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Families Commission Bill first reading

Hon Steve Maharey
13 May 2003 Speech Notes

Families Commission Bill first reading

Mr Speaker I move that the Families Commission Bill be now read a first time. At the appropriate time I will be moving that the Bill be referred to the Social Services Committee.

Families play an important role in the lives of their members. They provide emotional, psychological and material support, nurture and protect children and other vulnerable family members, and pass on culture, knowledge and obligations.

Supporting families was an important element in Labour, the Progressive Coalition and United Future’s pre election policies. This Government is committed to supporting families and children and this Bill is evidence that these commitments are being honoured.

The Bill establishes a new Crown entity to be known as the Families Commission. The Bill gives effect to the undertaking in the Agreement for Confidence and Supply between the Government and United Future New Zealand.

The Bill establishes a Commission with a clear purpose. The Commission will promote the interests of the full range of families in New Zealand and promote better understanding of family issues and needs amongst government agencies and in the wider community.

A number of government agencies already play a significant role in the provision of family policy, services and research. It is not intended that the Families Commission should replicate these functions. The Commission’s main function will be to act as an advocate for the interests of families generally. The Commission will not take on any individual family’s cases or issues.

It will have additional functions to assist it to effectively perform its advocacy function.

The Commission will:
- encourage and facilitate informed debate on matters relating to the interests of families across sectors and involving the general public;
- increase public awareness and prompt better understanding of matters relating to the interests of families including the importance of stable family relationships and the rights and responsibilities of parents;
- encourage and facilitate the development and provision of policies and services designed to promote or serve the interests of families;
- consider and report on any matters relating to families that are referred to it by any Minister of the Crown;
- stimulate and promote research into any matter relating to the interests of families, for example:
- by collecting and disseminating research about families and their interests;
- by advising on research priorities or gaps;
- by contracting for research on families; and
- undertake any incidental functions related to its main function or any of its additional functions.

Mr Speaker, this Bill establishes a Commission that will be responsive to the needs, interests and priorities of all New Zealand families.

Many New Zealand families are couples with children. However, families are much more diverse than this. They include: single household nuclear families; extended families and wider kinship groupings; Maori whanau, customary structures in our Pacific and Asian communities; families than span generations; families dispersed across households; and families created through second and subsequent unions.

The Bill requires the Families Commission to take an inclusive approach to New Zealand families and to concern itself with the issues faced by all New Zealand families, as well as by specific types of families.

While it is important the Commission has a degree of independence from government, the Bill sets out guidance to the Commission in terms of both its scope and priorities, as a set of matters to which the Commission must have regard.

Firstly, in the exercise and performance of its powers and functions the Commission must have regard to any policies and priorities of the Government that relate to the Commission’s functions and that are communicated to the Commission in writing by the Minister (these directions must be discussed with the Commission before they are given).

This provision is in line with the framework approved by Government and proposed for application to all Crown entities. This envisages that a responsible Minister may direct an autonomous Crown entity to have regard to a government policy that relates to the entity’s functions.

Secondly, the Commission must have regard to the diversity of New Zealand families and family groups, which have many different forms and structures.

Finally, the Families Commission must have regard to the needs, values, and beliefs of particular groups:
- Mâori as tangata whenua;
- Pacific Islands peoples of New Zealand; and
- other ethnic and cultural groups in New Zealand.

Mr Speaker, I am pleased that Labour’s manifesto commitment to establish a parenting council is honoured through the creation of the Families Commission.

The Commission provides the opportunity to draw on expertise from the government, community and academic sectors to co-ordinate a joined up approach to the issue of parenting, to promote the importance of parenting and to give advice on the development and implementation of new programmes supporting parenting. These objectives motivated our manifesto commitment to establish a Parenting Council.

I intend to use the Bill’s requirement that the Commission have regard to any general policy in relation to families or any statement of the priorities of the Government in relation to families to communicate to the Commission that an important immediate priority for it should be a focus on families caring for children or other dependents.

These other caring roles may include caring for ageing parents, or adult family members with disabilities.

Successful parenting is crucial to the overall strategy of creating a knowledge society.

Sound parenting is vital if children are to grow up to be dependable adults. Sound parenting is essential if children are able to take up the challenge of further education and successful employment. In short, sound parenting is crucial to creating a prosperous, innovative society in which all can realise their ambitions.

The knowledge economy is truly born in the home, nurtured by parents and supported by the family.

It is, therefore, important that the Commission have a focus on parenting.

It is also important that the Families Commission be responsive to the broad range of families in New Zealand and their interests. The Commission will therefore be required to establish mechanisms to obtain the views of various communities of interest, namely:
- Mâori as tangata whenua;
- Pacific peoples, cultural or ethnic groups in New Zealand, and
- groups with particular interests in families and the functions of the Commission (for example groups representing parents, fathering interests, children and young people and groups representing their interests, women, service providers, academics, researchers, family law specialists, and employers and workers).

Mr Speaker, the Bill establishes the Families Commission as an autonomous Crown entity for the purposes of the Public Finance Act 1989. This is the best structure to ensure that the Commission has the degree of independence from Government necessary for it to effectively promote the interests of families and advocate for families.

The Bill provides for up to seven Commissioners to be appointed. This will allow Government to appoint a Commission that can be responsive to the diversity of families in contemporary New Zealand.

Finally, Mr Speaker, the Bill sets out a range of operational and organisational matters. These matters are generally consistent with the Government’s framework for Crown entities. These matters include:
- providing the Commission with powers of delegation;
- allowing the Commission to appoint Committees;
- providing for the appointment of a general manager;
- requiring the Commission to produce an annual report; and
- providing for Ministerial powers of review of the Commission’s operation and performance.

This Bill will establish a Families Commission that will greatly advance the interests of all families in New Zealand. The research role of the Commission will advance our understanding of the needs and interests of families. Finally, the Commission’s contribution to policy development as a key stakeholder will ensure that the needs and priorities of families are properly considered when government is developing new initiatives.

I commend this Bill to the House.


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