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Heather Roy's Diary

Heather Roy's Diary

The tragic deaths of twin boys Chris and Cru Kahui has still been very
much on the minds of the New Zealand public this week. Radio talkback is
still running hot and everwhere I go people express their horror at what
must have been a terrible end to their short lives. No charges have been
laid but it is widely thought that they died from injuries caused by
physical violence. The refusal of the family to co-operate with police
added to the dismay and comments by those close to the family such as
that the silence is due to the family being in the "mystical realm of
tangi" show that something has gone badly wrong in a society that is
prepared to accept firstly such behaviour, and secondly such excuses.

The deaths of the twins was reminiscent of the death of Lillybing
Matiaha at Masterton in 2000. The similarity was underlined by news that
Lillybing's mother, Terina Matiaha, has had twin sons this year and that
one died, seemingly of cot death, at Masterton Hospital on 4 June, 2006.

The Political Reaction

There was no shortage of political comment and a cross party committee
was convened last Wednesday at which I represented ACT. There is nothing
new about the Kahui case but for some reason it has caught the attention
of all New Zealand and at last people are crying ‘enough'. It is
the latest in a long string of child abuse deaths, each of them equally
distressing when details are revealed of what these infants and children
suffered in their short lives. The cross party meeting was more of a
government briefing. A taskforce report is due to be published in two
weeks and the government has volunteered to share it with other parties
as soon as it has been through cabinet. My fear is that we will simply
see more meetings, more reports and more recommendations, without any
action. After all, we have had a Families Commission for 2 years that
has produced well-reasoned reports which go nowhere - our babies and
children are still being abused.

My Views

When I gave my maiden speech in parliament in 2002 I said the following:

"...our current policies are failing dramatically in the social areas
and failing dramatically in the area of the family. As a society we are
failing to protect our children from abuse. Every day we seem to hear
heart-rending stories of abused and murdered children. Their life
details are so violent that I cannot read their full stories because I
find them too distressing.

To suggest change in social policy means that it is necessary to take a
look at the nature of the state and its relationship to the family. It
was once adequate for the state simply to provide for the family's
physical protection and the family was left to care for itself. However
the state has replaced the breadwinner in many homes producing
fatherless families."

Attitudes in New Zealand

In the reporting of the Kahui twins tragedy there has been too much
emphasis on race. It is true that Maori have a higher rate of child
abuse than the national average but the problems with the social fabric
in New Zealand are not confined to Maori. In fact, the problems are
international as shown by this quote from a British book, "The Welfare
State We're In" by James Bartholomew:

"In the crime epidemic, children have been particularly badly hit -
often literally."

The author then reproduced a graph entitled "Babies: the most commonly
killed people in modern Britain". Clearly, we in New Zealand, are not
alone with our problems. Some people have argued that murders constitute
only a small proportion of total child deaths and that we need to try
and keep things in perspective. However we all know that for every child
who dies, there are hundreds or thousands who endure severe beatings.

When a case comes to light, Child, Youth and Family (CYF) are asked to
investigate. They have to decide if the child is safe in their home.
There is no easy answer, as it takes the wisdom of Solomon to know when
to remove a child from a family, and the whole area is fraught with
uncertainty. I knew one family who lived in a small rural town. The
parents were having difficulty controlling the behaviour of their
adolescent son and were in despair. One day the son burnt down their hay
barn and the father administered a beating with the flex of an electric
kettle. The father was charged with assault and served three months in
jail, to the great distress of his wife who had no hope of dealing with
her delinquent son alone. It is hard to see who benefited from the
father's punishment.

In the storm of commentary about child abuse there has been a demand
that "something be done". One example I heard was Brian Edwards being
interviewed on National Radio. He was sure that CYF should take more
action and that people should be "educated" on how to care for children.
He should have come clean and said that he had no idea what to do. In
reality CYF social workers are laden with responsibility but have little
power. People are quick to criticise them, and vacancies are hard to

An important statistic in the debate about child abuse is that the vast
majority of children who are killed by their own family are not known to
CYF. No complaint has been laid with them. Everyone is wise in hindsight
but foresight is more difficult. There are dysfunctional families by the
thousand but only a few have disasters as bad as the Kahui twins.

Chris Trotter, in his weekly DominionPost newspaper column, abandoned
his usually thoughtful approach to speculate who God would blame for the
Kahui twins' death. Culprits, he concluded, include the colonial land
grab, "thin-lipped" WINZ workers and Rogernomics. He has simply written
a list of things he doesn't like and said they are to blame for our
social ills. And he claims that God thinks the same way.

It is easy to lay blame and the authorities are an easy target. Real
blame, of course, lies with those who do the abusing and it is to be
hoped that the Kahui twins tormentors are caught and held accountable.
The wider problem is that of our burgeoning welfare state. Those who are
able bodied should be working, drug and alcohol abuse must be tackled,
and inter-generational welfare promoted as unacceptable. Until the
causes of welfarism are addressed more babies like the Kahui twins will
continue to die.

The cross-party committee doesn't have to become just another talk-fest.
We (all parties) could take control and resolve to tackle some really
hard problems - such as welfare reform - head on. I'll be taking these
proposals to the table: Plunket Nurses regularly visiting all homes of
at-risk families, time limits on welfare payments, easy access to drug
and alcohol programmes, 40 hour a week time contribution in exchange for
the unemployment benefit and work testing for those on the DPB when
children go to school. The time for talk is over and the time for action
is now. Lets see if the Labour government and their supporters are
really listening.


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