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Te Ururoa Flavell - Speech

Education (Trustee Ineligibility) Amendment Bill

Wednesday 6 September 2006

Te Ururoa Flavell; Education Spokesperson

This Bill cuts to the heart of many fundamental principles in our society. Right up there, is the rightof every child to be free from sexual exploitation and abuse.

The fact of even having this Bill on the order paper, highlights the shame of our nation, that our babies; our children are being raped and abused; it demonstrates the unthinkable that sexual offending with children is acceptable.

And we in the Maori Party are disappointed today that another Bill has been withdrawn, a proposal which looked to follow the lead of the United Kingdom and Canada and introduce a Sex Offender Registry Bill.

Although we are aware of the dangers inherent in establishing such a Registry - the risk of provoking vigilante activism; and the possible obstacles that may impede rehabilitation - the principle is one still worthy of discussion.
And in addressing that principle, we could do no better than referring to the comments of Jane Foster, National Director of ECPAT who said;
“Our children deserve the best protection possible from child sex offenders. The New Zealand public needs to know what concrete steps are taken to manage the risks offenders pose to children’s safety’”.

These issues are deadly serious issues. They threaten the values which are core to our national identity. They disturb the myth of safety formerly associated with Aotearoa.

Child sexual offending destroys the innocence of our tamariki. It fragments families. Communities are placed at risk. The attainment of stability and wellbeing disintegrates through the actions of offenders who prey on our most vulnerable.

And it has lasting consequences for all concerned.
For glaring evidence of this, I would refer the House to a paper by Dr Miriam Saphira and Tainui, Maniapoto, Ngati Paretekawa woman, Averil Herbert.
The paper, ‘Victimisation amongst those involved in underage commercial sexual activity’ reports on a study of the incidence of violence and childhood sexual abuse amongst those who go on to become involved in under-age commercial sexual activity.
Although a restricted study, surveying only Northland, Auckland and Waikato; the results were profoundly disturbing.
59% of respondents disclosed child sexual abuse; and for Maori it was even more so - 74% of Maori respondents disclosed child sexual abuse as opposed to 40% European; 60% Pacific.
These are tragic statistics. And although there are, as always, a whole range of factors of analysis one could wrap around this study - such as the results may indicate more about the willingness of Maori and Pacific respondents to disclose sensitive information more than disproportionate rates - the facts remain: one child offended against is a tragedy.
It is a tragedy of lifelong proportions.
The impact of sexual offending scars the soul; wounds the self-confidence, and has lasting consequences on the well-being of the individuals and their whanau.
And so the Maori Party comes to the Education (Trustee Ineligibility) Amendment Bill with much hope of addressing and reducing this appalling state of child exploitation and oppression.
It is essential that the law protects children.
But there are other key principles at play here that also bear discussion.
The principle of natural justice.
As I understand it, in the case of this Bill, the Ministry of Education was not keen to pursue any amendment to the law. The Ministry of Education tended to favour the notion that “communities would sort them out”, the offenders that is.
I’ve read through the debate that was had at the first reading of this Bill, and I don’t share the same optimism that Lynne Pillay does, in her belief that the nature of school elections makes it highly likely that sex offenders are identified by the community, and the issue is then resolved through community pressure.
Do sex offenders look different to you and I? How would we know if there was a sex offender present in this House today? Could the membership of the Christian Heritage Party identify an offender in their midst? Clearly not.
So I am not so convinced that the merits of natural justice should be considered in this debate.
Other themes in the debate around natural justice have implied thatas board trustees are not actually in a teaching role, then the issues are not so relevant.
But as the School Trustees Association told the select committee; in some communities trustees are also coaches or parent helpers, or are involved in school life in other ways. We also know that in small rural schools boards of trustees are more likely to have contact with students than in larger schools.
So the risk is still there, and this Bill does little to reduce that risk. Individuals disbarred by the bill from becoming trustees would not be prevented from performing other such roles associated with children.
Yet another important debate to be had, is that around rehabilitation, and restoration of offenders into the community.
How do we care for our alienated and our ostracized; how do we reintegrate offenders into caring communities? These again, are big issues which this Bill does not address.
So what does the Bill do?
The Bill amends the Education Act 1989 to ensure that convicted child sex offenders may not be school trustees.
As a member of the Education and Science select committee, I agree with the fellow members of that committee, that Section 103 of the principal Act already imposes limits on who may become a trustee.
The Education Act ensures that persons convicted of an offence punishable by imprisonment for a term of two years or more, or who has been sentenced to imprisonment for any other offence, are unable to be appointed as trustees.
And so the Maori Party endorses the advice in the select committee report, that there are existing legislative measures to prevent convicted child sex offenders from becoming trustees.
For the purpose of this debate, this Bill, the Maori Party will vote against this Bill, supporting the recommendation from the select committee that it not proceed.
But we must not avoid the responsibility of tackling the crisis that the Bill was intended to address.
I am told that John F Kennedy would often make reference to the fact that when written in Chinese, the word crisis is composed of two characters. One represents danger, and the other represents opportunity.
I believe this nation is well aware of the dangers inherent in the crisis of sexual offending against children.
But have we truly exhausted in all options in trying to respond?
This Bill presents us with another opportunity to speak out about the safety of children.
The Select Committee has concluded that the existing legislation includes sufficient powers to address the inappropriate election, appointment, or co-option of a trustee.

And we are led to believe that the Education Act 1989 also provides the Minister of Education with powers to intervene where he or she believes the welfare of students to be at risk.

These are all good reasons to justify doing nothing in relation to this Bill. But we must not do nothing about the children who are harmed, the crisis of sexual abuse.

Tangata whenua too, like the Chinese, are always mindful of the opportunities. One of our whakatauki reminds us, Ka whati te tai, ka pao te törea. Literally, when the tide ebbs, the oyster catcher strikes.
We must not sit idly by, vote down this Bill, and waste an opportunity for this Parliament to pool our collective wisdom in addressing the crisis of sexual offending.

For if we are all truly committed to preserving our tamariki as the natural treasure of this land, we must do all we can, to protect them from harm, to promote safety, and to aspire towards wellbeing.
Let us take up that opportunity to act.

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