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Tariana Turia: Child Support Amendment Bill [no 4]

Child Support Amendment Bill [no 4].

Tariana Turia, Co-leader, Maori Party

Thursday 15 June 2006

Eight years ago there was a cunning piece of advertising conjured up by the IRD to promote child support.

It featured a young boy, who dejected and forlorn, is unable to play a good old game of soccer, all due to the baddie, his daddy, who had supposedly failed to provide child support.

Ostracized to the sideline by the coach and his peers, the lad provides a visible focus for New Zealanders to express their outrage about the blatant negligence of the liable parent.

The suffering child provoked an immediate controversy with the Children’s Agenda, The Child Poverty Action Group, the Centre for Child and Family Studies at Auckland University, the Hillary Commission, and even the Soccer Association all speaking out loud about how misleading the picture was.

Although it managed barely a two-week run, the impact was enormous, with public perception fuelled that the liable parent wasn’t paying his dues (and it is normally a ‘his’) leaving poor old public taxpayers forking out, yet again.

It reinforced an impression that the D in DPB stands for deviant.

In actual fact, the D for Deviant was solely the IRD.

For the caregiver parent on the DPB pays liable funds direct to the IRD - not for soccer, not for food, not for piano, not the school bus. It is a direct transaction to the IRD which bears little reference to how the individual child support payment is used.

The Maori Party is pleased to stand today on behalf of that soccer player and both his parents - custodial and non-custodial - and support a Bill which will help to lift some of that discrimination.

It would be fair to say that the outrage and anxiety of the general public around the issue of child support was also represented among the 35 submissions received on the Child Support Amendment Bill no 4.

Some of the women with sole custody of their children, relayed how their ex-partner had structured their financial affairs to reduce their personal incomes, thus lessening their financial liability.

We all know of anecdotes where wealthy liable parents have somehow been able to avoid their responsibilities by hiding their income source.

The Bill addresses this situation by allowing IRD to investigate a liable parent’s true economic income and enable this information to be used in the administrative review process.

Yet other submitters expressed a high level of concern over this aspect, perceiving it to be part of the Snooper Surveillance culture that this Government likes to fall into.

The Institute of Chartered Accountants suggested that levels of child support were a matter for parents to settle and that the IRD should not be able to interfere in that process.

While we are always opposed to any move which invades personal privacy, or which intervenes and affects the possibility of achieving effective relationships of whanau, our over-riding concern in this specific instance, must be the well-being of the children.

The key driver for this Bill is in ensuring the responsibilities and obligations of parenting are duly respected so that our tamariki don’t miss out.

The Maori Party is absolutely committed to any policy which can be applied to support Whanau Development. To truly consider whanau development, requires a revolution in the thinking of tangata whenua and the Crown.

The imposition of Crown programmes being “Done To” whanau does nothing but increase dependency upon a benevolent state.

The revolution is in how we consider whanau, how we harness its strengths, potential and talent.

We can encourage whanau development by supporting fathers to become involved with their children. This Bill does that - making it easier for the non-custodial parent to contribute to paying child support.

I have a lot of sympathies for father who, through the decisions of the Family Court, end up missing out on the special privilege of parenting.

I firmly believe that no-one should raise a child alone. It is the whakapapa right of every child to know their parents - whether or not they live in the same home.

I am also concerned that in restricting access to the father, we are also denying the children the unique knowledge and experience that springs from relationships with their father and their extended family.

It was with considerable sadness that we read the submissions from fathers, describing how their ex-partners who have custody, were exploiting their generosity. Some of them expressed a belief that the custodial parent was refusing to share custody out of fear that they would receive less money.

The submissions revealed tales of men wanting to protect themselves from money-grabbing women, or women victimised by men's economic power. They tell of a resentment which builds from custodial decisions, a resentment which manifests itself in a battle between parents, a resentment for which the child suffers.

Our sadness was focused on the avoidance of parental responsibility which came through these concerns.

We are absolutely clear that trying to make do on meagre benefits, is an enormous struggle. Whanau face huge difficulties, every day, to feed, clothe, house, care for and educate their children.

The child support system has been seen in the midst of that struggle, to cut across any possibility of better relationships between divided families sharing children.

Too often the bitterness and distrust experienced within the parental relationship, colours the nature of parenting received by the child.

But in a Maori world view, parenting is not the sole domain of the birth or whakapapa parents.

Kuni Jenkins describes the interaction of parents and their children with the rest of the whanau in the following terms:

“the Maori woman was part of a community. The home unit was part of the whole kainga. Grandmothers, aunts and other females and male elders were responsible for rearing the children of that kainga. The natural parents were not the sole care-givers . . .”

The Maori Party is committed towards the restoration of obligations and responsibilities and roles to strengthen whanaungatanga.

Whilst the Child Support Amendment Bill focuses on the levels and application of financial support, we are determined to promote the massive resource that is available for children and parents, within the embrace of the wider whanau.

Although the Bill's changes are basically intended to increase compliance with the existing liability assessment formula, we believe that there is another formula for success just waiting to be revealed within the layers of whakapapa.

Justice and fairness requires that all children are able to maintain their genealogical links to the ancestral treasures into which they are born.

Child Support must support every child to know their birth right, to identify their history, and to live out their ancestral aspirations.

Parents, whanau and hapu have the responsibility of upholding, enforcing and maintaining the cultural values within the whanau. It is a collective responsibility - not reserved only for the exclusive role of two parents.

The expression, 'children can shed tears but the embarrassment is the parents' - conveys some of the nature of the mutual play between child and whanau.

The way in which children are raised and whether they have been taught the appropriate values is reflected in how they behave - and rather than an individual thing - the shame or glory, the embarrassment or pride, reflects on the whole whanau.

I remember many excruciating moments as a child, knowing that one wrong word, one careless action, would reflect on my Aunty Wai, my grandmother, my aunties, my uncles, my cousins and beyond….

This is not, and does not, have to be just the preserve of tangata whenua. I’m often intrigued in this house how a crisis say for a Maori family is deemed the problem of the Maori MPs only. It’s an extension of what happens in many school communities, where a Maori teacher becomes responsible for all the Maori problems - even if sometimes the problem is actually the way the non-Maori teacher may be teaching.

We can all take responsibility for each other, and the Maori Party wants to encourage and foster that sense of collective responsibility which is essential to a caring community.

Whanaungatanga has its costs - and that cost is collective accountability.

But it also yields such richness through the reciprocal obligations and ownership which means whether in a crowd or on your own, you are never alone.

Children are the hope of our future, the foundation of all our futures.

We must take every step foward to consolidate that foundation, to make it secure, stable and strong.

The Child Support Amendment Act is one step along the way to achieving that foundation.

The rest is up to all of us. All of us.

ENDS

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