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Heather Roy's Diary

Heather Roy's Diary

Child Abuse At the time of writing, Rotorua three-year-old Nia Glassie lies in a coma at Starship Children Hospital's Intensive Care Unit - her doctors having found it necessary yesterday to place her back on breathing support.

Following horrendous abuse - the full details of which are too distressing to repeat - Nia's outlook is uncertain, and she is unlikely to recover unscathed.

Let it suffice to say, however, that this defenceless girl's most serious injuries were caused by being placed in a tumble dryer and the dryer switched on - it appears her pain and humiliation provided entertainment for the people entrusted to her care, much in the same way that delinquent children torment animals.

Nia's family situation was precarious: her mother is 34, her stepfather 17. At the same house were two siblings (since removed), her stepfather's brother (21), his girlfriend (19) and his father. All but Nia's mother have so far been charged in relation to the abuse.

The reaction to Nia's case - hard on the heels of the killing of Wanganui two-year-old Jhia Te Tua, and a year after the death of the Kahui twins - has highlighted a serious lack of moral fibre in New Zealand society; while responses to Nia's abuse have been strident, they have largely been both predictable and useless:

* Prime Minister Helen Clark condemned the assault - and her condemnation was duly published, as though it were news

* Rotorua Mayor Kevin Winters urged everyone to become nosey neighbours, and was then joined by many others in labelling this a community problem

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* United Future Leader blamed Maori: "It's time to stop pretending that the kind of child abuse suffered by Nia Glassie and the Kahui twins is not a Maori problem."

* Sociologists even blamed Rogernomics, as though it were permissible to take one's favourite hate object and blame it for all ills - apparently it isn't necessary, within social science, to engage the brain at all.

The responses to this case were so predictable that online news agency 'Scoop' produced an 'Outraged Media Release' template - an exercise in poor taste that, nevertheless, made the point that reactions to cruelty to infants and murders of children have become a ritual. It seems that, while no one expects change, it is important to give the appearance of action.

But action, not more platitudes and reports, is what is truly required. Real action, preceded by real thought - thinking on seemingly intractable problems may be painful, but there's no excuse for sloppy thinking when infants' lives are at stake.

The first point to note is that the problem of violence toward children is not confined to New Zealand - a recent UN report on child well-being in wealthy nations found that the US and UK ranked lowest with respect to the well-being of their children. Statistics from New Zealand were not considered of sufficient quality to be able to make a valid comparison and, overall, English-speaking countries generally don't seem to be doing very well.

The study also found child neglect and abuse to be more common in single-parent families than in those where both parents are present. Further, children living with a stepfather are 80 times more likely to be abused than those living with their biological father.

I don't wish to cast aspersions on stepfathers - most of whom are committed and provide stable homes for their charges - but the risks cannot be ignored. In New Zealand risk factors ARE ignored, with the protection of the traditional family structure not even up for discussion.

The abuse and murder of the Kahui twins' prompted the Government to set up a cross-Party working group to look at family violence. Proposed as a forum for free and frank discussion on real issues, this group - led by Labour Ministers - has become little more than a briefing session on what the Government has planned next.

Time and again I've tried to put the issue of welfare dependency on the agenda; each time, I've been unsuccessful - this issue has, it seems, been relegated to the 'too hard basket'.

The only answer that seems clear is that beneficiaries vote and politicians are more worried about alienating adult voters than about the safety and well-being of our vulnerable children. This is an absolute disgrace - a real attempt to solve the problems of child abuse would be prepared to look at any idea, even an ACT idea.

In the past, ACT has been accused of having welfare policies that are just too harsh. We have advocated for the minimum age of the DPB to be raised to 20, and no receipt of DPB payments unless a father's name appears on the child's birth certificate. Welfare dependency not only has a detrimental effect on the lives of individuals, but impacts negatively on our society as a whole. The long list of child abuse cases that we are seeing, and which continues to grow, is a direct consequence of the welfare state.

Enough is enough; the time for fiddling around the edges is over. It is time for Labour and al Parties to prove their commitment to the nation's most vulnerable children - losing a few votes next year is a paltry price to pay for saving a child's life.

Lest We Forget August 3 1860 saw the start of the Second Maori War with what is known as the 'Waitara Purchase' in Taranaki, when Atiawa chief Teira offered 600 acres of ancestral land at Waitara - including that upon which the present town of Waitara now stands - to the Government for 1 per acre.

Although supported by some of his people, Teira was opposed by paramount chief Wiremu Kingi te Rangitaake and the vast majority of the Atiawa people. Given accepted iwi practice, the land was not actually Teira's to sell. Further, Maori were concerned with the growing numbers of pakeha and feared they would outnumber and overrun the native population.

That same influx of immigrants, however, meant that Taranaki's European settlers required more land with which to extend their settlements. They put pressure on the Government to purchase more land and were unwilling to let Maori stand between them and the fertile land that - to them - was being left unused.

Despite Wiremu Kingi's protests, the Waitara Purchase went ahead in early 1860. Surveyors were sent to survey the land, with military protection, and what followed was months and months of skirmishing as Maori attempted to obstruct the encroachment into their ancestral home.


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