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Dalziel: Women's Refuge AGM

Speech Notes for Minister of Women's Affairs Lianne Dalziel to Women's Refuge AGM, Quality Inn, Hastings,10am

Embargoed until delivery: 10am, Monday 16 October 2006

Rau rangatira ma, tenei te mihi ki a koutou i runga i te kaupapa o te ra – mana wahine. Tena koutou, tena koutou, tena ra tatou katoa.

Thank you for inviting me to give this address today. In order to state how much of a priority I placed on the invitation, I sought leave from Cabinet to be with you. I do not do that lightly.

I understand that there are representatives here from 51 refuges, covering the country from Kaitaia to Invercargill. That says a lot about the size of the contribution made by the national network of women's refuges, but at the same time it also says a lot about the size of the problem that confronts us in terms of violence against women.

As this is my first occasion as Minister of Women's Affairs to address your annual conference, I want to begin by simply saying thank you.

Thank you to everyone in this room for your dedication and for the practical, down-to-earth support you provide in circumstances that are always challenging. Thank you for giving some of the most vulnerable women in New Zealand safety, hope and the strength to provide a better life for themselves and their children.

I want also to acknowledge the supporters of the collective and the advocates, both paid and unpaid, who work with you in the refuges throughout the country, and to Heather, the national office and the board who support your work from Wellington. The contribution that you have made to the Taskforce for Action on Violence within Families is one that I value particularly.
This is the first time we have had the judiciary and the police, join with government and non-government agencies in a focused way that is producing results. I am confident that this will make a difference and I thank the Collective for being part of it.

I want to mention funding first, because it is an issue addressed as one of the four priorities established by the Taskforce in its first report. As Minister of Women's Affairs I don't hold the purse for your funding, but I know that your budgets are always tight and that you are always looking for further support from government.

I hope that the one-off payment of $1 million in June has gone some way to address your concerns about your ability to respond adequately to the increasing demands on your services. We are doing what we can to ease current pressures on providers and to help ensure ongoing viability while further costing work is undertaken.

I understand that you are also very close to concluding (or recently have concluded) a two-year contract with the Ministry of Social Development, which will give you certainty about ongoing core funding. The challenge though is to ensure that funding levels remain realistic over time.

You have challenged me in my address today to refer to violence against women rather than to speak of Family Violence, which has become the expression that draws into the frame the children, who are the victims of violence in the home.

I find that easy to do, not because I disagree with the broadening of the focus to include children, because it is important to remember that children are also victims of violence when they grow up in a violent household, even when the violence is not directed at them. The fear engendered by the atmosphere and the knowledge of what may be thought to be hidden from children is very damaging indeed.

So I don't disagree with the expression family violence. However, I understand the concerns of those who do not want to lose the gender reality of partner violence.

I have read the assertion that women are equally as violent as men. And, to use an insurance term, on a knock-for-knock basis that is correct. But it is the women who feel the fear, it is the women who are hospitalised and it is the women who die.

Between 2000 and 2004, 54 women were killed by men with whom they had had an intimate relationship. For those that say that women are equally violent to men, then the comparative number is three. I am not saying that three deaths are acceptable, but no-one can tell me that this form of violence, however it is described, is not a gender issue.

The government's ultimate goal is to see the elimination of violence within families. The principles enshrined in Te Rito state that:

· all people have a fundamental right to be safe and to live free from violence
· customary and contemporary structures and practices of whānau, hapū must be recognised, provided for and fully engaged
· perpetrators of violence in families/whānau must be held accountable for their violent behaviour
· the community has a right and a responsibility to be involved in preventing violence in families/whanau.

The government remains committed to these goals, but we are very mindful that there are limits to what can be achieved through government intervention. The legal framework is pretty good, although the Ministry of Justice is working on some improvements. To assist in this the Ministry of Women's Affairs has contracted research on protection orders and that will be reported fairly soon. Violence intervention projects are still being rolled out around the country. The Family Safety Team pilots look positive, which means for me that the commitment to the inter-agency approach, which we refer to as 'joined-up government', is happening on the ground where it is needed.

The establishment of the Taskforce for Action on Violence Within Families in June last year did not occur in a vacuum. But it has brought together the key people who can and will make a difference.

The Taskforce is led by two state sector chief executives because we wanted to signal to government agencies both that this is an issue that has the highest priority in government and that government services are going to have to be much more integrated than they have been in the past.

The involvement of the judiciary, the police and representatives of non-government organisations, including the Collective means the quality of advice from the coalface is second-to-none. None of us can solve these problems on our own. The partnerships must be high quality if we are to turn around our terrible record of violence against women.

Sitting alongside the Taskforce is a Ministerial Group that meets regularly and has a sense of urgency about the need to respond to ideas that come through the Taskforce and the other work streams I have mentioned.

As the programme recommended by the Taskforce rolls out, we also know that we are going to have to engage more with communities, with iwi, with families and whānau, and with individuals. That is because what we are setting out to achieve is nothing short of a revolution in the attitudes of New Zealanders towards violence within families.

Family violence happens because, as a nation, we allow it to happen. It cannot end until tolerance of violence ends. Even the UN's pronouncement that violence against women is a human right's violation does not of itself bring violence to an end.

I have often said that we cannot legislate for good behaviour - we can only legislate for the consequences of bad behaviour that is prosecuted and leads to a conviction. If we could legislate to change people's hearts and minds on violence, I would have a Bill in the House tomorrow – but unfortunately the solutions are as complex as the problems that generate the need for them.

That doesn't mean that there are not things that the government can do to prevent violence and to mitigate the impacts on the victims of violence.

The Taskforce's Programme of Action for the first year to next July has significant government initiatives as well as increased funding available to organisations like Women's Refuge that work with the victims of family violence. The four key areas of action in the programme are:

· leadership;
· changing attitudes and behaviour;
· ensuring safety and accountability; and
· providing effective support services for the victims of violence.

Leadership is about taking a firm stand as a government and I believe we have done that through the Taskforce and the Ministerial team, which means total buy-in from all the key sectors: police, justice, education, social development, health, child, youth & family and women's affairs. I was pleased to see when the report was released the Principal Family Court Judge, the Children's Commissioner and the Chair of the Families Commission each reinforcing the work of the Taskforce on the 6 o'clock news. I cannot recall this happening before.

The second element of the Taskforce's actions focuses on changing attitudes and behaviours. I was pleased to note that, although the Taskforce uses the language of a campaign, it is clear from their report that they are talking about a long-term strategic approach that is phased sequentially to target different forms of family violence, based on good research and continuous evaluation.

The government will allocate $11.5 million over the next four years to run the campaign, which includes community owned and driven initiatives as well as nationwide activities and action. The initial focus, in line with the Taskforce's recommendations, will be on changing the attitudes and behaviour of men who are violent towards their partners. Establishing mortality reviews will be another critical part of understanding where interventions may be effective.

The third area of action focuses on safety and accountability. As a result we are working to make improvements to the way Police, Courts, Corrections, and Child, Youth and Family work together to keep victims and their families safe and ensure there is easy access to the support needed.
At the same time, perpetrators will be better held to account and steps to reduce re-offending will be strengthened.

Practical steps to help victims will include improved access to protection orders and processes to improve prosecutions for those who fail to attend court-ordered stopping violence programmes. In addition, from March 2007, the pool of people eligible for legal aid will increase by about 40 percent.

A new nationwide scheme to better support children affected by family violence will build stronger and more effective working relationships between Police, Child, Youth and Family, and other government and non-government agencies. This recognises the importance of local co-ordination of family violence cases and ensures that effective help and support are available.

The fourth priority is the need to improve capacity and capability in the non-government sector. The report identifies that a strong non-government sector is essential to responding effectively to family violence. As I mentioned before, the government's response is increased support for non-government organisations working in the sector to build capacity and capability over the next four years including steps to identify the true cost of family violence and support services.

Examples include short- and long-term initiatives that are aimed at both reducing the impacts on victims of violence and addressing the underlying causes of that violence.

This means taking a long-term view and being prepared to work consistently over many years to achieve change. Over the past year I have had a number of opportunities to reflect on how long and how difficult it is to achieve such change. I was a Member of Parliament when the last report on Protection Orders commissioned by the Victim's Taskforce was released and I sat on the Select Committee that considered and heard submissions on the Domestic Violence Act 1995. I could comment on how little had changed, but that would not be entirely fair. I believe there have been significant changes in the past 15 years, especially in relation to how seriously the police regard domestic violence and their response rates.

And although we need some changes still to the processing of applications for protection orders, there is a commitment to address the issues both within the judiciary and within the government.

I remember the closing words of the dedication of the writers of the Victim's Taskforce Report to the women who had died, one woman nearly every week:

"The days of your death were marked by the system's trivialisation of the dangers you faced."

Even when the latest crime statistics came out a few weeks ago that showed an increase in domestic violence, there was no attempt to trivialise the reality of the dangers women face. So we have moved forward, but the government has said we need to pick up the pace.

That being said, changing attitudes and behaviours takes some time and requires both focus and dedication so that society stops tolerating violence.

I had a difficult conversation with a group of women recently – one of them a lawyer, who had specialised in family law for 30 years – she said she had seen the results of the worst case of domestic violence she had seen in those 30 years. But what had shocked her – as if the injuries that had hospitalised this young woman were not enough – was the fact that this woman was not going to press charges, because she expected to be treated this way; she deserved to be treated this way.

It struck me that we need to get some messages of self-esteem out to young women as they are growing up, so that they know that this is not acceptable.

At the launch of this year's refuge appeal I said that we need young girls and women to know that to protect themselves from violence that they believe that there is no second chance, that once is once too often, and if violence occurs they must not go back for another round.

And that starts with texting, the internet and other environments where our young women and girls are not safe, because they don't know the motives of the people they are talking to or meeting with. Turning the story around for the next generation might mean writing a simple script for them to read so they know how to protect themselves against those who will impose their will on them and control what they think and do.

This is one of the many challenges we face.

As I said before we cannot legislate to change attitudes – but attitudes can change if government, non-government organisations, communities and groups of motivated women, such as all of you here today, work together to bring about that change.

That is the commitment we must offer to the families of the women who have died.


ENDS

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