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The tragedy of James Whakaruru --- Muriel Newman

Friday 20th Aug 1999
Muriel Newman
Media Release -- Social Welfare

The tragedy of James Whakaruru

Muriel Newman MP

The death of four year old James Whakaruru is a grim reminder of the dangers facing children who grow up in s severely dysfunctional families. In most of these families, education achievement is minimal, violence is rife, drug and alcohol dependency is part of the daily lifestyle, and parental responsibility is negligible. These are the families where children are maimed and murdered, not by violent strangers, but by their own family.

According to the Minister of Social welfare, over the last five years, 13 children are known to have died as a result of homicide. Of these only two died at the hands of a non-family person. Most of these children had been subjected to what amounts to prolonged torture by the very people in their lives who should have protected, loved and nurtured them.

The Government's response to this latest death has been a welcome call for an inquiry into why this little boy, who had been known to the authorities previously as the victim of earlier violence by his mother's partner, had not been kept safe. But the Government and all of the other political parties, except ACT, appear to be reluctant to look at the deeper issues.

Research has now established a clear link between family breakdown and child abuse and between family breakdown and crime. Yet we fail to look seriously at policies, which are clearly contributing to family breakdown - we fail to address the underlying causes of these disastrous outcomes for children.

According to the Children and Young Person's Service, 17 children a day are seriously abused in this country, with some 90,0000 children a year being at risk. This is not a small problem we face but a massive one. Such statistics paints New Zealand as one of the western world's most dangerous countries in which to bring up children.

Until we look at the underlying incentives that operate in the legislative framework of social policy, we will never get on top of this problem. We have a situation where the benefit has produced third generation benefit dependency. When a system pays people to do nothing, it destroys the sense of responsibility that goes hand in hand with working for a living and striving to make a better life for your children.

When a benefit system pays families if they split apart, we wonder why we have the highest percentage of sole parents in the western world. When a benefit system pays the mother more if she has more babies then she will have more babies. According to an answer this week from the Associate Minister of Social Services, Work and Income, a few women on the DPB have had eight additional babies. This situations is not right and it was never the intention of the DPB.

Women on the DPB are unsupported as they bring up their children and their children are often denied regular access to their father. In fact, in the case of little James, his own father was denied access, while the man who killed him had free access.

The ACT Party believes it is time that the New Zealand Parliament undertook a comprehensive review of all laws relating to the family. The Australian Parliament has carried out such a review and produced a series of recommendations to their Parliament of ways to strengthen the family unit.

If New Zealanders believe that a strong and loving family, committed to building a decent life for themselves is the best and safest environment in which to raise children, then it is time to support the family instead of weakening it and producing the sort of welfare dependency dysfunction that has contributed to the death of James Whakaruru.


For more information visit ACT online at or contact the ACT Parliamentary Office at

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