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No Families In Families Commission


No Families In Families Commission

Heather Roy Speech to ACT members and supporters; Leader's Brunch; the Backbencher; Sunday June 27, 2004

Last Wednesday, Prime Minister Helen Clark announced the appointment of, not one but, six commissioners to United Future Leader Peter Dunne's Families Commission.

The line up included former race relations conciliator and social worker of 30 years Rajen Prasad as Chief Commissioner, and former Human Rights commissioner Carolyn Bull.

The Families Commission itself is to be formally established on July 1 - we can expect to see the Prime Minister telling Kiwis that families are the cornerstone of society, and that a broad definition of `family' is essential.

We can also expect to see Peter Dunne singing his own praises - of his success in representing the families of `middle New Zealand' - and carefully avoiding any talk of how civil unions might be served by a commission catering for families.

You can, however, expect ACT to tell the truth. The emperor has no clothes. Mr Dune's commission is nothing more than a Labour acknowledgement that United Future has faithfully provided the numbers to allow it to pass legislation that Peter Dunne himself campaigned against at the last election.

The Families Commission is a sop to United Future for its support and, despite the talk, I predict that it will not protect a single at-risk child from abuse, or assist one struggling New Zealand family.

The Government, no doubt, thought that it was buying support very cheaply - but the $28 million allocated for the Families Commission represents the diversion of money away from real problems and, more seriously, represents a broader policy problem of too many chiefs and not enough Indians.

The question everyone is asking is, of course, "what will the Families Commission do?"

The Families Commission has three core roles: advocacy, research and policy input, and analysis. These functions that already exist in the Social Development Ministry, which is charged with the policy work, while the Department of Child, Youth and Family takes care of the practical implementation.

Everyone is already well aware of the problems facing CYF which - despite a very committed staff - is failing thanks to a flawed system. Setting up another Government body - the Families Commission - will solve nothing.

The Families Commission Act makes for interesting reading. Only six of its 62 clauses actually mention the family. The rest are more concerned with the working conditions of employees, and the rights and entitlements of Commissioners. These include superannuation entitlements, insurance provisions, and immunity of members and employees from civil liability - meaning that Commissioners and employees will bear no responsibility for the decisions they make.

This legislation makes it clear that the families set to benefit most from the Families Commission will be those of the Commissioners, employees and members.

In the course of this debate there has been much discussion about the definitions of `family' - which is provided in clause 10 of the Families Commission Act - debate which, I am sure, would have greatly puzzled our grandparents.

Families have existed since Adam and Eve, and have largely done very well without Government interference. The more pertinent question is: "why do we have families?" The answer, primarily, is for the protection of children.

The key to well-functioning families is good parenting within a framework of minimal social policy that assists those that are struggling, but leaves the rest to make their own decisions - without Government interference.

Peter Dunne knows what is in the best interests of New Zealand families - I have stood on election meeting stages with him while he advocated support for the many community-based groups providing services and mentoring for struggling families and at-risk children. Mr Dunne knows that lower taxes are in the interests of Kiwi families, yet is happy for these same families to have to fork out to fund his Families Commission.

Mr Dunne also knows that ACT and National have always advocated family-friendly policies because, in the last Parliament, he voted along those lines with us.

Instead of doing what he knows to be right, however, Peter Dunne's legacy will be yet another commission with even more commissioners that will talk and consult and make recommendations. More political solutions for practical problems.

So watch out this week for self-congratulation along with the Families Commission announcements.

But I predict that the Families Commission will prove to be nothing more than a politically correct talkfest that will help not one single at-risk child or struggling family. The Families Commission must be de-commissioned when ACT and National are the government after the next election - preferably by morning tea time, and just before the disbanding of the Ministry of Women's Affairs.


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