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Entrenched Welfare Dependency Must End

Dr Muriel Newman
Speech -- Social Welfare

General Debate Speech, Parliament, Wednesday, June 20, 2001

I want to address an issue that is deeply concerning New Zealanders – young and old, men and women alike – the killing of Lillybing has stunned the nation.

23 month old Lillybing, slow to grow, slow to walk and slow to talk, was described as a woebegone looking wee thing who never seemed to get enough cuddles.

At 699 days old, Lillybing was mutilated at the hand of her whanau. That she was tortured to death by someone she called auntie, shaken, burned, bruised and bleeding, is beyond comprehension. Auntie’s sister failed to help her. The sisters are now behind bars. Many say the six year sentence for killing the toddler was far too light. Most are outraged that they have refused to disclose the identity of the perpetrator of the sexual violation of Lillybing.

They have said that the identity of the person who inflicted potentially fatal vaginal injuries on the toddler was a “family affair”. The ‘wall of silence’ has prevented the truth coming out. During the sentencing, Police Inspector Rod Drew said: “Looseness and abuse of the extended family concept led in this case to people not taking direct responsibility for Lillybing. Those who should have been vitally interested all through thought someone else was caring for her”.

The tragedy of Lillybing highlights the grave concerns held by many New Zealanders over the government’s policy of placing at-risk Maori children in whanau care rather than, to use Hon Tariana Turia’s term, ‘stranger care’. The worry is that when a wider family takes on the role of raising a child, that child all too easily falls through the cracks. In an extended family with many caregivers, a child can be anywhere, nowhere. The reality is, as I’m sure anyone who has had children will testify, children need someone who is vitally interested in them all the time to watch over them. Children need intensive care and commitment. They need unmitigating, uncompromising love.

In contrast to Lillybing’s tragic experience of life, most babies come into the world as wanted babies. Mothers take care of themselves to ensure that the baby has the best possible start – no smoking, no drinking, a well balanced diet, and absolutely no drugs.

In those cases where the mother is not in a position to take care of her baby, then adoption is considered to be a realistic option. However, no matter what the individual circumstance, responsible mothers put the wellbeing of their baby first. Not only that, but they give their child a decent up-bringing – lots of love and care, good hygiene and housekeeping, a proper diet.

According to a recent article in the Listener, Lillybing grew up in a whanau where doing booze and drugs throughout pregnancy was not uncommon. She spent a great deal of her time in a home where there were, to quote: “Two rusting cars, one piled with fetid rubbish. There is a boarded window and the floors are filthy. There are kittens everywhere. None are house-trained”.

Although there was no money for plunket, nappies or farex, there is sufficient for booze, drugs, nightly takeaways, pokkies and housie. Violence is not unusual. Fraud is not unknown.

At the heart of this problem is misguided government policy. Thirty years of entrenched welfare dependency has created an underclass of New Zealanders. They have lost their sense of personal responsibility, expecting the government to do it all. As a result, they have poor values, little discipline, and as adults, they are very, very selfish, asking not what they can do to help themselves, but only what the government can do for them. The children in these homes are at huge risk – not necessarily because they are not loved, because all the families say how much they loved Lillybing, James Whakaruru, Anaaru Rogers and all of the others who were tortured and killed – but because their parents have lost the values of their forefathers who lived in the age when welfare was a safety net, before it corrupted.

Merepeka Ruakawa Tait, the Head of Women’s Refuge had this to say about Lillybing: “This has to be stopped. I have the greatest concern for Maori and where we are going. I suspect we have already lost the next generation: they’ve already learnt to communicate with the biff and the boot and the bash. This is a drag on our country: in terms of dollars in terms of lost potential. Nothing, nothing gets sorted out behind closed doors. We have gutless leadership in families. What we need is someone with courage in every family to speak up and break the chain of violence; to stop the parade of little girls under four with ripped vaginas. And right now I would say that the commitment to change is only lukewarm”.

I say to the government that giving welfare to fit and able men and women has been responsible for holding this country back. It has done more to disadvantage the Maori people and to destroy the Maori family than anything else. This Government has shown, with tragic consequences, that it is coming up with the wrong answers to New Zealand’s growing blight of intergenerational welfare dependency. Unless we restore the concept of welfare as a short-term helping hand for the disadvantaged we as a society will continue to suffer in countless ways for Government failings in this area.


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