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NZ Government statements
6. TARIANA TURIA (Co-Leader—Māori Party) to the Attorney-General: Will the Government commit to establishing a settlement process to respond to claims being made by former patients of Porirua and other psychiatric hospitals, along the lines of the inquiry headed by Sir Rodney Gallen into abuses at Lake Alice Hospital; if not, why not?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Attorney-General): No; the Government’s view remains that the claims are materially different in important respects.
Tariana Turia: Does the Government accept that the claims now being made by former patients of Porirua and other psychiatric hospitals are essentially similar to the claims made by the former patients of Lake Alice Hospital for which the Government has paid compensation; if not, why not?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: No, the Government does not accept that. There are a number of differences: the Lake Alice Hospital claims allegations related to a confined period; the claimants were all treated by the same doctor; contemporaneous medical records enabled the circumstances to be well established and verified; and also, of course, an approach was made in that case for discussion in terms of allowing people’s stories to be heard. There are, therefore, some significant differences. Obviously, we shall await what happens through the court legal process.
Dr Jonathan Coleman: Who took the decision to withhold $35,000 from the compensation awarded to Mr Paul Zentveld by Sir Rodney Gallen, and did that person or persons also order similar amounts to be withheld from the 87 other second-round claimants in the Lake Alice Hospital case?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I cannot be certain of this, but my recollection is that that was a collective decision in the end, and was not the decision of an individual Minister.
Tariana Turia: Why has the Government decided to force the victims of mistreatment, who have already been severely traumatised, to go through the torment of court procedures in order to seek justice; and would the taxpayer-funded costs be better used to reach settlement with the claimants?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I accept these cases are always extremely difficult. I do not deny the issues around the way people feel about their experiences. But one of the more difficult issues that always comes into play in these kinds of considerations is what was generally accepted at the time these things occurred, not what is the general acceptance at the present time as to what should have occurred. If we do not actually ask the former question, the Government could be liable for an extraordinary wide range of compensation across an extraordinary wide range of issues.
Tariana Turia: Does the Government accept that the claims now being made by former patients at Porirua and other psychiatric hospitals are evidence of a widespread culture of violence and abuse towards psychiatric patients that existed between the 1950s and the 1980s; if not, why not?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: There have been many changes in culture. We regarded it as normal in the 1950s and 1960s to lock up large numbers of people in mental hospitals, perhaps for the remainder of their lives—sometimes, merely because they had an intellectual disability, not any form of mental illness. These days we do not accept such forms of treatment or behaviour as being within the norms of a modern society. That does not mean to say the Government should be paying compensation to everybody who was kept in a mental hospital in the 1950s and 1960s. We have to be very careful here about how practices and attitudes have changed over time.
9. Domestic Violence and Child Abuse—Call for Royal Commission
9. JAN LOGIE (Green) to the Prime Minister: Does he stand by his reported comments that the Government would need to seek advice before deciding whether a Royal Commission into domestic violence and child abuse, which Owen Glenn has offered to fund, was necessary?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister) : I stand by my actual response to the question, which was “We need to consider all of the issues of what might come out of the royal commission.” That is something I have not taken advice on yet.
Jan Logie: Why does the green paper not deal directly with domestic violence, given that every year police attend 73,000 domestic violence call-outs, and report that 70 percent of these cases also involve child abuse?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I think if the member wants a very detailed answer, she really should put the question down to the Minister for Social Development. But what I can say is that the green paper on vulnerable children actually tangentially deals with that issue, because, by definition, vulnerable children are often subject to domestic violence.
Jan Logie: How can he tell this House that the Government is serious about domestic violence, when it has recently closed the family violence unit in the Ministry of Social Development, cut funding to domestic violence education programmes, and reduced funding for the family violence sector to a state of chaos?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Firstly, I reject the statements made by the member. I would not even put them as questions; I really would put them as statements. But let me just say this: in terms of the work we have undertaken in 2012 alone, the white paper on vulnerable children, which will be released later this year, has had over 10,000 submissions, which we will be looking closely at. The Health Committee has initiated an inquiry into preventing child abuse and improving children’s health outcomes. Obviously, there is the ministerial committee that is being led and co-chaired by Bill English and Tariana Turia, and there is an Expert Advisory Group on Solutions to Child Poverty. They are examples of just some of the background work we are doing that is informing the policies that the Government has been operating.
Jan Logie: Given all the international evidence indicates—as well as our local police statistics indicate—a direct link between domestic violence and child abuse, given the evident severity of this problem in New Zealand, which is getting worse, and given the evident poor institutional response, how can the Prime Minister not commit to support an inquiry to find a long-term, sustainable solution to domestic violence, including child abuse?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I think we take issue with the statement by the member that it is getting worse. The information we have is it is probably levelling off. In terms of the work the Government has been doing, there are many, many strands of that. But if the purpose of the member’s question is to ask whether the Government supports Owen Glenn using part of the very generous $80 million donation he has made to fund a royal commission of inquiry, then the answer to that is, no, we do not support that. The reason for that is that it is my own view that that is an incredibly generous act from Owen Glenn, but he would be better to spend the money on on-the-ground solutions within at-risk communities, because, frankly, this country has had a lot of inquiries over the last decade, and we need to move towards some practical solutions. He should use his money for that.
Jacinda Ardern: Does he agree, then, that the inquiry into the determinants of well-being for Māori children by the Māori Affairs Committee, the inquiry into preventing child abuse and improving children’s health outcomes by the Health Committee, the Expert Advisory Group on Solutions to Child Poverty—the Children’s Commissioner’s expert’s group—and the green paper process on vulnerable children mean we have the evidence we need, but the issue lies in the Minister allocating in the Budget a mere $6 million to respond to all of this work?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: No. What I think is that there are a variety of different strands of information gathering and inquiring going on. And, frankly, having another one is probably not going to take us very far. This country has an issue when it comes to domestic violence, it has an issue when it comes to child abuse, but, actually, if Owen Glenn wants to spend $80 million—and it is an incredibly generous donation—I think if he went out to South Auckland and spent that money on the ground, in that community, he would make a bigger difference.
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The United Nations child advocacy group says it is disappointed Prime Minister John Key isn’t backing a cross-party plan to tackle abuse.
Last week Social Development Minister Paula Bennett released a discussion paper – titled Every Child Thrives, Belongs, Achieves – which included suggestions such as mandatory reporting of abuse and giving priority treatment to younger families.
Labour deputy leader Annette King said rather than political posturing, a cross-party consensus was needed.
“It is time that the political divide was closed in terms of putting children first,” she said.
Mr Key this morning told TVNZ’s Breakfast he did not think it was an issue where parties could agree because of the wide-ranging funding decisions involved.
“I think that’s tricky because ultimately it’s about spending decisions across a whole lot of different areas that you need to consider.”
Mr Key said while all parties agreed abuse rates were too high there was no silver bullet and that was why the Government put the green paper out there for discussion.
“Ultimately, parties are going to have to go and campaign on what they believe is the right solution to those problems.”
United Nation Children’s Fund (Unicef) national advocacy manager Barbara Lambourn said it was disappointing Mr Key was not supporting the call for a bi-partisan approach.
“Making children’s issues a political football with arguments about which party will claim to have the solution is not what New Zealanders need to hear,” Ms Lambourn said.
“It’s clear from all the information we have about the conditions in which child abuse can thrive, that government and community agencies need to work more closely to achieve results.
“We’d like to see that reflected by politicians, the people who make the big calls, working together to make sure that any plan for children is agreed by consensus, properly resourced and sustainable for the long term,” Ms Lambourn said.
Ms King said it was a blow to hear Mr Key dismiss a cooperative approach.
“If he is not prepared to take the advice of another political party, then I am asking him to listen to the growing chorus of parents,experts and practitioners in the field of child development and welfare,” she said.
“They are telling us – the politicians – to get over ourselves and stop the bickering.
“They are saying loud and clear that New Zealand needs a long-term solution to the problems of child abuse and children’s underachievement – and that requires the whole country to work together.”
Last week’s green paper said two children were physically, sexually or emotionally abused every hour, with 21,000 cases of abuse and neglect in 2009/10, and 13,315 avoidable hospital admissions the previous year.
More than 47,000 children under the age of 16 lived with a victim of family violence in 2010, while 15 percent of children under 18 years needed support and intervention at any one time.
Of those, 15 percent were children who were significantly more at risk of poor life outcomes such as learning and behavioural difficulties, mental and physical health problems, alcohol and drug dependency, criminal activity, imprisonment, poor education achievement and employability.