Opening Address, Pacific Women’s Watch (New Zealand) Annual Conference on Disability – Creating a level playing field between ALL women in Aotearoa New Zealand

Prevention of Family and Sexual Violence

One of the greatest opportunities to improve the wellbeing of New Zealanders is to reduce New Zealand’s high rates of violence and ultimately to reduce and stop family violence and sexual violence altogether.

Family violence and sexual violence adversely affects children and adults with impacts across generations, on health, on wellbeing, in communities, in our society generally.

There are many great contributors to the disability sector at this conference, and one of those is Disability Rights Commissioner, Paula Tesoriero. I know she met the Joint Venture in September, and without wishing to get ahead of Paula and what she will contribute to this conference today, I was struck by some of the numbers she presented in that meeting.

She cited the fact that disabled people experience twice the rate of violence faced by non-disabled people, rising to three times for children, and four to ten times for sexual violence towards disabled women and girls.

Those numbers – those truly appalling numbers – should bring us all up short. They simply must be addressed by us all. And I can tell you they increase my determination to make a difference as I begin this role.

As you know, I am the newly appointed Minister for the Prevention of Family and Sexual Violence. I’m here to listen to you and I am here to learn from you. I want to know more from your perspective about the issues and the challenges; the problems and the potential solutions.

Yesterday, I attended the White Ribbon breakfast, hosted by Police Commissioner Andrew Coster. It was a good opportunity to meet key players who, no doubt, share many aspects of your journey.

The Joint Venture was established at the end of 2018 as an innovative approach to addressing what we all know is a complex system problem. Its creation is essentially a recognition of the need for systemic and transformational change.

The Joint Venture model itself is about creating collective responsibility, oversight and leadership of action. I will emphasise that last bit again – leadership of action. Let that be a signal of where I intend to go as Minister.

So why do government agencies need to work differently? Previous attempts at improving the system involved voluntary collaboration across government. This approach did not significantly improve the fragmented system – a system that was seen to be overly complex and unreliable by the people trying to secure their own safety or get help to change their behaviour.

What are government agencies are doing differently? Joint Venture agencies have been tasked with working together where a joint response can make the biggest difference to reducing the impact of family violence and sexual violence on current and future New Zealanders.

The Joint Venture has supported investment decisions by Ministers by looking at the whole family violence and sexual violence system, especially through Budgets 2019 and 2020 and most recently the Joint Venture led the government’s response to risks of family violence and sexual violence during the COVID-19 response.

Of the ten Joint Venture agencies, a number of them – including Health, the Ministry of Social Development, Oranga Tamariki, ACC, Police and Corrections – either have specific disability initiatives in the FVSV area or are have work underway on their approach to disability issues.

It is still fairly early days in this model. Joint Venturing is an innovative and new way of working and in some respects is still bedding in, but we need to expect – we need to demand, in government and outside of it – that we start to the make that difference we talk about, and that we start to see more results.

A priority for me is leading our Joint Venture to focus work on building the capability and capacity of our agencies and in communities to provide safe and targeted responses for all, with particular focus on disabled people and your communities. I know that there is little to no specialist violence services available for disabled people and this is something our Officials are working right now to address.  

In closing, I would like to acknowledge my predecessor in this role, my colleague Jan Logie, and I would like to acknowledge the foundations she has laid, particularly in the work of the Joint Venture, and her absolute commitment to the critical mahi that we have to do to reduce and stop family violence and sexual violence, and especially to eliminate it as a blight on the lives of those living with disabilities.

We have much to talk about and even more to do. I am absolutely committed to the mahi ahead, and I look forward to working closely with you. Good luck with this conference today.