Q+A: Dr Jackie Blue interviewed by Corin Dann
Equal Employment Opportunities Commissioner Dr Jackie Blue – the UN is ‘shocked’ at how women are treated in the family court.
Dr Jackie Blue told TVNZ 1’s Q+A programme, ‘one thing they were particularly shocked about, and that was how women are treated in the family courts. The CEDAW member in charge of those questions was absolutely shocked at the reports that she had read through the NGO submissions.’
‘Hundreds of women have contacted the Backbone Collective and they have told their stories of feeling they’re being revictimised, being punished, of judiciary decisions that have been very inconsistent, and been accused of the discredited parental alienation syndrome, where mothers maliciously get their children to make false claims against their fathers.’
Dr Blue has recently returned from Geneva, where she spoke at the UN’s Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).
And what did the UN want us to do?
JACKIE The line of questioning was around calling for the rapporteur on violence to come to New Zealand
When asked about a planned government review of the Family Court, Dr Blue told Corin Dann, ‘the current inquiry that’s going to occur is too narrow, and the CEDAW member also agreed with that. It doesn’t go far enough, and also you need a mechanism where you can investigate our judiciary, which is difficult because they are—there’s a separation of powers with our courts.’
Dr Blue is calling for cross party support to address the issue of domestic violence.
The UN recommendations to the government are expected early this week.
Q + A
DR JACKIE BLUE
Interviewed by Corin Dann
JACKIE Look, I can’t comment about the National Party stance on that. I actually am so much of a fan of that bill, it’s not funny. I have advocated for it so strongly. I just know it’s going to make a difference. And there are so many victims of family violence in paid work. The workplace is an obvious place to intervene.
CORIN Why do you put it in the terms that domestic violence is a human rights issue?
JACKIE Gender equality – when women are valued the same – will never happen while we have violence, where often it is a power and control issue where women’s role in society and how they are perceived is at the heart of it all.
CORIN And do you think this cuts across socioeconomic groups? You’ve spoken yourself about a personal experience with domestic violence.
JACKIE We don’t know, Corin. Upwards of 120,000 callouts to the police – we don’t know the ethnic breakdown. We think it’s only about 20% of people who report to the police. It could be as low as 13%. So we don’t know what the other 80% look like. We don’t know a lot about family violence in New Zealand.
CORIN What do you think, though, having been in your role for a few years now? What is driving the high levels of violence in New Zealand? Why is this a problem in New Zealand?
JACKIE No one knows for sure – probably a number of reasons. A number of it could be learned behaviour – children see their parents being violent. It could be generational – the victims become perpetrators. It could be—There could be a whole lot of stressors, which we know we can’t—they shouldn’t take the blame, like poverty and unemployment or alcohol. They certainly can contribute but they cannot be used as an excuse.
CORIN So you’ve talked about a cross-party approach, but if there was an area of government where you had some resources and you could put in some effort, what would it be? What would be the thing that you think is most critical that needs to be done?
JACKIE When I was in parliament I did a lot of cross-party work, and when politics is left at the door and you have diverse, smart people around the table trying to solve a problem, there’s a sort of magic that happens. There’s an energy all of its own and there’s respect, and amazing things can happen. So that’s why I’m so passionate about a cross-party accord. Let’s not lose any more momentum.
CORIN Have you spoken to the political parties about such an idea?
JACKIE I know that Jan Logie was questioned about a cross-party approach and she said that she was looking to strengthen the initiatives under the National government. I mean, that was a very heartening comment made by an MP who has great integrity, but unfortunately she is not in Cabinet and she doesn’t have the final say on this.
CORIN You have just been at the United Nations. Coming back to that, how did they view us? Because we have not been making the progress we should be making on domestic violence. Where do we stack up in terms of the rest of the world? And I’m interested how they view us and why we’re not making progress.
JACKIE Well, I’ll tell you one thing they were particularly shocked about, and that was how women are treated in the family courts. The CEDAW member in charge of those questions was absolutely shocked at the reports that she had read through the NGO submissions. And I had read those too prior to going to New York and I was shocked, and I supported the call for a special rapporteur on violence against women to come to New Zealand to investigate women’s experience in the Family Court.
CORIN What is that experience that you’re hearing about?
JACKIE Well, it’s shocking. Hundreds of women have contacted the Backbone Collective and they have told their stories of feeling they’re being revictimised, being punished, of judiciary decisions that have been very inconsistent, and been accused of the discredited parental alienation syndrome, where mothers maliciously get their children to make false claims against their fathers.
CORIN And what did the UN want us to do?
JACKIE The line of questioning was around calling for the rapporteur on violence to come to New Zealand. We’ve yet to wait for their concluding observations, which will be out in the next couple of weeks.
CORIN So a special rapporteur – they have come to New Zealand in the past on various issues. So they are an envoy, essentially, from the United Nations. They would come, presumably, at the invitation of the government?
JACKIE There is an open invitation to all rapporteurs – a standing invitation – so it would be a matter for the rapporteur to request a visit and the government to agree and organise.
CORIN But it was your sense they wanted to come here to look at this because they were so concerned about the Family Court?
JACKIE Oh, the CEDAW member who was questioning is actually the vice-chair of that committee and she was shocked. She’s a family law professor and she’d never read anything so horrifying.
CORIN We know that Andrew Little wants to review the Family Court. Is he aware of these concerns? Have you expressed them to him? He must be, surely.
JACKIE I haven’t personally expressed them but he has met with the Backbone Collective. The current inquiry that’s going to occur is too narrow, and the CEDAW member also agreed with that. It doesn’t go far enough, and also you need a mechanism where you can investigate our judiciary, which is difficult because they are—there’s a separation of powers with our courts.
CORIN You’re finishing up soonish, I suppose, in your role. What is your parting message to those in power as you—in terms of the next time we go to the UN, how do we make sure that we’ve actually made progress?
JACKIE Corin, we had a visiting expert in New Zealand a few years ago and she said New Zealand could be world-leading in our model of combatting domestic violence because we are a small population, small geography, we have a robust democracy, one government and we have dedicated people on the ground and NGOs. So we can be world-leading and we need the focus and it definitely needs to be cross-party. We can’t afford to lose any more momentum. And I know it can work. That’s my message.
Transcript provided by Able. www.able.co.nz
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