been called. And it’s just been for a short period of time.

It needs to be a system where Māori leadership and practice is valued and integral to our processes, and kaupapa Māori practices and solutions are nurtured and supported to thrive and inform process.

We’ve got to build that system. We need to change the way that government agencies work, and seriously disrupt that cycle of family and sexual violence at all levels.

And we know that integrated practice across government and in communities can reduce family and sexual violence, it’s the only way we’re going to do it. But responsibility for addressing family and sexual violence at a government level is currently all over the place. It’s really hard to hold anyone to account for action or inaction.

So what do we do?

Well, today I’m announcing the formation of a joint venture, which is a working title, hopefully we’ll get to something better soon – across ten government agencies to address family and sexual violence. For the first time, chief executives of Oranga Tamariki, Health, Te Puni Kōkiri, Social Development, Education, Justice, Police, ACC, and Corrections along with the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet will be collectively responsible for delivering a national strategy to reduce family and sexual violence.

And they will be implementing this strategy not on you, but across their own departments.

They will be supported by a unit within government that has the expertise and reporting to me as the member of the government responsible for this single focus, supported by the Minister of Social Development, the Minister of Justice, the Minister of Children and Seniors and of course the Minister of Māori Development.

This board will form the single point of leadership which has been recommended, we’ve been told from the community for years, as well as by the Law Commission and the Family Violence Death Review Committee, that we need a single group who can be accountable for all of government’s response. And they will break down those silos, so that finally, with the community, we can get to the point of all being on the same page, and that when we hold the knowledge of practice we won’t have to go and make changes across each ministry through each process, that we can do it through one central point, of getting to genuine integrated practice.

So the chief executives will now work together to create a map through that forest, rather than just tending to what’s traditionally been their piece and place in the forest. The joint venture will embed new ways of working across government and work with iwi and communities to deliver a coordinated, sustained response to reduce family and sexual violence. It will underpin a system where the needs and views of men, women, children and whānau who have been affected are central to our response.

This is clearly a new way of doing government.

And so one of the first priorities for the joint venture is designing a national strategy and action plan on family and sexual violence, and this will coordinate and galvanise our efforts across government and strengthen how we work with communities. It will set a clear direction for our work and set out concrete measurable results that you will inform, so that there is genuine transparency and accountability, and this will be reporting to Parliament and we will be publicly accountable for our actions. That is something that previous attempts in this space have lacked. Not any more.

It will build on the wisdom that communities have shared with governments in the past. We were speaking at lunch again about Puao-te-Ata-tu, and where we might actually be now if we’d implemented it.

And it will give us a better understanding of our roles and responsibilities, and where the missing pieces of the puzzle are. Because together with your knowledge we can change this. And of course, we acknowledge that it needs to have a strong Māori voice. So we’ve been working closely with Māori experts and Te Puni Kōkiri to design a partnership model for the joint venture.

And I want to acknowledge that it’s imperative that we learn from kaupapa Māori responses to violence, because they work. But instead of just seeing what you’re doing and lifting it out of te ao Māori and transplanting it into a place it doesn’t belong, we want to make sure that government makes Maori voices heard throughout our decision-making and implementation.

The joint venture will be initially advised by an independent Māori body, Te Rōpū, who will shape work on the national strategy and help design a permanent Māori advisory process. And having recently read Moana Jackson’s comments about consultation, I’ll be clear, we’re not talking about consultation.

Building Māori partnership into the model and ensuring those affected by violence are integral to our work will help drive significant improvements and hopefully save lives, because that’s ultimately what it’s about, right? Creating a future free of violence for the future generations.

Ko te puawaitanga o nga moemoea, me whakamahi. My vision is of an Aotearoa where we can all live free of violence and today I hope is the start of us working together in a new way, in a non-violent way, to be able to realise that dream.

Nō reira tēnā koutou katoa.