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Rahui Katene: Speech To Wellington Women's Refuge

Charity Auction Event for Wellington Women’s Refuge and

Te Whare Rokiroki Maori Women’s Refuge

Saturday 25 July 2009; 7pm

Rahui Katene, Member of Parliament for Te Tai Tonga

This week, the nation has been sunk in the swirling cesspool of violence that is the everyday reality of too many women and children in Aotearoa.

Televised recordings of the scenes played out in the Christchurch High Court told the story of a beautiful young woman who was robbed of life by a man who one day entered her bedroom, locked the door, and then calmly stabbed her, 216 times.

The high profile trial that has consumed the newsreels exposed the bizarre misconceptions some people harbour around violence.

Murder was justified on the grounds that this beautiful young woman was supposedly too forward, aggressive, promiscuous, callous, flirtatious.

To the family who sat and listened, that description bore no resemblance to their loved one – a young woman with an exuberance for life; a young woman on the brink of an exciting new career here in Wellington.

And we call this justice.

Did she deserve to die?  Did she ask to die?  Was she crazy?  Did she push him over the edge? 

Every answer is of course, no.  No one has the right to abuse another.  Everyone has the right to be free from violence.

And yet, in these days of supposed enlightenment, the provocation defence provided an opportunity to savagely attack the memory of someone unable to speak for herself, to annihilate special memories.

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After the horror of that trial, I was somewhat heartened to come tonight to this special Charity Auction Event for Wellington Women’s Refuge and Te Whare Rokiroki Maori Women’s Refuge.

I wanted to come, to commend the courage of your Chief Executive and your movement in speaking out against provocation as a defence.  Every time a Courtroom trial enables provocation to be used as a defence, it feels to me that all we do is create an excuse for the person committing the violence.

We must face the facts – violence against women is a criminal act.  Violence against children is now, thankfully, a criminal act.  Violence is not acceptable – anywhere, to anyone.
There are no excuses. 

The other reason I was so keen to be here tonight, is a more personal one.

I have been thinking of my own journey, and the decision I made as a student to switch from a Bachelor of Arts Degree, and instead turn my focus to the law.

I did that because of you.

I had been working closely with a group of women involved in Women’s Refuge, and become witness to the pervasive injustices that seem to continue unabated.

I decided I wanted to make the law work for our women – and that began a pathway which eventually saw me graduate with a law degree, take up a position here in Wellington at Woodward Law Office and later Te Ratonga Ture/Maori Legal Services; and then last November become elected as the MP for Te Tai Tonga.

And so I want to say thank you to Women’s Refuge as a collective; for the passion and the driving commitment that has always characterised this movement.   You have inspired me, and many others, to know that we must take action and confront violence.

This is not a movement of shrinking violets.

In fact I found the perfect description of the workers of this movement the other day, from a diplomat called James Conant.

He said, “Behold the turtle: he only makes progress when he sticks his neck out”.

 Now I don’t know how good a diplomat I’d be to call a group of social activists a bunch of turtles, but I think you get the drift.

There is no point in sitting pretty, failing to speak up or speak out, when injustices are evident.

One of the consequences of the public education campaign against family violence, has been the massive increase in demand for services to an ever increasing number of women and children.


While the increased reporting is being widely lauded as a success of the campaign, we might just need to stick our neck out every now and then,  and remind ourselves, success can never be measured on the fact of an ever increasing need to protect women and children from violence.

We must allow ourselves the opportunity for audacious aspirations to channel the anger that otherwise emerges out of the sense of defeatism about the level of family violence in Aotearoa.

Those audacious aspirations might well be the demise of Women’s Refuge as we know it.

Now before I get escorted off the podium, let me explain what I mean. 

Your campaign this year is focused on helping women in violent homes to see a way out.

And I’m reminded of the wisdom of deaf-blind American author and activist, Helen Keller : “The best way out is always through”.

The best way through, in finding a more positive future for our families, must in essence, be about strategies and solutions that are driven by them.

To me, the ultimate outcomes of success in the family violence field would be to get to a time and place when Women’s Refuge is no longer needed.

It would be a space in which our whanau fully realise their responsibilities, their obligations and their strengths in meeting the collective needs of their family and community.

Our co-leader, Tariana Turia, has established a Whanau Ora Taskforce which is singularly focused on the vision of wellbeing.

That way through to create homes which are sites of safety and love, will involve us all, working together, to shift our focus from crisis intervention, to prevention, early intervention and sustainable change.

Yes, I know, that we are not at that place now – and I know too, of the enormous sacrifice and commitment that make you, in many ways, indispensable to our communities.

But if I was to be the Te Tai Tonga turtle for just this moment, it would be to stick my neck out for our whanau – to say, take a long at ourselves, we need to act now, and to restore healthy partnerships and thriving families as the norm.

And if we can’t do that for ourselves, maybe we can do that for our children.

This week, while the trial took over the airwaves, two remarkable events occurred which have barely registered on the talkback.

Both of these events provided me with eyes to see a way out; a new vision to prepare for a positive approach to our future.

The first was the fact that my Bill, Te Rā o Matariki Bill/Matariki Day Bill, to create a new public holiday to celebrate the time of Matariki was drawn from the ballot and may be in front of the House as early as next Wednesday.

Essentially, the purpose of the Bill is to establish a new national holiday which emphasises unity, and community and family wellbeing. 

Matariki has traditionally been a time for planting and planning activities for the year ahead, for valuing our past, and also preparing for our future.   All of these activities are significant steps in nation-building.

What better time then, to say that we want whanau ora to be a key driver in advancing progress as a nation.

The second event was a book launching that I attended on Thursday night, for the book ‘Trust’ : A true story of women and gangs.

There can be no denying the fact, that the stories woven throughout this book were stories of immense sadness and despair, as we heard the words of women who had been assaulted and attacked as children, as partners, as lovers, as friends

 The devastation of violence against women and children was never far from the surface of their message.

Violence which strangled hope in gang pads just as much as it does in middle class homes.  The perpetrators of violence behind closed doors, is of course universal – across all communities, all income groups, all ethnicities.

But what the book Trust does – and what the Wellington Women’s Refuge and Te Whare Rokiroki Maori Women’s Refuge does – and what all of the volunteers and workers throughout the National Collective do – is to reignite the spark of hope that finds a way out.

You show us that in the darkest of times when it seems there is no way out, there is always a way, always a light that leads us on.  For so many of the women in the book, for so many of the women you work with, for so many of us,  that light is our children.

And so, as we think about seeing a way out, I want to leave the last word to Charmaine, and a song she wrote which represents to me, all that we might want for whanau ora:

Blessed is the child with amazing grace

And blessed is the child with no one’s shame on her face

The eyes will tell the window to the soul

Blessed is the child who’s allowed to grow

Blessed is the child in a loving home

And blessed is the child who knows no anger in her soul

Time will tell and Time will surely show

Blessed is the child who’s allowed to grow.

I want to thank all of you for the amazing work you do, to protect our families, to restore peace to our whanau to allow our children to grow.

You are at the vanguard of change – you are in the frontline, helping families to see a way out from violence and to think of new possibilities ahead of them 

All of us recognise the sacrifices each of you make, the time torn away from your own families to be there for others in need; the emotional and psychological toll of such agonizing work.

I hope that this fund-raising night will continue to allow you to do that work – to sustain hope and wellbeing for our families – and to demonstrate that all of us take seriously, our responsibilities.

And I hope too, that our journey towards a nation of loving homes is a journey which attracts and receives the widest support possible.

Tena tatou katoa.





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