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Peter Dunne Speech to Union of Fathers, Tawa

Peter Dunne Speech to Union of Fathers, Tawa

Tonight I'd like to talk about United Future's position on some key pieces of legislation that affect the family, as well as making some general observations about the government's social agenda.

As you may know, almost a year ago we made an agreement to support Labour as a minority government, but reserve the right to disagree on any area of legislation.

One of the concessions that we won from these negotiations was the establishment of the Families Commission.

There is quite a bit of misunderstanding around about what the Families Commission will do, thanks to some mischievous work by other parties.

It does not aim to replicate the work of other social service agencies. Its role is to ensure that the role of the family as the cornerstone of society is upheld.

So when the government wants to pass a law, the Families Commission will be able to check it to make sure that it is not bad for families.

We decided to adopt a broad definition of family, and this has been the subject of some uninformed criticism.

Our reason was simple - children do not choose the type of family they are born into. To be effective, the Families Commission needs the power to speak for all families.

But that does not mean United Future has no view about the most desirable family structure.

We do. The most successful family unit is Mum, Dad and the kids. That is also a biological reality.

But circumstances often mean that this cannot be the case, and we cannot, in all good conscience, abandon those who live in different family structures.

We also believe that every child has the right to care and attention of both parents - whether or not they are residing under the same roof.

United Future is very excited about the possibilities that the Families Commission will create, and the positive impact that it will have on families.

However, we are also very concerned about some of the legislation that Labour has planned, because we believe that it will have a very different effect on the family as we know it.

The Care of Children Bill is a classic example.

I'm sure that I do not need to convince you that our guardianship laws are in need of a radical overhaul.

When we first heard that the government was planning to introduce a Bill to this effect, we became very interested. We were pleased to see some sensible changes proposed by the Bill.

For example, a biological father will automatically become a guardian if he lives with the child's mother at any time from conception to birth. And even if he doesn't, he has the right to apply to the Family Court to be appointed a guardian.

However, our optimism soon faded when we became more familiar with the rest of the contents of the Care of Children Bill.

United Future will not support the bill because it has clearly been hijacked by the thought-police within Labour's ranks.

The definition of 'father' in the bill is so wide open that it could include the lesbian partner of a mother. Well I'm very sorry to break it to the government, but dads are dads, and no amount of dismissing what has happened as a drafting technicality will change that.

Other provisions in the bill mean that after just one month in a relationship with a custodial parent, someone could apply for guardianship of a child.

This is just bizarre. It takes you three years in a relationship before you can get your partner's sofa under the Property Relationships Act, and yet this Bill would give you one month to take on a role so pivotal to a child's life that it could change its direction forever.

United Future is acutely aware that children do best when both mum and dad are involved in their upbringing, and we strongly believe that the Care of Children Bill needs to focus on ensuring that this happens, rather than creating new and artificial legal relationships with children.

There are also still critical areas which the new legislation is simply silent upon. For example, United Future has long favoured the concept of joint custody arrangements and we are disappointed the new guardianship laws will not take us very much further down the path of promoting joint custody as an attainable option for many divided families and children.

We are also concerned that many of the more controversial issues surrounding the Family Court are left in abeyance. While we do not support calls for the dismissal of the Principal Family Court Judge, we do think there needs to be significant reform of the Family Court to make its operation more efficient; its processes more compassionate; and its judgements more realistic in terms of the individual circumstances faced.

In this context, let me comment briefly on the current case involving the Hon Dr Nick Smith MP. I am no admirer of his, and think that in many cases he is the author of his own misfortune. However, I find the actions of the Solicitor General to initiate contempt proceedings against him for speaking about a Family Court case to be both extremely distasteful and a potentially serious threat to the right of not only Dr Smith, but all MPs, to speak out on behalf of their constituents if the situation warrants it.

We are moving into very dangerous ground here, and while there may be good grounds for action against Dr Smith, we have to wonder about the wider implications for free speech, and whether in that regard the price of a vendetta against a hapless MP is too great a cost for our society to reasonably bear.

But¸ back to my primary theme.

Unfortunately, the practice of corrupting worthwhile legislation with political correctness is becoming a habit for this government.

Since Michael Joseph Savage, Labour governments have sought to improve the lot of those whose socio-economic status otherwise denied them equitable participation in our society.

But unlike all of its predecessors, this Labour government, aided and abetted by the Greens, does not seem to be satisfied with these traditional goals of ensuring that everyone has access to things like education, health and social services.

This government wants to tell us all what to think as well.

Take the recent move by Labour to adopt the Civil Union Bill as government policy.

It is claimed that this legislation will allow de facto and same sex couples to legally register their relationship, and even have a civil ceremony.

The argument that this will assist different sex couples who don't want all the hoopla or spiritual elements of a traditional wedding just doesn't wash, since many couples already get married with little fuss by a civil celebrant.

The real agenda of this Bill is to make homosexual relationships as close as possible to a marriage in the eyes of the law.

It may be called a civil union, but does anyone believe for one moment that gay couples who 'unite' under this law won't consider themselves to be married?

I think that New Zealand society has progressed to a stage whereby we are tolerant of alternative lifestyles, as long as it remains a private affair.

But many will baulk at the idea that the nature of marriage, an institution that also exists outside narrow legal definition, is being altered in this way without their consent.

Marriage is part of a tradition that we keep alive as a part of our culture. It's not just something that is written in our law books, able to be changed by the stroke of a politician's pen.

So when did the government ask you whether it could change the institution of marriage?

Since when did we vote for a government so they could turn around and try to make us change the way we think?

Perhaps the most telling aspect of this agenda is the message it sends to the country about the government's priorities.

People could quite rightly ask why this Bill is being promoted ahead of measures that could actually have a demonstrable impact on their lives.

Why are we putting gay marriages before making sure that there are enough police on our streets?

Before ensuring that the sick get quick and effective treatment at our hospitals?

Before unclogging our roads and before giving our kids the education they need to survive in an increasingly complex world?

If there's some pressing need for this, then someone better tell the government's own officials and the people of New Zealand.

The Ministry of Social Development released a report into the state of the nation last week.

If you look up discrimination in the report you will find the results of a survey, where everyday people were asked which groups they thought were being discriminated against in New Zealand.

The group that people thought were discriminated against the most were Asians, followed by recent immigrants, then refugees.

Then came people on welfare, Pacific people, and people who are overweight, and then came gays and lesbians, well back in the pack. And even then, gays and lesbians are all less likely to be considered the targets of discrimination now than they were three years ago.

So where is the demand for this kind of radical social reform?

Let's not forget the other ways in which the government is putting political correctness before political reality

There's the Smoke Free Bill, which would stop people lighting-up in bars.

The Labour MP promoting this Bill has admitted that the government would not make further changes to smoking laws for another five years, but what is it planning after that?

A total ban on smoking?

How about the issue over Maori claims over the foreshore and seabed?

It is simply not good enough that senior Ministers are negotiating secretly with their own Maori MPs on this issue, while New Zealand families are left wondering whether they can freely go to the beach or cast a fishing line into the water.

Not to mention the country's marine farmers who are wondering just who owns the areas they use for their industry.

Yet we said from day one that we would support any government legislation that made it clear that all New Zealanders own the foreshore and the seabed.

Labour ministers have abandoned their duty to act in the interests of the whole community, and are instead putting favoured minority claims first.

This can only lead to further racial tension.

These are the kinds of things that separate us from the government.

I understand that Muriel Newman from ACT spoke to you last week.

ACT is in the position of being able to say some pretty extreme things about what it would do, without ever having to back it up.

Because it is so ideological, its attitude towards any government that doesn't exactly follow its line is almost completely negative.

It should then come as no surprise to learn that since the election, ACT have only supported a third of all bills that the government has passed.

But just to give you an idea of how non-controversial most of those bills are, National have supported two thirds.

We in United Future are much more realistic than that.

We recognise that other people can have good ideas, and that's why we are the only party that can work with either Labour or National, once they get their act together.

But we are also the only party that can moderate the extremes of the left and right, if National go back to the days of Ruth Richardson, or if Labour lurch too far back to their socialist roots.

Since the election last year, United Future has supported Labour when its plans to improve the core role of government have made common sense, and we will continue to do so.

Unfortunately, the cards that the voters dealt out at the election mean that the only other viable government arrangement - apart from the current confidence and supply arrangement with United Future - would have been in which Labour was totally reliant on the Greens. That was why we entered the confidence and supply agreement because it means we are able to influence Labour, moderate its actions from time to time, and have some of our key policies introduced, at the same time as making MMP work at last.

Even so, Labour can still turn to the Greens to advance its more extreme agenda, if we fail to back it. That is the nature of democracy.

For their part, the Greens are willing accomplices. They are already pressuring the government to make criminals out of parents who choose to discipline their children in a reasonable way.

All of these attempts by elements within Labour to tell us how to live adds up to 'pink think' of the worst kind.

What's also clear is that they appear to be willing to use legislation to force New Zealanders to see things their way.

But perhaps the most unsavoury outcome of this crusade is the guilt that it implies we must feel if we happen to think differently.

That we must be a bunch of rednecks if we happen to think that fathers should be men.

If we believe that marriage is a union between a husband and a wife.

Or if we think that everyone should be able to take the kids down to the coast for a bit of fishing without permission from the local iwi.

It is not the role of government to change the way we think.

That is a prerogative that can only be exercised by ourselves, and it is one that United Future is dedicated to preserving.

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