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Margaret Wilson & Steve Maharey Launch Paper

Guardianship Custody and Access Paper Launch - Margaret Wilson and Steve Maharey Speak

Margaret Wilson Speech Notes

Responsibilities for children – especially when parents part – speech at launch of the Ministry of Justice discussion paper

It is a great pleasure to launch this discussion paper along with my colleague The Honourable Steve Maharey Minister of Social Services and Employment.

This discussion paper marks the first step in a very important review of the Guardianship Act which is long overdue.

It is clear from the recent debate on shared parenting and the Shared Parenting Bill that the Guardianship Act no longer provides a satisfactory legal framework to deal with the diverse range of family that are now part of the fabric of New Zealand society. In particular the special needs of Maori and Pacific peoples need to be recognised and appropriately addressed.

We intend to promote debate, to listen, and identify issues.

I can tell you that the government does not have a set policy designed in anticipation of the results of the discussion and consultation.

The Ministry of Justice will analyse and summarise submissions on this discussion document and identify issues.

On the basis of the identification of those issues we can assess our present practices and policies and look at what new policy might be needed.

Then, assuming legislation is introduced, there will be a still further opportunity for submissions and consultation, including consultation with our coalition partner and other parties represented in parliament.

There is no point in closely reading the discussion paper to glean elements of an as-yet-unstated policy.

It is a discussion paper, pure and simple, which begins a long process.

Some will feel the process will take too long. But we have lived with the present law and its inadequacies since 1968, so I believe the democratic process of consultation will not be disproportinate in its duration.

The government is, however, concerned to ensure that legislation reflect the centrality of the interests of the child in matters of guardianship. We intend, also, to support parents in continuing to be loving and supportive parents after separation.

The government is, as we speak, establishing employment relations as human relationships and not as property relationships.

A similar approach will be reflected towards guardianship.

The language of the present law is couched in terms more appropriate to property – words such as "guardianship" itself, "custody" and "access" have overseas been replaced by words such as "parental responsibility" "residence" and "parenting plans".

This is but one issue among those raised in the more than 40 questions in this document.

The paper clearly describes the policy framework, the present law and key issues. I know there will be a wide range of views on those issues and look forward to seeing what people have to say after submission close at the end of November.

Our consultative approach extends to having more than one Minister involved in the launch of the discussion paper: as Associate Minister of Justice I now invite my colleague Steve Maharey, the Minister of Social Services not to take custody of the launch, but shared responsibility for it ..

Steve Maharey Speech Notes

Guardianship, Custody And Access Review

Introduction / mihi

I am delighted to join with my colleague Margaret Wilson, the Associate Minister of Justice, to launch the discussion paper Responsibilities for Children: Especially When Parents Part.

This paper reviews the law regarding guardianship, custody and access in New Zealand.

Framework for Child and Family Policy

The Government believes that the rights and interests of the child are paramount. We all want the very best that is possible for our children. We want to see children succeed and prosper. We want to see them happy and energetic. We want them to feel loved and valued.

Sometimes, when parents part, these wishes can be temporarily undermined or forgotten. Children can get caught up in big people’s issues. At such times there is a need for good policies and practices that we, as a country, have contributed to, accept, and seek to uphold. That way, we can ensure the brightest and most positive future for all of our coming generations. Our nation’s future.

Every one of us shares the responsibility of making sure that all children have the best start in life. When a relationship has ended, both parents should be encouraged to continue to play an active role in the life of their child. Our laws need to reflect this.

It is important too to appreciate that the end of a relationship is only one component of when parents part. The family situation prior to parents parting, and the ongoing parental relationships following separation are often very stressful times for all concerned.. The impact of such conflict has been shown to be a key factor in how well children adjust to their parents parting.

Diverse nature of New Zealand Families

Today many of our children are growing up in families where there have been changes in the family structure, and where there is a more diverse range of family circumstances.

The many cultures that make up our society each have their own particular view on what makes a family. This needs to be reflected in our policies and practices, and preserved in law. New Zealand’s current law on guardianship, custody and access arrangements contains little recognition of these diverse family formations, or of the key roles played by wider family members in the lives of our children and young people today.

For Maori, in particular, the current law does not adequately reflect the obligations and responsibilities that whanau and hapu consider they have for their tamariki. Whanau means something more than just birth parents and children. It includes a broader group of people – grandparents, aunts, uncles. These close ties need to be considered when thinking about the care of children when parents part.

Our current laws also do not take into account the importance to Pacific peoples of their cultural values and approaches to raising their children.

These gaps have adversely impacted on too many of our Maori and Pacific children. This review is very timely.

Family Relationships

Children thrive in strong families and in strong communities. Family relationships are very important to children’s wellbeing, socialisation, development, and their future participation in their country’s prosperity.

We need to encourage and support one another to develop strong family relationships, especially between children and parents, and between parents and other carers of children.

There needs to be greater emphasis placed on parent’s responsibilities to their children. A parent’s responsibility should never end simply because they do not live full-time with their child. This is a particularly important message for fathers of children from broken relationships. Children need the support and love of both their father and their mother and the law should ensure that this is possible unless there are compelling reasons otherwise.

Government wants to achieve this through promoting parental responsibility, positive parenting and increasing parenting skills, supporting relationships, and acknowledging the importance of cultural values, attitudes and practices.

Government’s Child and Family Policy

The launch of the discussion paper today, is part of the Government’s overall goals for child and family policy. This is part of a Child and Family Policy Strategy that will enhance the wellbeing of children and young people.

We want:
 To maximise children and young people’s opportunities
 To recognise their rights and interests
 To support parents and others in carrying out their responsibilities to their children
 To provide a policy and legal framework which recognises and allows for the diversity of family types and cultural beliefs and practices, and
 To provide a policy and legal framework, which promotes the range of ways in which parents and others carry out their responsibilities to their children

Children’s Policy Seminar

As part of this Strategy the Government held a Children’s Policy Seminar on 19 and 20 July. The Seminar launched the development of a policy and research agenda for all of New Zealand’s children. A draft of the agenda is being developed for wide consultation later this year.

We want to get the views of children and young people, Maori, Pacific peoples, children’s advocates, service providers, academics and researchers, along with the wider public. Once completed, the agenda will provide a framework for policy development and research for people under eighteen for the next five years.

The Ministry of Social Policy is leading the work on the agenda, in close collaboration with the Ministry of Youth Affairs. Other key groups including the Commissioner for Children, and the Children’s Policy Reference Group are also involved.

Dr Muriel Newman’s Shared Parenting Bill

In March this year the Government announced that it would not be supporting Dr Muriel Newman’s Shared Parenting Bill.

Although the Bill’s stated objectives were to promote fairness in child custody arrangements, after due consideration, the Government believed that the Bill was unlikely to realise or achieve them through its provisions.

Dr Newman’s Bill promoted a ‘one size fits all’ approach to custody arrangements, irrespective of ethnicity, family circumstances, and location of parents. In attempting to legislate preferred or favoured custody and access arrangements, the Bill placed the rights of parents above those of children, and as such, was inconsistent with the other key family laws in New Zealand.

This Government firmly believes that any laws in this area must have the child's rights and interests as the primary focus.

Today’s launching of the discussion paper on New Zealand’s guardianship, custody and access situation provides the opportunity and a sound forum to tease out many of these issues.

The Guardianship Review Discussion Paper

Many parents part with minimal disruption to the relationships they have with their children. However, where problems do occur, the rights and interests of children, and the rights and responsibilities custodial parents and non-custodial parents have can be compromised, especially in times of stress or crisis.

Sometimes parents cannot agree about the care of their children. Where there has been violence towards the children, or one or other of the parents, rules must to be set about future access arrangements.

In these circumstances, the Government has a role in ensuring that children’s rights and interests are protected, and that there are clear mechanisms in place to help families sort out their problems.

The discussion paper looks at the Government’s goals for family policy. It raises a number of questions on what we would like from our law on guardianship, custody and access for our children and young people.

This includes how parents can fulfil their parenting responsibilities in the best interests of their children when they part. It includes how to better recognise the role of wider family/whanau members and take into account the unique obligations and responsibilities that whanau and hapu have for their tamariki. Finally, it looks at whether changes need to be made to Family Court processes.

We are keen to hear your opinions and views. People have until the 30th of November to make a submission on these important issues. The submissions will then form the basis of a report, which will help the Government decide the future direction of guardianship, custody and access in New Zealand.

I strongly urge everyone with a concerned interest in this area to make a submission, and for you here today to let others know that the discussion paper is now available.

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