Speeches

PM's speech to Safer Families Event

Tuesday, September 13, 2016 - 12:15
Prime Minister

Good afternoon,

I’d like to acknowledge

  • Justice Minister Amy Adams
  • Maori Development Minister Te Ururoa Flavell
  • Distinguished members of the judiciary,
  • Chief executives,
  • Ladies and gentlemen

Thank you for the welcome.

And thank you all for the contributions you make to help New Zealanders lead safer and more secure lives.

It’s great to see so many people passionate about making a difference.

For most children, New Zealand is a great place to grow up.

We have a high quality education system, easy access to the outdoors and a strong culture of participation.

Most children can rely on the adults in their house, family and whanau for nurture, encouragement and support.

This helps those children to grow, flourish and be ready as adults to take advantage of all the opportunities that today’s world offers.

But we know that, unfortunately, that does not describe the growing-up that every child experiences.

For most New Zealanders, home is a sanctuary.

But for some, home can sometimes be the opposite.

It can be a place of fear, anxiety and danger.

We know that addressing social problems often means confronting issues that are distressing to deal with.

But this Government has not shied away from hard problems, particularly where we think our intervention can make a positive difference in people’s lives.

Where there is evidence that a programme of support will make a difference, Finance Minister Bill English finds the money to pay for it.

Today I want to focus on how we intend to address the harm in our society caused by repeated family violence.

This is usually, though not exclusively, perpetrated by men on their partners or former partners, and on one or more of their children.

I am going to outline for you changes we will be making to reduce this kind of cruelty.

All New Zealanders wish family violence did not happen.

Many wish that those involved might just fix it themselves.

Some families do manage to improve their circumstances, but some do not.

They need help to stop the violence and repression so they can lead healthier, happier and more fulfilling lives.

Obviously, the most important reason to help is to protect victims from the pain, fear and consequences of living in a violent household.

The sooner we stop it, the better the chance of lives being saved and of injuries being avoided; and the better the chance of adults and children living with the confidence, security and opportunities that most New Zealanders take for granted.

In addition, the greater the reduction in family violence now, the greater the chance of it not blighting another generation.

New Zealanders generally resist government interference in their private lives, and I get that.

But let me say straight up that in households where anyone is being assaulted, threatened, intimidated, belittled or deprived, the perpetrator has no right to expect privacy so they can go on being a bully.

If they won’t stop that behaviour, and the victims can’t stop it, then we must ensure that someone else stops it.

We know the effects of this type of offending are cumulative and profound.

Children subjected to family violence, and those who witness it, are at risk of serious problems with their physical and mental health, poor educational and job outcomes, drug and alcohol abuse, and homelessness.

None of this will surprise any of you here today.

This audience knows that police respond to 110,000 family violence call-outs a year.

And you know that kids are present at nearly two-thirds of these incidents.

You also know that, tragically, nearly half of all homicides are acts of family violence.

We are all aware of terrible cases where a woman has predicted, “my ex is going to kill me”, and he has.

Victims, mostly women, are often trapped because their spouses or partners have isolated them, cut them off from support and finances, and undermined their confidence.

It’s easy to think this is someone else’s problem.

But it is not someone else’s problem if you are a New Zealander who cares.

That’s why Ministers have been working together to come up with a different and better approach to family violence to get different and better results.

Everyone knows there is no single answer and the Government cannot be all of the solution.

However, we have a key role.

We have resources when victims often do not.

And we have the ability to make laws laid down by Parliament and enforced by police.

That is quite different to the laws laid down by some guy in his own home, and enforced by him.

Today I am announcing an overhaul of the family violence prevention system.

Our new approach will revolve around intervening sooner, and more effectively.

That is because the sooner we can identify problems and get victims and perpetrators the help that they need to change their lives for the better, the fewer serious assaults there will be.

We have already started with a new Integrated Safety Response pilot that is running in Christchurch, and soon to get underway in the Waikato.

This has brought in the widest range of agencies to work togetherr, share information, and assess and plan responses for every family violence notification to police.

It involves daily case triage, specialist high-risk case management, and help for perpetrators to get the services they need to change their behaviour.

We know we have developed a better way of working on behalf of the people who need us most.

It’s early days but we also know that at least one life has been saved.

The feedback so far gives us hope that with the dedication of those in the sector, and a new way of working together, we can reduce family violence across New Zealand.

That is our aim.

Justice Minister Amy Adams has been carrying out a legislative review over the past two years that has led to the changes I am outlining today.

We will create a legislative regime that is built on best practice and ensures high-risk domestic abuse can be recognised, recorded and responded to properly.

The changes I am announcing will include:

  • Creating a range of specific new offences to better reflect what we know about family violence. For example, new offences will include non-fatal strangulation, assault on a family member, and coercion to marry.
  • In situations involving family violence the safety of the victims will be made a principal consideration in all bail decisions, and central to parenting and property orders. We can therefore expect to see more abusers in custody, rather than on bail.
  • All family violence offending will be flagged on criminal records to ensure prior behaviour is clearly identified in all future decision making.
  • We know that victims often experience multiple counts of abuse before they get help so we will address barriers to getting protection orders — such as simplifying forms and providing advice. In addition, others will be able to apply on the victim’s behalf where the victim is too fearful.
  • We will enable police to refer at-risk families to a service provider to carry out risk and needs assessments and people will be able to refer themselves to the same services.
  • Freeing up information sharing between family violence prevention agencies and professionals will help make assistance quicker and more responsive.
  • A wider range of support services will be available to perpetrators upon the issuing of protection orders.  We want to stop abuse, not only to protect victims, of course, but also because the single biggest predictor of children growing up to be either abusers of their own partners, or victims of their partners, is if they themselves grew up in a home where such abuse occurred.

These new measures will cost around $130 million over four years.

We expect the first round of legislation implementing these changes to be introduced to Parliament early next year.

These changes are by no means the end of creating the effective, prevention-focused system that we aspire to — but they will provide its essential building blocks.

It will take time for services to be redesigned to appropriately meet the needs of the range of victims and perpetrators of family violence, and for the necessary capacity to be built.

We also need to ensure these services are integrated with existing initiatives like children’s teams.

These changes have the potential to significantly reduce family violence.

The increase in protection orders alone is expected to lead to 1200 fewer violent offences each year.

The increased imprisonment of violent offenders is expected to prevent a further 1100 violent offences per year.

These will be significant gains.

We know that half of all young people exposed to family violence will themselves be on a benefit before they turn 19.

We know that boys who witness family violence are twice as likely to grow up to abuse their own partners and children.

We know the cost of such violence to individuals, families, neighbourhoods and our country.

So we also know that every step we take to reduce this level of harm is worthwhile.

I want to personally make a couple more points, very plainly.

First, I want to say to victims: you are not alone.

You deserve and are entitled to a life free from fear, and your children deserve and are entitled to that too. Help is available.

Secondly, to the perpetrators of this misery I say this: recognise what is going on in your home and take responsibility for it.

A good father, a good step-father and a good man does not hit, intimidate or control his spouse, partner, ex-partner or her children. The same goes for women who are abusers.

You do not create a better family by hitting them, belittling them, or by making them live in fear of you.

You do not own your spouse, your partner, your ex-partner, your children or your step-children.

If you act in a violent and controlling way, you can change that behaviour.

Own the problem.

Nothing will get better until you do.

Ask for help. There is no shame in that.

This audience knows that family violence is not restricted to the poorest communities, or only to violence by men against women.

A quarter of women who live in a home that earns over $100,000 a year have experienced physical or sexual violence from their partner.

Around one in four women with a university education have been assaulted.

20 per cent of all adults experience violence at the hands of their partner at some point in their lifetime.

Kids from abusive homes are three times more likely to end up in violent juvenile offending and three times more likely to try to take their own lives.

Just as the effects of family violence are widely felt, so is the challenge of reducing family violence widely shared — by the Government, the police, social agencies, families and by everyone who knows that violence is occurring, including those who are inflicting it.

None of us should be deterred by the difficulty of the problem. Rather we should be motivated by the positive difference we can make.

Today’s announcement is consistent with the additional steps this Government has already taken to support New Zealanders.

The principle that people want to be independent and self-supporting, but that the Government should be there for Kiwis when they need it, has guided the Cabinet, and me as Prime Minister, over the past eight years.

We have taken a wide range of steps that are making a real difference to New Zealanders who need a hand, especially in raising their families.

This includes spending about $24 billion in support and benefits to help those who struggle to get by under their own steam.

Last year, we became the first Government in 43 years to increase welfare benefits.

We also increased Working for Families payments to low-income families not on a benefit and increased paid parental leave to 18 weeks to help families with a new baby.

We’re setting up a new Ministry of Vulnerable Children to focus on the care and protection of our most vulnerable young citizens.

We’ve made 300,000 homes warmer and drier.

Our Kickstart Breakfast programme has served up 7 million breakfasts for kids going to school.

On top of this, we’ve introduced free GP visits for kids under 13.

So, increasing support in practical ways for those who need a hand has been a consistent theme of this Government and has been well supported by New Zealanders since we were first elected.

If this focus has surprised some commentators, it should not have.

In 2007, I stood up in the Burnside Rugby Clubrooms in Christchurch and made a speech about defining the sort of country I wanted New Zealand to be.

At the heart of that speech was the belief that every New Zealander deserves a fair chance in life.

A belief that all kids should have the kind of start that will enable them to make the most of their potential, and the most of the opportunities out there in the world today.

That does not mean that kids need to have everything.

No kid needs everything.

But they all need love, care and encouragement in order to flourish, and those can only be provided in homes where children feel safe and secure, because they are safe and secure.

Ministers in this Government are united in condemning abuse in the home.

All kinds of abuse.

Nothing justifies it. Nothing excuses it.

Succeeding in reducing family violence will save lives, and transform lives.

For some, it will feel like a new life.

There is so much to be gained.

This Government intends being part of the solution. I am sure you do too.

Thank you.