Evidence-based Policy and the Voice of Women
Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Spokesperson
MP for Christchurch East
9 March 2013
International Women’s Day: Evidence-based Policy and the Voice of Women
Manukau Branch National Council of
Salvation Army Centre, Bakerfield Pl, Manukau City
Thank you for inviting me to address you today in recognition of the fact that yesterday was International Women’s Day.
May I acknowledge my Labour colleagues Louisa Wall and Carol Beaumont who is returning to Parliament to replace Charles Chauvel, who will be starting his new position with the United Nations on Monday. Carol’s return is the one redeeming feature of the loss of Charles and I am thrilled that she will be taking up the mantle of our Consumer Rights advocate once more as she tries again to get loan sharks properly regulated by the law.
I too have become involved in a branch of the UN – I am a member of the UNISDR Parliamentary Advisory Group on Disaster Risk Reduction. The week after this was announced, I was boarding a plane to Wellington and a Cabinet Minister, who I won’t name, said congratulations on your appointment. I was genuinely chuffed. He said ‘I see Helen is still looking after her friends’. I am telling you this because I want you to know that, even after 22 years as a Member of Parliament, it still hurts when people cannot genuinely celebrate achievement.
Helen didn’t know I was being appointed to this position because the UNISDR – the secretariat that oversees the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction – is quite separate from the UNDP the UN Development Programme which she heads.
But it is an important role nonetheless so my appointment is good for New Zealand, as well as Christchurch. And it has helped me understand why my Civil Defence & Emergency Management portfolio is actually more important than the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery one.
When I was originally asked to speak, I was to speak about women and justice.
I was thinking about that this week when I was up here listening to submissions on the Family Court Proceedings Reform Bill. What a great opportunity to talk about what that innocuous title was hiding.
And then I received the message that you were keen to hear about Christchurch 2 years on. And I really wanted to talk about that.
So I am going to combine them.
They neatly come together under two themes: women and evidence.
An evidence base is so important for everything we do. And yet we see decisions being made without it. Louisa gave me an article to read called ‘Do No Harm’ by John McKinght, which opened up my eyes to the harm we can do. We all know that when we go to the doctor, he or she will look at us holistically before prescribing medicine – things like what other medications we might be on. They will ask does this do more good than harm? The evidence base that comes with medicines will inform that decision.
But we don’t do that with social policy. We don’t ask if the “prescription” does more good than harm, because we don’t even think about the harm. Doing things for people may make them less resilient than teaching people how to do things for themselves collaboratively as a community. I will come back to this.
The Family Court Proceedings Reform Bill contains some alarming features seemingly based on the view that if you keep the lawyers out of the mix then people will be able to sort things out for themselves outside of the court in something called Family Dispute Resolution, but which is likely to be mediation.
The Bill contains an exception for when proceedings commenced on an ex parte (without notice) basis, which circumvents the need for prior mediation. This will often but not always happen when violence is involved. Sometimes the violence or abuse emerges in discussing the background to the dispute with the lawyer for the parties and/or the child.
As was pointed out to us by members of the Expert Reference Group, who only found out that the Minister had added the “lawyer exclusion” clause when the Bill was tabled in Parliament, beliefs cannot substitute for evidence that is based on sound research. The Minister has apparently relied on a self-selecting survey where 70% of the 121 respondents of the 12,000 cases filed in the Family Court thought that the lawyers had encouraged the dispute continuing. And 50% of the 121 respondents weren’t happy with their lawyers.
The evidence we received from the judges, lawyers and the clients who made submissions to the Select Committee was the complete opposite and this view was backed up by research.
Should we make our law based on real evidence or anecdote?
It is my view that we cannot, in a country where children are exposed to so much risk, allow changes to be made when they have not been thoroughly researched.
Nowhere in the developed world has the exclusion of lawyers at the outset of proceedings been adopted.
The phrase I have heard most often at the select committee is “throwing the baby out with the bathwater”.
This is particularly in relation to counseling. The government has already implemented its decision to reduce the free counseling sessions that have been available since the original Family Court came into being, from six sessions to three, and, in October, it will be down to one session for one hour.
We have heard evidence from counselors about their success rate. Success is sometimes reconciliation – a couple is guided to work through the issues, to remember what brought them together in the first place, the love for their children and addressing what has been tearing them apart. A number of lawyers spoke of the potential clients they never saw again after that referral to counseling. In many cases it is conciliation – they go through counseling and emerge better prepared to focus on their responsibilities towards their children. These results are in the majority – 70-80% are the figures we have been given.
So why, when this is so successful, is counseling being knocked back? Why will lawyers no longer be required by law to promote reconciliation and conciliation?
According to the Cabinet paper, reconciliation counseling is no longer going to be funded by the state. According to this government, Care of Children proceedings are at their essence a private matter where two sensible and rational grown-ups sort out the care arrangements for their children in a reasonable and sensible way.
Let me say this about those couples - they don’t end up in court! They do sort out their arrangements. Some even do so without counseling.
It is the vulnerable families – let’s look at who they are and see how they will cope filling in an affidavit formulated as a questionnaire, with no legal advice and then head off to mediation.
People with alcohol & drug issues, mental health issues, brain injuries, personality disorders, gang affiliations, people with English as a first, second, third, fourth or even fifth language, cultural sense of shame attached to separation, people who can’t read or easily express themselves in writing. These vulnerable families will head off to mediation when everything is raw, without any legal knowledge – so what you think the law is will guide you – which will include men thinking they have no rights in the Family Court – any power imbalances in the relationship will go un-noticed. And to cap it all, who will speak for the children?
The lawyers have told us about people who come to them having started proceedings as “self-represented” litigants – they are not self-represented; they are unrepresented. Examples of 50-page affidavits filled with irrelevant material as they ‘get it off their chest’ against the other party, the father or mother of their children with whom arrangements must be made for the sake of the children. How does that help?
It is so easy for the government to attack lawyers and say they are self-interested. We have heard how they choose family law, not for the money, but for the desire to make a difference to society. We should be listening to the evidence, because it backs up what they are saying.
From a societal point of view, we do little to prepare people for the relationships they enter – how on earth are we expected to prepare them for post-separation relationships for the sake of the children?
This is serious stuff and we must be alert to it.
I went to the Christchurch International Women’s Day breakfast yesterday hosted by the Christchurch branch of UN Women. NCW, Zonta and BPW women were there, as well as young women from the local high schools.
The guest speaker was Mary Devine, recognised in the New Year’s Honours List for her contribution to business. She talked about women in business and spoke about a turning point in terms of women on boards and women in senior management. She is confident that the NZX following the ASX reporting requirements will make a difference. I share that confidence, but we will be keeping an eye on them all the same.
She talked about her optimism for the city of Christchurch and then she talked about her personal journey.
What shone through was a stable, loving, encouraging family home, who encouraged her to do whatever she wanted. From her home town in Gore, she was encouraged to believe she could aspire to be at the top of any field of endeavour she chose from playing hockey for New Zealand to being Prime Minister.
Mary Devine is the first Managing Director of Ballantynes who is not a Ballantyne or related in anyway. Ballantynes (Christchurch’s Smith and Caughey) was and will be the anchor of the retail precinct of our new Christchurch and its recovery has been the core element of our Restart Mall, our quirky and colourful shops in containers, which has won praise locally and far and wide.
I asked her a question - where are the women in the rebuild of Christchurch?
Every time I see photos in the paper of those leading the rebuild or speaking for us – the Minister, the Mayor, the head of the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority, the head of the Christchurch Central Development Unit, the head of the Employers Chamber of Commerce, the Canterbury Development Corporation – I see no women.
There was an item in the Press the other day about the progress in the CBD – not one woman was interviewed.
My concern is that those running the show have no idea why this is important and although as Mary pointed out the old boy’s network has been challenged by our new kind of normal, we simply cannot replace it with a new boy’s network that does not embrace the diversity of our city in a meaningful way.
But why am I talking about Christchurch in Auckland? Afterall it’s two years on from the February quake and we must be just about done.
Nothing could be further from the truth. We have a long way to go and we need New Zealand to know how grateful we are for the massive support we have already received, but that we need that support to continue.
There are a lot of people still experiencing the natural effects of having been out of their house since September 2010 and still not knowing when they will be able to start rebuilding their house.
I should have brought pictures, but let me paint you an image instead. Over 900 buildings are coming down in the CBD. Around 8000 householders have been told they cannot rebuild their homes where they are.
There are over 400,000 claims. They all go through EQC which had 22 staff on the 4th Sept 2010, and only go to the insurer if they are over the cap of $100,000.
The government has made many decisions about our land which has left people to fight battles with insurers on their own.
And there is a feeling of a tinderbox on my side of town. I have described the emotional responses as everything from abject despair to incandescent rage. I fear the consequences at both ends of that spectrum. And we are not talking about a few carpers and moaners either.
An estimated 1,021 kilometres of road needs rebuilding due to earthquake damage. This is 52% of Christchurch's urban sealed roads. They have estimated that the earthquakes damaged 51 kilometres of water supply mains and around 528 kilometres of the sewer system.
But what this means is road diversions. Traffic delays come from the use of streets for traffic flows that were never designed for that amount of traffic. This leads to frustration.
This is our new kind of normal.
But I am not here to complain – much has already been achieved - I am here to give one message and that is please learn from us. We cannot be allowed to have experienced this disaster without sharing the benefit of our experience both good and bad.
I summarise that experience in the knowledge we have gained. I didn’t know what liquefaction and lateral spread were before Sept 4 2010. We can all pretty much assess the magnitude of an earthquake when we experience one. But the real lesson we have learned is the true meaning of words we have taken for granted we understood in the past.
A Community is not the co-location of houses; that’s a suburb. It is the relationships between the people in those houses that makes a community.
Leadership is not a posiiton that is held; it is a characteristic. The leaders who emerged from the community response will always inspire me. They understood that it was not their role to dictate the response – the top down command and control model that we are now used to. They understood that it was their role to be inclusive and engaging and to encourage others to lead. Leading alongside others, allowing others to step up, empowers people, which is an important element of recovery after such a disempowering event.
Consultation is not holding a meeting to tell people what the decisions are. The international literature has stopped referring to community engagement, because so many people think talking to the community represents engagement in the true sense of the word. It doesn’t. Community engagement means meaningful exchange – it’s a two-way process requiring listening and speaking.
Resilience – that’s the word that people are sick of in Christchurch, but only because it is misused. Resilience does not mean strong in the face of adversity – that’s stoicism and that is a true Canterbury trait.
Resilience means so much more and it is what we must strive for. It is not just the capacity to absorb the shock we have experienced; it is not just the capacity to bounce back; and it is not just about the ability to adapt to a new kind of normal; it is all of those things, but most importantly it is about the ability to co-create that new kind of normal, through shared learning and collaborative decision-making. That is democracy and it is what is missing in Christchurch.
I spoke to the head of Civil Defence recently and asked if he thought that the preparedness messages were too focused on the individual response – 3 days worth of food & water, a torch and a battery powered radio. What we learned in Christchurch that whole neighbourhoods and communities needed to come together and that those neighbourhoods that could respond quickly were those that already knew each other – pre-existing social capital if you will. And the international literature tells us not to be surprised by this.
So the message for you from Christchurch is this. Preparedness means asking these questions: who are your neighbours, what are their skills and needs, and what could you and your neighbours do together if no-one else came.
And if you do that you will have learned the most powerful lesson of our experience.