Speech to National Sexual Violence and Domestic Violence Conference: Challenging Conversations and Complicated Spaces
Tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā tatou katoa
Nei rā ngā mihi mahana ki a koutou te tangata whenua e whakatau nei i a mātou
Kua tae mai nei ki te whakamana i tēnei kaupapa nui mō tātou e noho mai nei, ōtira mō Aotearoa.
Ko Jan Logie ahau. Kia ora tātou katoa.
Malo e lelei
Ni sa bula vinaka
Fakaalofa lahi atu
Warm Pacific Greetings.
And thank you to the National Coalition of Domestic Violence Specialist Service Providers – National Collective of IndependentWomen’s Refuge and Te Kupenga Whakaoti Mahi Patunga - and Te Ohaakii a Hine – National Network Ending Sexual Violence Together for inviting me here today to give the opening address. It is a great privilege.
I also want to acknowledge Minister Williams who is also here with us today.
When I look at everyone here today, I see many of the people leading our responses to family violence and sexual violence in Aotearoa;
- specialists with deep knowledge of the dynamics and drivers of violence;
- experts in culturally appropriate, whānau-centred practice;
- Professionals who create safety and enable recovery and rehabilitation.
There is so much knowledge and experience in this room. You are all critical to finding solutions, and moving our country and our social norms through the behavioural and cultural change that we need to get us to the ultimate goal of ending the violence in Aotearoa.
Many of you here are part of groups who have understood the problems, offered the solutions and provided the support for people affected by family violence and sexual violence. It was refuges and rape crisis centres, alongside kaupapa Māori organisations like the Māori Women’s Welfare League, who first responded to violence, especially against women and children, when government, law enforcement and mainstream society didn’t see or want to see a problem. And when the politicians were finally willing to have the conversation, you brought knowledge, mana and reality to the table. You’ve continued to do that and to provide indispensable support and advocacy to people under tremendous pressure, and whose lives are often at risk.
I want to specifically acknowledge the contribution of Maori women, and the history of striving for te Tiriti-based relationships across the domestic and sexual violence sectors. In a country that doesn’t teach our history I can still remember my understanding of the world changing profoundly after doing the refuge parallel development training. More than thirty years on I reflect with sadness on how different things might be now, if the State had got behind this work and properly supported kaupapa Maori solutions.
Genuine te Tiriti partnership can be challenging for those of us who come from different worldviews. But that’s what partnership is about: relationships, dialogue, and walking together towards our shared goal.
I am pleased to see so many people here to learn, to discuss practice and the latest research with your colleagues.
This conference is an opportunity for all of us to deepen our knowledge learn new things and meet new people to turn to for collaboration or advice. The program reflects the complexity of this work. It traverses policy developments, emerging research and data, lived experiences, and diverse community needs. It crosses the full spectrum of service response across family violence and sexual violence from prevention, crisis, healing, recovery and rehabilitation of harmful violent behaviours.
I am also thrilled about the wider collaboration this conference represents. It’s great to see the family violence and sexual violence sectors coming together and in doing that challenging the silos that your work has so often been divided into, including by government.
There’s been a long history of government focus see-sawing back and forth between sexual violence and family violence, which has meant no one has had the security and resources to really get into the shared underlying problems or learn from each other.
To end violence in this country it’s going to take all of us, and the fact you’ve come together in this conference gives me great heart. We are so much stronger together.
So, thank you all, conference organisers, staff, Boards, volunteers, and other helpers, for investing in this collaboration and bringing us all together, and for the work you do each and every day.
Challenging Conversations and Complicated Spaces
The theme of this inaugural conference is Challenging Conversations and Complicated Spaces.
Like you, I’m always up for a challenging conversation. I’ve worked in the same complicated spaces as you – and now I work in a very different complicated space: government. As the first person to ever hold a position in the Executive specifically focused on family violence and sexual violence, I’ve had to create my own map and find a path forward because there’s no precedent in Parliament for what we’re doing.
In this new government and this new role there is a huge opportunity to push reset on our ambitions and how we do things. We know an effective and sustained response requires:
- increasing transparency of government activity
- fundamentally resetting our partnership with Māori
- respecting and valuing specialists
- Moving away from a one size fits all approach
- And centering lived experiences and ensuring our systems and institutional responses are helping and not causing more harm
We’ve started on all those points.
One aspect I especially want to talk about today is how we are building not just engagement, but genuine partnership and Māori leadership into our work in a way no previous government has.
I know this is going to make a huge difference, and it’s only possible because I have had the advocacy, the expertise and the legacy of your sectors to build upon.
I have also experienced huge support from my ministerial and MP colleagues in these new directions.
The government response
In this room we all know the scale of the problem of FV and SV and the complexities of solving it. Today I am really pleased to take this opportunity to outline some of the achievements this coalition government has made in just our first two years. And to affirm my absolute conviction that this is only the beginning.
One of the first challenging conversations I had in my new role was to ask how we could ensure that the whole of Government was on the same page with this work – and what we could do differently to previous attempts which didn’t have the stickability, the resources or the accountability to endure.
That’s how the Joint Venture came about – with the leadership of Ministers and a Board of ten government chief executives with collective responsibility for government action in this area. The Joint Venture reports to Parliament and is supported by a business unit who act as a shepherd for the complicated job of connecting up all the different parts of the system and leading the changes we need across Government.
Interim Te Rōpū
One of those changes is how we, the Crown, work with Māori.
You’d have to be living under a rock not to recognise that business-as-usual has failed Māori, and as a result, all of us; in education, health, justice and our response to family violence and sexual violence.
We must centre Māori perspectives and expertise. That requires acknowledging the power of solutions within te Ao Maori for Maori and all of us.
So at the earliest opportunity, the Joint Venture put in place an interim Rōpū, consisting of Māori and sector leaders from around the country, many of whom are in this room today. Between them they have hundreds of years of specialist practice experience and a phenomenal amount of wisdom.
Te Rōpū is currently interim because government can’t just make a call on how Māori engage. So one of te Rōpū’s first jobs is leading the design of the enduring form of Māori-Crown partnership.
You’ll be hearing more about the Joint Venture at the end of the conference from its acting chair Andrew Kibblewhite, and more about Interim Te Rōpū from its chair, Prue Kapua, tomorrow morning. I just want to reaffirm that we know we are at the beginning of this work, and it’s going to change as we make progress. I’m excited by the opportunities ahead of us but also really committed to getting it right.
A significant achievement this year was the joint Budget package on family violence and sexual violence, which represents the largest contribution in a single Budget ever.
We’ve put more focus into prevention: more action in communities, and more people speaking out through the media.
We’re increasing services for children and adults who might be at risk of causing sexual harm to others, to help them stop.
We’re starting work to create and improve responses for migrant, disabled, and LGBTQIA+ communities.
We will build the tools and expertise and resources in every region to ensure every person affected by family violence can get the support they need when they need it.
The package expands specialist sexual violence services so that people can get help sooner to reduce the long-term impacts of the violence. And it begins to restore kaupapa Māori services across the country.
We know this process will take time. We are staging this work, because some of the infrastructure and resources we need simply aren’t in place, after decades of under-funding and insecurity. And we know we need to do this with, rather than to, communities.
Family Violence Acts
We have also amended our Family Violence Legislation, and many of you will have made submissions on this. New laws passed at the end of 2018 updated our legal definition of family violence, gave priority to the safety of victims, including children, and implemented new measures to stop perpetrators using violence.
We now have distinct offences relating to strangulation and coercion to marry. We’ve made practical changes to the duration of Police Safety Orders. We’ve made it clear that dowry abuse, and denying medicine or medical equipment are forms of family violence. This is about acknowledging specific dynamics which are often unrecognised or downplayed; and it’s about the people who experience these things knowing that what’s happening to them isn’t okay, and they can get help.
This legislation also strengthens our system-wide response to family violence, through initiatives like identifying family violence agencies in law and creating the ability to establish codes of practice.
Domestic Violence Victims' Protection Act
Alongside that, I was so stoked to see my Domestic Violence Victims’ Protection Bill become law – again, thanks to many people in this room who helped make it happen. This was truly a collective effort, and a world-first.
In concrete terms, it provides stability and support for people at work who are affected by domestic violence or caring for children affected by domestic violence. And at a broader level, it sends a really clear message that we all have a responsibility to provide that support, that family violence doesn’t just occur in the home, and that it impacts all of us.
Everyone in this room knows how much of an obstacle financial insecurity can be for people trying to escape violence. This is part of our response to that.
Sexual violence law reforms
By the end of this year we will introduce a Bill to improve the experience of sexual violence victims going through the criminal justice system. Again, this responds to calls for action which have been made since before I entered Parliament: to tighten the rules around evidence of a complainant’s sexual history, to make it clear judges have a role in debunking rape myths for juries, to provide alternative ways for victims to give evidence.
There is more work under way as well, around the role of juries, the definition of consent in law, and how alternative resolution processes could work safely and appropriately for sexual offending. This won’t be part of this year’s legislation, but I mention it to be really clear that this isn’t a quick fix or a silver bullet – it’s a long term piece of work.
Needs of the sectors going forward
And the law isn’t everything. The way law is implemented and enforced, the decisions made by government and the social norms that fuel and minimize violence are all things we need to address.
We all know that a safe, effective and integrated response to family violence and sexual violence requires the people working in government and in community organisations to be knowledgeable and properly resourced.
But for too long, funding levels, contract constraints and contracts that create competition and uncertainty have had a destabilising effect across the entire system. We know this is something we need to address and the government has work underway to explore how we can better contract and fund social services.
We know there has to be a better way, a way that allows you to do your mahi instead of worrying about keeping the doors open. This shows why we need the Joint Venture and its stewardship. We can do much better at aligning government processes and improving how we work with and support services.
National strategy and Interim Te Rōpū
I am adamant that we must focus on developing and implementing an achievable, measurable plan to get from where we are now to the violence-free future we all want.
That’s why the next big piece of work we are progressing is the national strategy and action plan.
This will set a clear direction, clarify the most critical objectives and identify what needs to happen not only in government but also in our communities. It will be whole-of-society plan.
Interim Te Rōpū are key to developing the strategy. They are bringing a whole set of fresh challenges to our thinking. They’re asking us to put whānau and families at the centre and respond to people’s needs in their social group or context, not just as individuals. That’s a big shift for government. They are asking us, too, to address the impacts of colonisation and confront the institutional racism and bias that continues to pose unnecessary barriers today.
Right now, Te Rōpū are working with the Ministers and Joint Venture CEs on this task. They are asking us to consider how government will share power and support and promote rangatiratanga, building a strong sense of agency within whānau and within communities to provide the foundations for our future.
And of course we aren’t starting with a blank slate. You have been really clear about what your priorities are for action are on family violence and sexual violence. We have heard from victims and survivors, and those wanting to stop using violence too. We are weaving in the research and recommendations from a huge number of reports over the last 30 years which are still frustratingly relevant today.
Once we have a draft we will be coming out to you to get your feedback before finalising the strategy.
Before closing, I want to reflect on my own experience, from almost 30 years ago, working for Refuge and volunteering on the HELP phone line. And yes, that was a silly idea.
In some ways we’ve come a long way, especially when it comes to recognising the impact of trauma, but victims of sexual assaults are still all too often scared to tell people what’s happened or if they do the violence is excused or minimised. And we’ve gone backwards in some senses – it’s much harder to find safe affordable housing and access adequate financial support; we used to have many more specialist kaupapa Maori services; and the complexity of issues people are struggling with has got worse.
I am deeply frustrated by the lack of progress, but I genuinely feel as if we have an historic opportunity to address the most glaring needs and to build the enduring, effective strategy to end family violence and sexual violence in Aotearoa New Zealand.
Time’s up on violence against whānau. Time’s up on gender-based violence. We are laying the foundations to address the impacts and drivers of violence.
It will need the energy of this community, to grab the opportunity, hold us to account and to keep up the momentum.
We can have families and communities living free of violence, and a country where violence is the aberration and not the everyday norm. It’s going to take us all working across our organisations and communities, each doing our own thing but united in our goal and with a clear map showing us how to get there.
Never forget that it is your drive, aroha and commitment that has kept hope alive, and will continue to push us forward to that violence-free future. Your willingness to sit in the complicated spaces raise your voices and have the challenging conversations make the difference.
I’m incredibly proud to be part of this unique and important moment, to be here and to open this conference of national networks, national bodies and local services, of people who are striving for the same goal and aspirations for our country.
Nā tō rourou, nā taku rourou ka ora ai te iwi.
Nō reira tena koutou tena tatou katoa.