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Flavell: Corrections (Mothers with Babies) Bill

Corrections (Mothers with Babies) Amendment Bill

Te Ururoa Flavell; Member of Parliament for Waiariki

Wednesday 28 June 2006; (delivered 8.05pm)

Kia ora anö tätou katoa.

The Maori Party has a vision for the nation that is about uplifting and strengthening whanau, and restoring thriving, positive whanau environments.

Whanau can be the site of generosity and respect in which our future success is shaped; and that can be whether one’s tupuna is Turei, Horomia, te Heuheu, or Kahui.

I was reminded about the importance of whanau these last two weeks. Unfortunately I have been to five tangi. In one case, a young woman from our kura was killed in a car crash, and I was with the police when I had to tell her father on Saturday that she had died.

Last Saturday a relation of mind had to bury his wife of 24 years. On Sunday a friend buried her 21 year old son, who died as a result of an asthma attack. When we have to experience burying our own, we realise the importance of whanau, no matter what ups and downs we ever have to go through.

It is for those reasons, that we will support this important legislation which extends the opportunities for children from six months to two years old to enjoy their fundamental rights of being with their mama.

These children have committed no crime, but the price they pay for their mother’s offending is steep.

Currently babies aged up to six months old, can stay with their mothers who are imprisoned. But we have to ask whether prison facilities are the best place to support the mental, emotional and physical development of a child?

Prisons, as they are at present, are not a safe or positive environment for women, babies or young children.

We are in a catch 22 situation - it is not a question of choosing between a good option and a bad option; it is a question of alternatives - each of which are problematic: separating a six month old baby from its mother, or isolating an infant from its wider whanau.

For whatever arrangements are made for the babies and children on the outside, the impact of their mother’s imprisonment affects every aspect of their lives.

The rest of their lives will bear the stigma of imprisonment, the trauma of isolation and separation experienced at such a critical stage of their development.

The introduction of this Bill is influenced by similar developments overseas. The Maori Party has been especially interested in developments for Aboriginal women in Australia.

Tauto Sansbury, Chair of the National Aboriginal Justice Advisory Committee, has identified the need for programmes to assist indigenous mothers and children; and I quote:

“In a population where incarceration rates have been so high for so long, we need to consider what the effect of this is upon the next generation -

the impact does not end with the generation that is in prison now...the impact will continue to be felt by every child who has been deprived of a parent, who has seen their parent locked up, who has known what it is to fear the justice system”.

When mothers are given a jail sentence, their children are given a life sentence.

They are sentenced to the effects of family separation; and the strength of whanaungatanga is restricted by the barriers of cell walls.

In this last fortnight, there has been a call for collective courage in addressing the issue of how best to care for children, for our tamariki.

These thoughts are fundamental to Te Ao Maori. Our well-being is intrinsically linked to the width and depth of our whanau network.

As a part of this, we absolutely believe that women need support to maintain contact with their children while they are incarcerated. The well-being of our children depends on appropriate support and education being readily on hand to ensure their needs are met.

The Maori Party is therefore supportive of the concept of a parenting agreement - particularly the provision that parenting education will be provided and the mother must participate.

We believe this is the key. If we want our children to be loved, to be nurtured, to be treasured, we need to assist our whanau to know how to do that.

I was thinking today - as I do most days - about my own five children.

When my wife and I had our first child, we lapped up the advice and stories that our whanau shared with us, eager to do everything just right. We took part in ante-natal classes, read the books, and talked to other young Mums and Dads.

But if there was one thing that helped me at that time, it was the belief that this newborn baby was our taonga. She was our legacy - our contribution back to our people - and she needed to be treasured as the precious hope of our future.

That way of thinking was strengthened as her brothers and sisters duly arrived. It is a way of thinking that reminds me of the honoured place they hold in our lives.

It is such a way of thinking that I hope this Corrections (Mothers with Babies ) Amendment Bill will nurture and develop. Kia ora tatou.


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