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Lisa Owen interviews Glenn Inquiry chair Bill Wilson

Lisa Owen interviews Glenn Inquiry chair Bill Wilson

Lisa Owen: Family violence in this country has been described as the slow-burning disaster. It accounts for half of homicides and takes a third of police resources. The Glenn Inquiry's final blueprint was released on Friday, calling for a designated Family Violence Court, tougher alcohol laws, a minister in charge of the issue and much more. Inquiry Chair Bill Wilson QC is in the studio now with me. Good morning.

Bill Wilson QC: Good morning, Lisa.

Now, protection orders have been in the news this week, and your inquiry is calling for people who are subject to protection orders to be fitted with GPS tags. How do you think that would prevent, say, a killing? How would that help?

I think it would not completely eliminate the risk, but it would substantially reduce it. One of the things that really struck me during the Inquiry is to me the extraordinary extent to which protection orders aren't being complied with at the moment. Last year I think some 5000 reported offences of not complying with an order. So, again, and if I can take a minute on this, cos I think it's very important. I always remember for about three successive meetings of the board of our inquiry, Heather Henare, member of the board and chief executive of Women's Refuge, told us that a homicide somewhere in the country recently had involved a man, in each case a man subject to a protection order killing women and children who were intended to be protected by that order. And I just found that appalling.

But how would, say, fitting a tag to that person help? Could the police get there in enough time? How would the warning system work? Would the person be sent a text? I just wonder whether it would buy the time needed to save a person.

Well, I'm sure it would. As I understand it, these devices can be tailored to be triggered if the man subject to the order comes within a certain distance of the key point, normally the house where the woman and children are. And that could be 20, 30, 40, 50km — whatever it would be. And that would have to be a distance which ensured that once the alarm was triggered, Corrections and police would be advised, the woman concerned would be advised, so she could move to a pre-arranged safe house nearby, and the police could be there. I can envisage in an extreme case, it might be required the offender stay in the North or South Island, and if they shifted to the other island, the alarm would be triggered. I'm sure it would be effective.

If you're talking about putting the victim first, let's say there's a case where someone breaches an order, or is accused of breaching an order, why not just put them in jail until a judge decides whether it was a breach and what action is needed? If you're all about putting the victim first, why not take it a step further?

Well, take the extreme case of never giving bail to anyone charged with an offence. It's a matter of balancing the protection of the community, and in particular, the women and children involved and the interests of the individual. And interestingly in that context, Lisa, I think that having these electronic tags could well assist some offenders who a judge otherwise might not be prepared to allow out on bail, but could be persuaded to in the knowledge that the tag would be there to provide protection.

Well, we don't seem to be getting the balance right, do we?

Not at the moment, certainly not. This is why we're calling for reform, and this seems to be to me a clear, discreet, effective issue, where something could be done very probably and could achieve a great deal.

The report also talks about the need for a change of culture. And you want a public awareness campaign around that. How would that work? Because we've had anti-violence campaigns before. So what would be different?

It would be a sustained and well-funded campaign year after year, and I think ‘It's Not OK’, White Ribbon have very effective campaigns, but they need greater resourcing to be applied more generally year after year. On a number of occasions during our inquiry, we saw the analogy with the road toll as very relevant. And I think it's relevant in the context that you're raising. We've had very effective campaigns, the 'wear the seat belt', 'no drink-driving'; equally with smoking. If there's funding and there's commitment, this can make a difference.

But that's years. We're talking decades. We're talking a decades-long campaign.

Absolutely.

Is that what you're talking?

Yes, we are. Indeed. And the aim has to be to eliminate family violence. Realistically, as with the road toll elimination, that can't be achieved overnight or the next year or two. We're talking long term.

So what kind of time frame? 10 years? 20 years?

I would have thought 10, 20 years, indeed.

OK. You also want to see an increase in alcohol tax, up by 50% and raise the drinking age. But Parliament has already indicated, when the Law Commission did its report suggesting some of these things, that they don't want a bar of it, so how can you get that across the line?

That was a previous Parliament. I would like to see the newly elected Parliament relook at these issues. And as a related point, I'd really like to see Parliament consider this on a party basis rather than an individual conscience vote. I can well understand that on moral issues, be it abortion or euthanasia, it's appropriate for MPs to vote on an individual-conscience basis, but to me alcohol is more like smoking and other public health issues and should be approached on a party basis.

But while that's a nice idea, it's not going to happen, is it?

I don't know. I'm an optimist.

Have you had some feedback about it?

I think there's certainly some parties who I understand would be prepared to look at that.

The thing is, alcohol in and of itself isn't the problem, is it? There are plenty of countries that have relaxed alcohol laws that don't have the same violence problems. We have women who drink here a lot, and they aren't out smashing up their male partners at the same rate as other people are. Isn't the common factor here angry men?

No, the common factor is the culture of alcohol abuse that we have in this country, sadly, unlike in other countries.

But the thing is, we've talked to Waikato University Senior Lecturer in Community Psychology Neville Robertson. He was part of your think tank, and he left. He said that gender should be front and centre in this report, and it isn't. Why not? Why avoid that issue?

We're not avoiding it. You know, I accept immediately there's a minority of violent offenders that are women. I think with the protection orders, something over 90% are made against men, a few against women. I'm not suggesting at all it's an exclusively male problem, but it is primarily a male problem. There's a further point here, Lisa. Our research shows—

So why not such a focus on the men in the report?

It's not a focus on men. It's a focus on offenders who are mostly male. But can I make the point, at some point—

Isn't that part of the problem, Mr Wilson, that the first step would be to actually openly acknowledge that men are the core of the problem?

I'd like to think there's no doubt about that. But the point I'm seeking to make is that at some point, the line between perpetrators and victims becomes blurred. And one can well imagine a situation, I'm sure it happens, where after repeated attacks, a woman might try and fight back, and in that sense might be violent herself. It could also go the other way round, I acknowledge. There's not necessarily a clear dividing line there.

OK, well, another thing that really stood out in this report was the call for a universal screening programme for child abuse and family violence. What would that involve? Would it be interviewing every child? Would it be going into every household? How could you have a universal programme screening?

I think be developing the existing programmes for early visits by professionals to homes where there are newly born children, following through the schools, a real awareness right through. I'm not on top of the precise details of it, but I understand there are some really effective programmes at the moment that could be extended with additional funding. Additional funding is the key to many of these things.

That relies on them letting you into their home, though, having access, doesn't it?

Yes, and if access were refused, that could be a trigger for further inquiry.

And you mentioned additional funding. How much would you need?

I don't know. The way we've approached this issue—

Shouldn't you know if you've put these recommendations out?

Not at all, for the reason that we commissioned a group led by Suzanne Snively, a prominent economist in this area and herself a director of the Inquiry to assess the cost of family violence at the moment. And it came out at somewhere between $4 billion and $7 billion a year. It's not an exact figure, but it's a huge cost to the country. The cost of implementing our recommendations in total would be only a fraction of the savings that I'm sure would be achieved through the implementation of those recommendations.

OK, I have to ask you, is this a credible report, because the Inquiry has been dogged with problems. A large chunk of the think tank resigned. It became public that Owen Glenn, who funded this, had been charged over an assault on a woman. Has that devalued this report?

Not at all, in my view. I'm very happy for the Inquiry to be judged by the quality of first, the People's Report and now the Blueprint. Certainly, there were challenges to the Inquiry early on. We overcame those, and I'm sure that they haven't impacted adversely at all on the end product of the Inquiry, of which I'm very proud.

All right. Thank you so much for joining me this morning, Bill Wilson. Thank you.

Thank you.

ENDS

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