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Announcement Of "Stop The Hurt" Conference

"The time has come to take serious action on the issue of child abuse and start examining the possible solutions to a problem which has already claimed many young lives and scarred many more," National's Social Services Spokesperson Bob Simcock said today.

Mr Simcock has announced that he is convening a conference at Parliament on October the 27th to examine whether mandatory reporting would work in limiting the number of children suffering injury, and death, at the hands of adults.

"Recent cases of sickening abuse have justifiably filled the public with outrage and a fervent wish that such injustices must not happen again. The sad reality is that they will. But the experts, the groups working with at-risk children and the politicians have a duty to try to reduce the frequency with which young lives are marred or ended," Mr Simcock said.

"Too much time has been spent squabbling over whether this is a Maori problem, a non-Maori problem, a socio-economic problem. The bottom line is it's a problem, and it is one which must not be ignored.

"The names of children like James Whakaruru and Delcelia Witika fade from the headlines. But the problem won't disappear unless people stop arguing over who is to blame and start finding the solutions.

"In most murder cases police are suddenly presented with a victim. But in most cases of death resulting from child abuse there is a pattern of brutality, which culminates in a final fatal assault. The victims in these cases might be saved if the system was equipped to spot the warning signs.

"These are victims who cannot protect themselves. If there is one thing which must surely cut across party lines and unite all of those in positions of authority, it is that society has an absolute duty of care for its children.

"I don't know if mandatory reporting is the answer. But its advocates argue that it has worked well overseas. Any glimmer of hope must be weighed up seriously when the alternative is the unbearable horror of seeing another child's coffin lowered into the ground.

"The conference I have announced today will weigh up the pros and cons of mandatory reporting, and debate how such a system might best be structured, and whether the positives of such a scheme would outweigh the negatives.

"It won't be just another talk-fest because it is examining a hard, solid, practical option, which might have a real impact on the incidence of brutal attacks on New Zealand children.

"Any group with a view on this issue will be welcome at the conference. Already groups such as Barnardos, Women's Refuge, Paediatricians and Parentline have shown interest in participating. I will also invite other political parties. However the real role of politicians comes later in the piece and the focus of this forum is allowing the public and interested groups to have their say.

"It would be pointless going into such a conference with a pre-determined outcome in mind. That's why I'm delighted that Children's Commissioner Roger McClay has agreed to chair the conference. His role, as an independent facilitator, is to encourage and promote a free flow of ideas.

"I want to make it absolutely clear from the outset that Mr McClay is not engaging in partisan activity by chairing this conference. His position is one of independence, and his involvement does not constitute an endorsement of any National party policies. He was approached because of his expertise in the field of child welfare, which puts him in an ideal position to facilitate open and rational discussion.

"It would be foolish to imagine everyone will finish the conference with a single agreed agenda. But the aim is to hold a comprehensive discussion of mandatory reporting systems, set against the backdrop of New Zealand society. This will be compiled into a document.

"It won't be a political document, and it is my intention to provide copies to all political parties to help their understanding and assist in the development of a cross-party solution.

"This problem is too real and its consequences too tragic to be used as a political football. I am pleased that Social Services Minister Steve Maharey has endorsed Roger McClay's participation. My sincere hope is that the results of this conference will help all politicians focus on the real issues surrounding a possible solution to the problem.

"Words are not enough. In isolation they ring hollow and do nothing to ease the pain of a bruise, a cut, a mother's or grandfather's broken heart. But words which lead to a possible solution are a different matter.

"I sincerely hope that all of you, the public, the media, the politicians will help make this conference all it can be. We would be doing a great disservice to our children, the future of our country, if we did anything less," Mr Simcock said.

Ends

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