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Flavell: Family Court Matters Second Reading

Family Court Matters Second Reading

Thursday 10 April 2008

Te Ururoa Flavell, MP for Waiariki; 4.15pm

This Bill seeks to make Family Court proceedings more open and improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the Family Courts.

Madam Speaker, in giving consideration to matters covered in the Family Court, it would be our observation that there seems to be a preoccupation with adult problems that have the harshest impact on children or a focus on restoring relationships at the expense of the child.

We say that there is a need to get it right, to stop the cycle, to restore wellness, hauora and wellbeing to the whanau, if we are to prevent sad life-stories playing out in subsequent generations.

To that end, the Maori Party has a keen interest in ensuring the promise of the Law Commission report of ‘delivering justice for all’ is given life through this Family Courts Matters Bill.

Madam Speaker, we are pleased to see that two very significant issues raised by submitters, that of proper protection of children in court proceedings, and the provision of counselling for children – both of these, we believe, have been addressed by the Select Committee process.

Protection of children in court proceedings

We are particularly pleased to see protections in place, that if reports on Family Courts proceedings involve vulnerable persons or children, they must first seek the leave of the Court.

We agree with the focus of the Family Violence Prevention Alliance that the proposed greater openness of the Family Court needs to be balanced with protecting a child’s right to privacy and the paramount need for their protection and safety.

It was the recommendation of the Alliance, that detailed guidelines need to be provided to the news media about what can be published when a child is the subject of proceedings.

I recall the devastating photographs published last August of a young boy, battered to death by his mother and her partner.

At the time the Children’s Commissioner, Dr Cindy Kiro, spoke out about a horrifying email petition that was circulating the autopsy photographs, saying, and I quote:

“Circulating them allows for further abuse in death of a child who was abused in life”.

That matter was a cause for concern, indeed a concern dear to the heart of my colleague, Tariana Turia, who some years ago also laid an official complaint against TVNZ for allowing footage to be shown featuring a tupapaku, the body of a murdered child.

While both these actions represent the extreme end of the continuum, it illustrates how blasé some of our media have become, about what information should become public fodder.

We would hope that the advice of the Family Violence Prevention Alliance will be taken into account in the amended reporting provisions, and to ensure the ongoing and further protection of vulnerable persons.

Provision of Counselling

The other significant advance in this Bill is the three amendments which extend counselling services to children.

We note the view of the Families Commission that recent research shows that child-inclusive mediation lowered parental conflict and greatly enhanced conciliation.

We were however concerned that the needs of Maori and other cultural groups have not been adequately considered in looking at how groups may wish to access conciliation services.

The Bill has respected the right of children to have access to counselling – which also helps them distil their views prior to mediation.

Well that’s all well and good, but the crucial feature missing from the Bill, Madam Speaker, is the need to provide more fully and appropriately for whanau.

Madam Speaker, I would remind the House, that the current demographics indicate one in four children under five are Maori; and that the trend is all about growth in terms of a young Maori population.

While the Children, Young Persons and their Families Act 1989 made specific provision for whanau, hapu and iwi involvement in decision-making about the lives of children and young persons, there are other pieces of legislation that feed into the Family Court which do so without necessarily considering Maori views regarding whanau.

Legislation such as the Guardianship Act 1968 and the Domestic Violence Act 1995 can also result in the involvement of the Family Court, as does the Care of Children Act 2004 and the Family Proceedings Act 1980.

In this respect, Madam Speaker, I was very impressed with the joint submission from Te Korowai Aroha o Aotearoa and Relationship Services Whakawhanaungatanga.

While Te Korowai Aroha has been operating for some sixteen years delivering culturally appropriate services to tangata whenua, Relationship Services is the single biggest provider of counselling services to the Family Court. Their collective authority therefore is pretty much beyond doubt.

Their view was that as Te Tiriti o Waitangi promised to protect Maori custom and cultural values, Maori expect therefore that the Family Court and its processes should promote partnership between Maori and the Crown.

They went further, however, and constructed a model of practice that represents the development of a parallel process which reflects Maori world views.

Some of the guiding principles that would underpin such a process include:

 every Maori child has a whakapapa;

 tamariki Maori belong to whanau, hapu; iwi;

 the rights and responsibilities for raising children are shared;

 children have rights and responsibilities to their whanau.

Madam Speaker, the submission from Amokura, a collaborative iwi-led community change initiative to address family violence in Te Tai Tokerau, reflected this same commitment to seek alignment of the new policies and procedures to tikanga Maori.

The Amokura project advocates the recognition of whakapapa, whanaungatanga, and the roles and responsibilities of whanau, hapu and iwi.

Amokura also highlighted that in seeking recognition of the significance of whakapapa in Family Court dealings with respect to whanau Maori, this requires an understanding that the broader whanau – other than birth parents – also has a responsibility and obligations determining the future of tamariki Maori.

It is not simply a matter of Mum and Dad and the nuclear family. Whanau oranga, whanau well-being is absolutely linked to child well-being; and the reverse applies.

Madam Speaker, the significance of whanau was given explicit recognition in another model put forward by Te Korowai Aroha o Aotearoa and Relationship Services.

They endorsed the proposal for non-judge led whanau mediation, seeing it as a crucial means of respecting whanau involvement at all levels of decision-making.

Te Korowai Aroha has trained and licensed some 250 whanau practitioners from across seventy Maori social and health non-governmental organisation providers in whanau conciliation practices.

The very successful project, Project Mauri Ora, is in itself based on Maori mediation and conciliation practices. The organisation estimates that they have worked with an estimated nineteen thousand whanau in the past five years.

One would imagine that 19,000 whanau can’t be wrong!

So while the submissions I have referred to all lent their support to the Bill – a position which clearly influences us in the Maori Party – it was ultimately disheartening to read the select committee report and to see no reference to non-judge led whanau mediation; to the crucial role that whanau, hapu and iwi play in resolving disputes; or even a cursory acknowledgment of Te Tiriti o Waitangi.

We will support the Bill at this second reading, but we hope to anticipate changes at the Committee of the Whole House stage which will reflect the very useful contributions made by Maori throughout the consultation process.


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