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Children, Young Persons, and Their Families Amendment Bill (No 6) — First Reading


Children, Young Persons, and Their Families Amendment Bill (No 6)

First Reading

Hon RUTH DYSON (Minister for Social Development and Employment) : I move, That the Children, Young Persons, and Their Families Amendment Bill (No 6) be now read a first time. At the appropriate time I intend to move that the Children, Young Persons, and Their Families Amendment Bill (No 6) be considered by the Social Services Committee.

The purpose of this bill is to amend the Children, Young Persons, and Their Families Act 1989 to give better effect to the Act’s objectives and principles. It will update the Act in line with best practice today and strengthen the application of its principles in the family decision-making model that underpins it. When the Act was passed in 1989 it was recognised as world-leading legislation. It has positively impacted on the lives of thousands of children, young people, and their families. It has empowered families in the formal process of resolving issues of child abuse and neglect and of youth offending.

Our Government is committed to improving child welfare and reducing offending by children and young people. It is now 18 years since the principal Act was passed, and we owe it to New Zealanders to ensure it continues to provide the most effective legal framework for safeguarding our vulnerable children and young people, and promoting their well-being and that of their families, whānau, and family groups. In those 18 years there has been rapid practice development. Many countries have adopted key elements of New Zealand’s legislation.

The Act pre-dates significant developments, such as the Victims’ Rights Act 2002, the Sentencing Act 2002, the Care of Children Act 2004, and New Zealand’s obligations under international conventions. In April the Ministry of Social Development released a discussion document for consultation. It outlined ideas and suggestions from stakeholders for updating the Act. As part of the robust consultation process, 98 submissions from key stakeholders, practitioners, and academics from across the care and protection, disability, and youth justice sectors were received.

One of the key messages from those submissions and the various workshops and discussions held since was that our Act is fundamentally sound. Many expressed support for the overall intention and framework provided by the Act, and there was no feedback that opposed the general framework. Practitioners were passionate about improving and strengthening the legislation. A significant number of proposals to update and improve it have resulted from that consultation and further policy development.

Madam Assistant Speaker, it is a pleasure to be the first member of Parliament to be given the call by you in your new role, and I congratulate you on that.

These proposals, together, amount to the most substantial and far-reaching improvements in child welfare law since 1989. To realise the benefit of all the changes in a timely manner, and because they cover both discreet policy changes and significant redrafting, I am proposing to amend the Act in two distinct phases.

This bill represents the first phase of the suite of amendments required for updating. It contains the important additions and discreet policy changes that can and should occur at the earliest opportunity. It includes important changes to the general application of the Act, and the care and protection, child offending, and youth justice provisions. Phase-two amendments will include redrafting and other procedural amendments so that the Act is expressed in plain language wherever possible and any unnecessary complexity is removed. Those changes require some time to draft and do not form part of this bill.

So the changes that impact across the principal Act are, firstly, to increase the upper age in the definition of a young person to include 17-year-olds. This change will have considerable operational impact, and the bill proposes that the upper age for care and protection and youth justice provisions can be brought into effect at different times. In youth justice this will ensure that we can tailor responses to offending by 17-year-olds, and involve their families in addressing their behaviour.

Research indicates that our youth justice system is better than the adult criminal justice system at stopping reoffending. The change, of course, also means that the Act will be consistent with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which New Zealand ratified in 1993. The second point is that the bill will make clear when Government and non-Government organisations can appropriately share information about the safety, welfare, and well-being of children and young people, and it will strengthen the participation of children and young people in all processes, especially in family group conferences, planning processes, court proceedings, and reviews.

Thirdly, the bill requires the chief executive of the Ministry of Social Development to prepare and implement policies and procedures to promptly and appropriately address and resolve individual complaints by children, young people, and their families. Fourthly, it ensures that the chief executive prepares and implements procedures for reviews of professional best practice. This amendment will support Child, Youth and Family to rapidly and accurately identify areas for practice development or improvement. Fifthly, it ensures that at all times an employee is appointed or designated as the chief social worker, and it sets the functions of the chief social worker, which will include providing professional leadership and conducting practice reviews.

These changes are consistent with contemporary international improvements to child welfare legislation and with our Government’s desire to support professional practice and increase accountability and transparency in our child welfare system. Within the care and protection provisions the bill proposes to reinforce the important role of service collaboration and information sharing, and to protect people who assist with inquiries about children under the care and protection provisions. It will also improve responsiveness to the needs of children and young people when concerns are reported. That includes the ability to undertake an assessment of child and family needs rather than a statutory investigation. This change enables children and families to access the support they need in a timely and appropriate fashion. It will ensure family group conferences are timely and well informed to achieve the best outcomes.

The bill will improve support for young people leaving the care of the State as they move towards independence. It also contains changes to the provisions for the care of disabled children and young people. The amendments will ensure that other options are properly explored before agreements for long-term out-of-family care of disabled children and young people can be entered into. Where agreements for out-of-home care are required, the changes will ensure more regular family group conference review and monitoring of placements. These amendments will align the disability provisions better with the principles of the Act.

The Government believes that the provisions relating to child offending in the Act can be difficult to understand, and overly complex. The proposed amendments simplify the process and the documentation required in responding to child offending. They provide greater commitment to the interests of victims and communities affected by child offending, as well as asserting the importance of ensuring that offending behaviours are addressed.

With regard to serious or persistent offending by children, we need to ensure that measures are effective to reduce further offending. The bill proposes to improve the child-offending provisions by consolidating and simplifying them. It clarifies the applicable principles and options available for holding offenders accountable. It increases the flexibility of the Family Court in making custody orders and reviewing plans; it addresses the role of adults in child offending; and it strengthens victim provisions.

The bill enhances Youth Court options by introducing two new Youth Court orders—an extended supervision with residence order, and an extended supervision with activity order. These orders will support more intense programme involvement for serious and persistent offenders. It also reinforces our Government’s anti-tagging strategy. The bill enables the Youth Court to make orders when discharging proceedings against a young person, and will subject the remission of supervision with residence orders to further conditions relating to the young person’s behaviour and adherence to his or her plan. It strengthens the role of victims in the youth justice process.

These changes provide an important balance of accountability, safety, and assistance. They will help to better address and prevent offending, and so achieve more effective outcomes for the young people involved, their families, and, of course, their victims. This Act determines how the State intervenes to stop child abuse and neglect, and to prevent and address child offending. It also demonstrates how our society cares for and supports vulnerable children and young people.

This bill ensures that we continue to provide an up-to-date and effective legislative framework for improving our response to victims, and the well-being of children, young people and their families. I commend the Children, Young Persons, and Their Families Amendment Bill (No 6) to the House.

The ASSISTANT SPEAKER (Hon Marian Hobbs): I call the honourable member—sorry, I forget—Anne Tolley.

ANNE TOLLEY (National—East Coast) : I start by congratulating you, Madam Assistant Speaker, on your appointment to the job, and I hope you will remember my name in future!

The National Party will be not supporting the Children, Young Persons, and Their Families Amendment Bill (No 6).

Hon Ruth Dyson: You’ve never been asked to.

ANNE TOLLEY: In fact, we have never been asked to. I have not been contacted at all to see whether we would support the bill. We believe that this legislation before the House today is a missed opportunity, and I note that the discussion document that went out was called Safeguarding Our Children: Updating the Children, Young Persons, and Their Families Act 1989.

I ask the Minister where in the legislation before the House today are there any major changes that will address the increasing numbers of children in our society who are being abused. The changes in this bill are largely technical. There is no major change that will prevent young children from having dreadful things done to them, like being put in a dryer by people who think that that is fun. There is nothing in the bill before us today that goes to the heart of child abuse in our community.

This legislation is about the system. It is about managing the processes, managing the increasing number of notifications, and ticking off the boxes. It is not about stopping our babies and our children from being bashed and abused—whether that abuse is physical, sexual, or emotional. There is nothing in here to stop that abuse, and that is a tragedy and a missed opportunity.

When the Minister stood and introduced this legislation she talked about the Labour Government being committed to improving child welfare and to protecting children from abuse, and she said that this bill showed that commitment. I ask where we see that commitment. Where is the black and white here? There are some technical changes to the Children, Young Persons, and Their Families Act. Some of the deckchairs have been rearranged, but the ship is still sinking. We still see increasing violence against our babies and children in our community. Every year the numbers grow. What I have seen from the Minister is some changing of technical stuff and some manipulation of figures, but nothing concrete to stop the abuse. The National Party agrees with some of the technical changes to this legislation. We agree with a number of the changes, and I will come to those. There are also some major changes that we object to, and I will detail those.

I find it very interesting that in the submissions on this discussion document, 15 service providers—major providers of services to the Government who will be working with this legislation—talked about their issues not being with the legislation but with the interpretation and the practical application of the legislation. They talked about the individual interpretations that different officers put on the Act and the actual implementation of the Act itself. In particular they talked about the resourcing of the departments dealing with the Act. They talked about training and education in the detail of the Act, and they talked about practice-related issues. In other words, they talked about how the Act is used to ensure outcomes, and that is what the National Party’s objection relates to.

This legislation and these changes focus on the Act itself, not on the outcomes of the Act. So we have sympathy with those service providers. It was very interesting that resourcing is a major issue for a large number of those providers who did make submissions. They were particularly concerned about the resourcing of some of the changes that this bill will require. I was interested to hear the Minister acknowledge there would be some resourcing difficulties and that various pieces of this legislation could be introduced at different times. That rings warning bells, and I am sure that service providers up and down the country will be very concerned, particularly in relation to the youth justice area, that it means that some of the changes proposed in the bill we are talking about tonight will not be implemented because the resources will not follow the changes. That was not the deal.

The National Party does agree with some parts of this bill. We agree that we need to be able to share information in a much better way, and we hear that every time we talk to people in the community who are working at the coalface and using the Act on a daily basis. National members are not convinced that these changes to the Act will actually change the attitude of some of the bureaucrats in different ministries about sharing their information. It is absolutely vital that that information is shared if we are to change the living conditions of some of those children who are at risk.

So, changing the Act is one thing, and it is great to see some small incremental changes, but I note that we are still talking about “reasonable grounds for disclosure.” It is who decides what those reasonable grounds are that is crucial to sharing information. That can often depend on individuals, and individual district health boards in particular, sharing health information, and, of course, on individual policemen and women, and on individual Child, Youth and Family staff themselves. So we agree with the moves being made in the bill to share information.

We also agree that there needs to be a change in focus for victims, both in the Youth Court and the family group conferences. I met a young boy in Wairoa who had been through a family group conference. He had been stealing from an old lady’s house. She was not even notified of his first family group conference. A second one was convened because she indicated she really wanted to have a relationship with this young man. As an ex-schoolteacher she believed she could reach out to this young man, so she asked for a second family group conference so she could be involved. She got the second family group conference but it was in Auckland, because that is where the boy had been moved to, to another branch of the family. There was no way she could attend that family group conference. She felt that if she had been able to sit and eyeball that young man and build a relationship with him as his victim, then she could have helped in his rehabilitation. That opportunity was taken away from her because it was more important that he was moved rather than that he actually deal with the realities of the victim. So we support a change in focus for victims.

We also strongly support extending supervision with activity and supervision with residence. We believe that ongoing monitoring following supervision with residence and supervision with activity is a major part of this, and, of course, John Key’s state of the nation speech at the beginning of the year elaborated on the National Party’s feelings on how important it is to not just put people into supervision with residence for a few months, then let them back out into the community and expect them to have suddenly changed their lives. So we certainly agree with that part of this bill, but overall National does not support it.

RUSSELL FAIRBROTHER (Labour) : The previous speaker, Anne Tolley, stood up and said that National will not support the Children, Young Persons, and Their Families Amendment Bill (No 6) because it did not do anything. My friend the Hon Mark Burton asked what in 9 years National has proposed to do differently, and, of course, she avoided that matter entirely. But it must have circulated down into her thought process, because she then changed tack entirely and started to praise all aspects of the bill. Essentially the National Party is saying: “We will not support the bill because it is not our idea, but we think the bill is a good thing to have because we do not have a better option.” National members will not support the bill because it is too good an idea for them to possess and, therefore, they will vote against it. That is the rubbish we are faced with on this side when a Minister such as the Hon Ruth Dyson brings into this House innovative, forward-thinking legislation.

Let us look at the challenge laid out by the previous speaker. She asked what this bill will do to stop our kids being abused in their homes and to stop children being put into clothes dryers. Well, I ask the member to go to the explanatory note of the bill, which will take her to information on new sections 17, 17A, 17B, 17C, 17D, 17E, and 17F, which are to be inserted in the Children, Young Persons, and Their Families Act by clause 10. In the short time I have, I would say that sections 17 to 17F will enable a person taking an initial complaint or undergoing an initial assessment, whether it be a policeman or social worker, to bring the agencies together to develop a plan that is not bogged down by bureaucratic and privacy issues, so that when a complaint arises there is an obligation to investigate and to coordinate. That is the total answer to the concerns expressed by the previous speaker, who failed to get to section 17 onward in clause 10 in the bill.

The member then went on to say that she had a person come to see her in a clinic in Wairoa once. This person had been the subject of offending by a youth and was unable to attend a family group conference. What the member forgot to say is that clause 15 makes quite a dramatic change to a well-established and very efficient family group conference practice.

The family group conference practices that are followed in the Family Court are recognised worldwide as leaders in the field. Clause 15 takes away the ability of a child or young person who does not agree—or if the conference does not unanimously agree—with an outcome from stopping the conference’s recommendations from being enacted. So we get to a stage where a family group conference cannot be hijacked by an obdurate parent, caregiver, or youth, and if the wishes or desires of the family group conference generally are for a course of action, then it will be carried out. That answers totally the concern the previous speaker had about wanting to reconvene a second family group conference—she complained that the youth had then been moved up from Wairoa to Auckland—because the family group conference can be made to work.

We find that this bill addresses many issues in the one bill. It covers the field of bringing agencies together and of preventing abuse and harm to children. It raises the age of those appearing before the Youth Court to 18, which happens to be consistent with the Government’s policy of encouraging and keeping young people in a form of education until they are 18. Raising the age of the Youth Court to 18 removes many anomalies in practice, where children of 16 suddenly become adults at 17 when they should still be treated in a nurturing process.

Interestingly, as the Minister pointed out, we have had greater success in the punishments and the jurisdiction of the Youth Court than we have had in our adult courts. What does that tell us? It tells us that when the agencies work together, they provide an opportunity for rehabilitation that has a real impact. So lifting the age to 17 makes more effective the bringing together of the various agencies to make good the promise that our youth justice system already holds.

This is a comprehensive bill. I wanted to move on in the time available—but I cannot—to the provisions that relate to 10-year-olds and 11 and 12-year-olds. Those provisions will have to remain for another speech. All I would say at this stage is that this bill reflects Labour’s commitment to helping young people who offend to get the best possible help and support in order to reduce future offending. This is no idle hope, because the figures show that these provisions work. We are seeing in practice a significant change and improvement, and this bill goes a long way towards doing that.

Labour does care about how young people are treated and are committed, and we care about eliminating child abuse and neglect. We need to make the changes in this bill, as a hands-off approach is not the way to ensure a better future for our kids and our grandchildren. This bill helps to make clear when Government and non-government organisations can appropriately share information about the safety, welfare, and well-being of children and young persons. The bill will help improve responsiveness to the needs of children and young people when concerns are reported. This bill goes to the heart of the improvements needed in the children and young persons, and youth justice area.

As the Minister said, the bill will eventually be in two parts. The second part will address many of the provisions in plain English, and I look forward to the development of that. Needless to say at this stage, this bill raises the age to include 17-year-olds, which coordinates the many services that intersect into a young person’s life when they come across the Family Court or the Youth Court. This bill will build further on the very good results we already have from our youth justice system. I strongly support this bill.

The ASSISTANT SPEAKER (Hon Marian Hobbs): I call on the member Anne Collins—Judith Collins, I am sorry.

JUDITH COLLINS (National—Clevedon) : Obviously, I have not made enough impression in my short time in the House!

The ASSISTANT SPEAKER (Hon Marian Hobbs): You are very lucky you were not called “Tuppence”!

JUDITH COLLINS: Thank you, Madam Assistant Speaker, and, of course, congratulations on your elevation as an Assistant Speaker; and I will remember your name. I am very pleased to be able to follow, bar one, my colleague Anne Tolley, who has set out some of the concerns the National Party has with this bill. I also listened, with interest, to the statements made by the Hon Ruth Dyson and by Russell Fairbrother, and particularly I noted that Ms Dyson talked about anti-tagging and about how this bill was going to have some sort of relationship with anti-tagging provisions, and would work in well with the Government’s moves. Well, I have news for Ms Dyson. Those of us who live and work in South Auckland will tell her that we are well past anti-tagging now. Now we are into etching of glass, and that is the latest response from the taggers in our area. Now they etch glass, so that the tagging cannot be rubbed off. The only way to get rid of that is to remove the glass, replace it, and wait for the next etching. Perhaps we are going to ban the sale of razor blades—

Anne Tolley: Diamonds!

JUDITH COLLINS: Or diamonds, which would be a terrible thing. Ban glass, or anything at all, because, basically, that is what is happening. They use compasses, from maths classes, and that is one of the problems when we try to fix a symptom without dealing with the real issues.

We oppose quite strongly a couple of things in the bill, and that is why we are standing against it, at this stage, unless there are substantial changes. Certainly, the Government does not seem to need our support on it, because it has never bothered to discuss the matter with either myself or with Anne Tolley, who is in charge of the area of children, young persons, and their families from our point of view.

One of the reasons we oppose the bill is that it raises the age of a young person from 17 to 18. That means young offenders aged 17 will now be dealt with by the Youth Court, and will be treated as though they are still children. We think that is a shame, because I would like to take the Minister and some of her people who have never been anywhere a bit rough, around our area and out to visit some of the young people whom she would want to call “children”. They are about 6 foot 2 inches, and upwards, extremely strong, and very, very tough, and they run by all sorts of street gang names. I will not call them child gangs. My colleague Dr Wayne Mapp mentioned one of those gang names, but I think it is best not to, because it just encourages them.

These people would just laugh at this bill and think we are a bunch of wusses. They would say: “You people don’t understand what it’s like. We’re in charge of the streets, and you people in Parliament don’t know what’s happening.” Frankly, most of them do not, because most of them have never been outside of the ivory tower.

At the moment we have a youth justice system that is already struggling to cope with teenage violent crime, and I suggest that the Minister just consider a wee bit the violent crime and the increases in youth violent crime, and young people’s violent crime in South Auckland, and just consider what that is doing for law-abiding people, the vast majority of people who live out their lives there, and what is happening, particularly in parts of Clendon, and Manurewa, which is represented by the Hon George Hawkins, and certainly I know that he understands these issues. I would say to the Minister to come out of Wellington, come out of the Koru Club lounge, come and visit the ordinary people of New Zealand and understand what they are dealing with, and tell them that the person who mugged their mother and took her handbag and stole her money, or hit her over the head, was only a child and needs to be treated as such. I can tell him that some “young” people commit very adult crimes, and we do believe that, where appropriate, those crimes should be treated in an adult way.

It is all very well for the Minister to talk about these great rates of not offending, and family group conferences, but we all know that there are some children who go through 16 family group conferences. So, time and time again, the same people are dragged in to come and hear them say: “I’m a very naughty boy” or “a very naughty girl” and “Yes, I’ll probably do it again.” That is pretty much what happens. Unfortunately, Child, Youth and Family deals with dysfunctional families, dysfunctional children, and often deals with dysfunctional parents, and dysfunctional extended family and whānau, and it is an extremely tough job. The last thing we need to do is try to belittle the efforts they make by saying: “Oh, by the way, you’re going to now have to deal with these 17-year-olds who are as tough as anything, who in many countries and in various stages in our own country have volunteered to go off to war, put their ages up and went off to war, and killed people.” What we are dealing with is “kids”, as in young people, but who are tough, hard, brutal, and they will think that this bill is the biggest con job ever. Of course, it is.

We heard from the Minister tonight what it is all about. It is all about the UN convention. It is about the ticking of the boxes to make sure that we have a UN convention all ticked off, so we can all be happy. Well, certainly the Green Party thinks that 16-year-olds should be able to vote, and they will want to say that, no, 17-year-olds should not be held accountable for their crimes. This is the same Government that says that basically it does not really matter what parents do, because it is young people who should have all the rights.

Well, I think it is time we took some account of victims’ rights, frankly. I think it is about time we took account of the rights of good parents. I think it is extremely important that parents be encouraged to be good parents, not given yet another excuse not to take their responsibilities seriously.

This bill gives greater powers to children and young people by making it mandatory to take their views into account. That is utter rubbish; I almost said a bad word! Why it is utter rubbish is that these are kids who have been very, very naughty. They are difficult, they are very, very trying. They cause difficulties for their parents, for their neighbours, for their teachers, and for their fellow students. Some of these kids are very violent. That is why they are there. And here we are, having to take their feelings into account! Well, sorry, I think it is time we took into account the feelings of the rest of the population who do not go around etching windows, who do not go around snatching handbags off old ladies going to do their shopping, who do not go and break into other people’s property, who do not go and tag it, do not steal cars, do not smash those cars into people, while they are drunk and on drugs, and illegally driving.

It is about time we did that, but nothing in this bill does it. Also, nothing in this bill addresses that other area of child, youth, and families, which is the real cause of child abuse or youth offending. We all know that many of those children, who go on to be young offenders, have at some stage been abused in their own lives. We know that. However, that is no excuse for that behaviour. At some stage, people have to be accountable for their own behaviour. There are also many people who are abused as children, who do not go on to commit crimes; who do not go on to perpetuate that cycle of violence. Those are the people whom we should be helping. Those are the people we should be encouraging.

What we should not be doing is trying to say that a 17-year-old who smashes up somebody, who takes a car, who rams it into a child, is just a child and is not responsible for his or her actions. We believe that the person is. We believe that this bill is far too lenient on young, hardened criminals, and actually does not do nearly enough to deal with the real issues around child abuse and child neglect.

The ASSISTANT SPEAKER (Hon Marian Hobbs): Before I call on the next speaker, can I just apologise to a former member of the House Anne Collins, and to the current member of the House Judith Collins, for confusing their names.

Judith Collins: I am very pleased I do not have to be Mrs Michael Cullen!

The ASSISTANT SPEAKER (Hon Marian Hobbs): Thank you very much.

RON MARK (NZ First) : I congratulate you, Madam Assistant Speaker, on your appointment. Frankly, I would not have minded if you had called me darling—I know you do so every time I see you in the elevator! That is the way things are down in Canterbury; we get on together, despite the fact we might have differing philosophical views. As a member of Parliament I have been well looked after by one of your former pupils from Avonside Girls’ High School—my electorate agent, Heidi Ireland. I am fortunate to have one of your former students in that role. I am fortunate also to have one of your former students as my daughter-in-law. In fact, your reputation throughout Canterbury stands very, very high. Everyone down home will be saying well done—that is for sure.

Unfortunately, I wish I could say similar things about the Children, Young Persons, and Their Families Amendment Bill (No 6). I will start by saying that the bill contains a number of necessary amendments to the Children, Young Persons, and Their Families Act.

These amendments need to be progressed; New Zealand First will not deny that. Barbara Stewart, who is our spokesperson on social welfare, would be annoyed with me if I did not say that, and I acknowledge that.

I also say that some credit should have come from the Minister for Social Development and Employment, from the ministry, and from the Labour Government for the work behind the scenes of Judy Turner from the United Future party, because some of us know where a lot of this work had its genesis. It did not lie in the offices at certain places around this Parliament. I tell Judy Turner that I think this House does her a disservice when it does not recognise the work and the vast amount of time in research that she and her staff in United Future have put in, in this field. That is the difference between someone who comes here to make a strong and positive difference to the lives of New Zealanders and others who come here to seek and to politick.

On that note, having just listened to Judith Collins’ commentary, I will compare her rhetoric this evening with this quotation out of her mouth on Eye to Eye with Willie Jackson, on 11 August 2007, when talking about kids in gangs: “Kids get involved in gangs because they are looking for fathers. They are looking for someone who cares about them. They are looking for someone who actually gives them some structure in their lives—and that is not romanticising it. The fact is we’ve got kids out there who think nobody has ever said anything good about them, who have never belonged to anything except that everything they have ever done has been wrong. And basically the gang is their new home.” Well, what is wrong with that? Members can compare it with this, from John Key to the Police Association: “National will make criminal gangs a key target in our fight against crime. It’s a battle where we think the police deserve better legislative backing than they’re getting.” The point is that Judith Collins said on Eye to Eye with Willie Jackson that she would not support lowering the age of criminal responsibility—that the National Party would not support it—but the top quote given by John Key 2 months later, was given when the National Party remembered that in its 2005 manifesto it told the nation that it would lower the age of criminal responsibility.

So I tell Judith Collins that if we want to talk about victims, we should not forget the elderly people who were the victims of “no ifs, no buts, no maybes”, the classic promise from a National Government that it would repeal the surcharge and give people back their money—[Interruption]. National members do not like me saying that, eh. And what about the victims of the nuclear tests, who were given $250,000 for a class action by the New Zealand First - National coalition Government? There was a lot of discussion on Morning Report about that today. The moment that New Zealand First was out of the Government, National took the money off the victims. Those members should never forget that, because when we travel the country we talk about victims.

Let us be honest: Judith Collins supports the victims one day if it suits her political agenda but will kneecap them the next day if it suits her political agenda. She is a hollow woman from a team of hollow people, and we cannot believe a word they say.

Coming to the bill—

Judith Collins: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. That member is saying that people cannot believe a word I say. But this is a man from New Zealand First, and I actually take extreme exception to that. His whole speech has been an attack on me—which is quite flattering, frankly—and none of it has been about this bill.

RON MARK: Speaking to the point of order, I thought The Hollow Men was well known and well documented, and seen all over the nation—in fact, it has been tabled in this House—and Judith Collins is quite often mentioned in the book—[Interruption] Oh, it should be “The Hollow Woman”—sorry. I will withdraw. She is a hollow woman.

Coming to the bill, which is where I really want to be, I say that it has some strengths, as we have said. I think that Anne Tolley tried to point that out. But we can see a classic weakness in raising the age of criminal responsibility to 18. In fact, to say “18” is not exactly correct. The bill raises the age to 17 years, 364 days, 23 hours, 59 minutes, and 59 seconds and, miraculously, when that one second ticks over, suddenly that 17-year-old will be able to be held accountable for his or her crimes.

We in New Zealand First are saying that that piece of the legislation totally undermines one of the key principles that we should all be upholding—that is, the democratic right of New Zealanders to have a say in legislation of this type. We believe that it flies completely in the face of the support we have had for my bill, the Young Offenders (Serious Crimes) Bill. We believe that it flies totally in the face of everything we have heard from John Key in his state of the nation speech given after the Christmas holidays. We believe that it totally smacks the mouths of every parent whose child was assaulted over the Christmas break by young teenagers, and of people who were attacked with baseball bats by young offenders.

We believe that that one amendment, under the guise of supposedly making New Zealand fit with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, is a falsity, and it is wrong. Let us remember—let us cast our minds back—what happened when New Zealand signed the UN convention. Did New Zealand, and the people representing it, do it wholly without reservation? No. I find it very annoying—and Anne Tolley is nodding, because she knows—deceptive, and wrong to refer to the convention. Those who do so completely forget to tell us that the people who signed that convention reserved the right of New Zealand to pass laws fitting New Zealand’s situation. Chester Borrows is looking at me. Never once did the advisers to the Law and Order Committee on my bill even tell us that—never once did they table a speech from the UN convention showing that New Zealand reserved its right to pass laws that fitted the New Zealand ethos and situation. No, and now we get the convention thrown at us as if it is a holy grail that we must all bend down and bow to. Well, that is wrong. We do not.

Members should hear this: polls across the country are showing that between 82 and 92 percent of people consistently do not want the age of criminal responsibility raised. I do not know about some people who might have been brought up in other countries that Idi Amin might have led, but this is New Zealand. This is a free and democratic state, this is a place where the majority have the say, and if there is one thing that I thought the Labour Government might be reflecting on, given its polling right now, it is that what is writing its doom is its persistence in socially re-engineering New Zealand along the views it holds. Well, Government members should get this: not everyone holds their views.

This bill has many good things about it. It extends care and protection to the Youth Court and the options available on sentencing are a good thing. New Zealand First does not disagree, and I do not think there is a member in this House who disagrees. But why throw this piece in that raises the age of criminal responsibility? Why slap people back down and say: “Oh, we know what’s better.”? It is like the smacking bill all over again—the Government knows what is better.

I am sorry, but New Zealand First does not think the Government knows what is better. Firstly, New Zealand First would have appreciated some recognition for the work that Judy Turner did. Secondly, we would have appreciated people listening to us. For the Labour Government to slip this piece in, knowing how strongly New Zealand First feels about such things—we negotiated a provision into the confidence and supply agreement with the Government to get my member’s bill at least to the select committee, where we knew the Government would reserve the right to vote against it—smacks of an arrogance that is unbelievable.

I say good luck to the Government. I know that the Government—[Interruption] Ms Collins cannot help saying “poodle”. I think Ms Collins will be told by a lot of vets around the country exactly where she sits, but that is coming in the polls so we should not worry about it. I would say—

Judith Collins: Ha, ha!

RON MARK: That manic sort of laughter only confirms one other thing. She should take a holiday. New Zealand First is sorry. It would like to be supporting many aspects of this bill, and no doubt they will pass and we will say well done on those aspects. But this piece inside the legislation flies in the face of things we have stood for, and we will not be supporting this bill.

SUE BRADFORD (Green) : Madam Assistant Speaker, I too would like to take this opportunity to congratulate you on your promotion and say we look forward to working with you over the next few months in your new role.

I would like to take just a brief call tonight to confirm that the Green Party will be supporting the Children, Young Persons, and Their Families Amendment Bill (No 6) going to the select committee, as we believe that on the whole it makes a series of very useful changes to the legislation relating to children, young persons, and their families. We are especially pleased with the increase in the upper age of the definition of a young person to 17, as that finally brings us into line with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child in this particular area. We are delighted that neither the Government nor a majority in this House has supported the reverse approach taken by Ron Mark’s Young Offenders (Serious Crimes) Bill, which sought to lower the age of criminal liability originally to age 10, and then to age 12. The Green Party believes it is important that New Zealand not only moves the age upwards in order to comply with the UN convention but also gives the Family Court and the Youth Court the power to deal more effectively and more pragmatically with young people, rather than have many more of them forced into the maw of the mainstream justice system at an earlier age, as Mr Mark advocates.

One related aspect of the bill where we do have some concerns is around the move to extend to 14-year-olds the Youth Court’s power to convict young people and transfer them to the District Court for sentencing. Although I acknowledge that it relates to indictable offences only, the Green Party is anxious about its implications and will listen with interest to submissions in this area. We also continue to have ongoing and deep concerns about the adequacy and availability of both care and protection and youth justice facilities. I hope that alongside the work on this bill the Government will continue to deal with the infrastructure problems that dog the system at present.

Another area in which I have a particular interest is the whole issue of the transition from care to independence for children and young people who are in some form of Child, Youth and Family care or jurisdiction. In the 1999-2002 Parliament I was responsible for a Green Party Budget bid that saw more resources go into supporting some young people who needed help in that transition period when they were very vulnerable once they had turned 17—an age group that has all too often been virtually abandoned once it has left the care and protection of the service. I am therefore glad that this bill expands the availability of extended care agreements, both in terms of the range of young people eligible for them and in relation to possible extensions, where those agreements are approved.

This bill also contains a number of other modifications to the way that Child, Youth and Family operates. I look forward in the select committee process to hearing from people and organisations who are directly impacted on by, or involved in, these processes, as a lot of this bill is quite technical and we MPs can learn from their experiences. Meanwhile we will be supporting the bill to go through its first reading, although remaining open during the select committee process to amendments that may be needed in order to improve it.

Dr PITA SHARPLES (Co-Leader—Māori Party) : Madam Assistant Speaker, like the others I offer my congratulations to you. It is good to see you there.

There have been a few events in the last few days that have given me great room for optimism. One was the celebration of Children’s Day on Sunday, at which we recognise how special and precious children are and that perhaps the most important gift we can give our children is time. We would be into making every day a Children’s Day—a special day. The second event was Cindy Kiro’s challenge that politicians perhaps should look across boundaries when they support events for children or issues relating to children. Perhaps we do not need to be bound by party boundaries.

I guess the final crowning event in this group of three was confirmation of the growing confidence that Māori voters have in the ability of a strong and independent Māori voice to represent them in Parliament. Why this is so important is that 22 percent of the Māori population is under the age of 19, and we are passionate in our belief that these children and young people deserve the very best representation. In fact, when one considers the fact that in 2005, 28 percent of newborn New Zealanders were Māori, it very quickly becomes obvious that Māori are the face of the future. Despite the tired old “play it again” lines of 2005 that Shane Jones loves to bang on about, Māori are showing in statistically significant numbers that they are seeking representation in this House to give voice to their aspirations for the future. A vote for the Māori Party is a vote for a Māori voice—a Māori Party that stands consistently in this House to put forward the views of an independent, strong, and proud Māori voice, which members all know.

Hon Mark Burton: That’s not what it sounded like.

Dr PITA SHARPLES: No, this is real representation of real Māori.

I will not join the queue for an ever-present chorus of complaints about the faults and failings of our young. The adolescent health survey of 2003 surveyed over 10,000 secondary school students, and it found that over 85 percent of those surveyed are thriving and positively engaged with their families. In the Māori-specific component of that study, whānau were shown to be a vital environment for taitamariki—for children—and a strong and positive influence on most of the 2,300 participants.

It is rare for parties in this House to be able to come to the topic of children’s policy and find studies that confirm a basis for hope rather than dwelling on deprivation, dysfunction, and deficit analysis. We must start focusing on the potential of our young people, the hope that they represent our future. We have had more than enough of politicians posturing about the problems of youth—comparing children to snarling mutts—and the association that everything can be fixed by a good dose of boot camp philosophy.

The Children, Young Persons, and Their Families Act 1989 compelled State child welfare agencies to consider issues of culture, particularly in the context of their whānau, hapū, and iwi. In many respects it was legislation before its time in the way in which it recognised the centrality and importance of whānau to the care and protection of tamariki and to youth justice. We must preserve the intent of this legislation throughout all subsequent iterations, including those on the Order Paper today.

We are well pleased to see the initiative to raise the legal age of a young person to 17. Although in effect this makes our legislation consistent with international arrangements, such as the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, our key interest is that it ensures that the benefits of the Children, Young Persons, and Their Families Act will now apply to an age group that too readily slips through the cracks. We are also glad to support the purposes of this amendment today to strengthen the effectiveness of family group conferences. The family group conference has been described as the linchpin of our youth justice system. It receives quite a bit of criticism in this House, but in effect it reconciles the two concepts of justice and well-being by making the young offender accountable while also involving the victims and their families in the decision-making process. Although it is renowned internationally, it has not been without its challenges. The commitment to retain children within their families takes enormous effort, time, resources, and the belief that family-based solutions are worth all of this work.

The changes introduced in this bill are to ensure that representatives of victims at family group conferences can be accompanied by support persons, that courts and lawyers encourage the participation of children and young persons in family group conferences, and that family group conferences are advised of the health and education needs of children and young persons. These are all excellent enhancements to the original model, and we hope that there will be sufficient investment to achieve optimum success.

Findings of the research undertaken by Dr Marie Connelly, who reviewed 15 years of family group conferences in 2004, revealed that although the original Act supports a family-led process, in practice professionally driven processes have been creeping into the system. As someone who has been involved in many family group conferences, I am greatly concerned that the original intentions of the process towards facilitating healing and restorative justice have been treated in such a way.

I have particular association with Te Whānau Awhina, which was established over 30 years ago by Māori welfare community volunteers. It began as a community group, providing a forum for dispute resolution at a local high school. In time, the police were brought in and they started referring people to us, then the courts, and then Judge Michael Brown started referring a range of offences and offenders to this forum. It was through the influence of Te Whānau Awhina that the family group conference evolved, encouraging the mediation of concerns between the victim, the offender, and their families as a means to achieve reconciliation, restitution, and rehabilitation. I am proud to say that the family group conference legislation proposed initially by Judge Michael Brown drew from the Te Whānau Awhina practices. One of the most important paragraphs in the bill is the commitment to “ensure family group conferences are timely, well-informed, and managed to achieve the best outcomes for children and young persons:”.

So here we are considering a host of consequential amendments to the Act in order to strengthen the responsibilities and the procedures for the care and protection of children and young persons, including the care and support for disabled children and young persons, and the prompt and effective response to reports of child abuse. There are, however—despite a range of positive provisions and amendments to support victims in the area of children, young persons, and their families—some concerns, and we are eager to hear the views of the community on that at the select committee stage.

In particular, we will be eager to hear views on the concept that the Youth Court can transfer young people to the District Court for sentencing a year earlier, at 14 years old, and that young people no longer need to give their consent to community-based orders. There is an anomaly in the current law that has the potentially negative effect of exposing 14-year-olds to longer sentencing options should the offending be proved. Although it is proposed that the power to convict and transfer young people to the District Court for sentencing be extended to include 14-year-olds who have committed purely indictable offences, we are still very keen to seek clarity about what this will mean and the implications it will have for young people.

I return to the idea of our young people as the face of our future. We need to create the optimum environment that invests in every child, no matter what circumstances he or she is born into. We need to invest in children in order to develop their full potential. Then we can truly say we are making a difference for the future of Aotearoa. Thank you, Madam Assistant Speaker.

JUDY TURNER (Deputy Leader—United Future) : Thank you, Madam Assistant Speaker, and may I add my congratulations to those of others in this House. I am sorry that United Future was not present this afternoon during the speeches regarding your nomination, because we are very supportive of it and look forward to your leadership of the House.

The Children, Young Persons, and Their Families Amendment Bill (No 6) is one that United Future feels particularly passionate about. In the 5 or so years that I have been in Parliament I do not think any constituent cases have kept me awake at night as much as the cases that have come my way involving Child, Youth and Family. I have a file full of them. I thank the Minister for Social Development and Employment for the open door she has shown me on the many occasions when I have advocated for these cases.

I am very, very pleased to see that as a result of the passing of this amendment bill the chief executive officer, whose role will be established more distinctly in the Act, will also have as part of his or her job description a requirement to set up a complaints service for this department. That is the area that has been of greatest concern to me. I could cite case after case that I currently have on file in my office of families who have grievances about the way they were treated and the way their cases were handled, and who have had no redress.

Child, Youth and Family has powers greater than those of the New Zealand Police, and the burden of proof required for it to uplift children is much less than the police would require for a conviction. United Future is not critical of the powers given to this department, but we say that if we give people the power to exercise outcomes for families that are, at times, quite dramatic, they must be accountable for the decisions they make, and there must be a process in place that is credible, and that is independent enough to be credible. Parents, child caregivers, families, and grandparents must be able to ask for a review of the decision that has been made or a review of the way their case has been handled. This is good news. What the chief executive officer chooses to set up is a debate for another day, and I have my own theories about what I would like to see.

I have looked very closely at organisations like the Independent Police Conduct Authority and how it operates. I think there are some things we could learn from the way the authority manages cases. I know there is some talk about offering an internal complaints service within the Ministry of Social Development for Child, Youth and Family. I suspect that is where the Minister will start the process. I have some reservations about how credible that would be. None the less, it is better than the current vacuum that exists for a complaint service.

United Future is also pleased to see that in this bill the definition of a young person will be changed to include people up to the age of 18 years. There are some concerns around that, and I think we have to remind ourselves that the changed definition of a young person applies to this bill; variations in other Acts will remain unchanged. There are several reasons why we are pleased about this change. Recently the Social Services Committee visited a youth sex offenders unit in Christchurch. We met with staff from Barnardos, which has the contract to run this facility, and we met with the young people themselves. One of the complaints that both the staff and the young people had was that there was a magical cut-off point at age 17, when Child, Youth and Family no longer had responsibility for these young people. It did not matter where they were in their rehabilitation programme; out they went. The young people themselves were saying that they wanted to stay longer, they had not finished, and they knew they needed more help, but they had a 17th birthday fast approaching and it would soon be all over for them. It is a crying shame to see them have to leave a programme that has measurable outcomes. These young people were noticing a difference in themselves. They have serious offending backgrounds—not just in the area of sex offences, but that is one of the more concerning behaviours, which the programme is trying to address.

The other area that has come to our attention is under-age sex workers in New Zealand. When we passed the Prostitution Law Reform Bill we made it legal for 18-year-olds to be involved in the sex industry. We now have a group of 17-year-olds who are not captured by the Children, Young Persons, and Their Families Act. No one from a care and protection position is able to intervene in these young people’s lives and ask some questions as to why they are out on the street, dressed in their hoodies, sniffing glue out of paper bags, and offering themselves for very cheap sex behind grubby buildings. No one is asking where their mums and dads are, who is looking after them, and why they are allowed out unsupervised. Nobody has that authority, because they are in this gap that exists. By lifting the age we can start to ask some serious questions, and have some real opportunities for caring people to put in place some interventions that could help those young people at a time when they most obviously need it. There are a number of situations where young people are disadvantaged purely because their birthday clocks in, and suddenly the services disappear.

There is the issue of 17-year-olds still in high school who are in foster care and suddenly nobody is responsible for them. Quite often, what happens is that caring foster parents, at their own expense, keep these young people in their homes as part of their families, but there is no benefit and no remuneration. They can get unsupported child benefits, but there are all sorts of gaps that these young people fall through, yet we acknowledge that they still need to be in high school and learning for their futures. There are some real advantages in this measure, and to United Future whether it makes us comply with the United Nations Rights of the Child is neither here nor there. It is just a sensible, common-sense thing that needs to happen. These young people are falling through the gaps. That group of 17 to 18-year-olds are falling through the gaps in rather large numbers, and we need to do something to stop that.

From as early as 2003, United Future spoke to the Minister for Social Development and Employment, Ruth Dyson, about the need to respond to the baseline review. It was pretty damning about what was happening in Child, Youth and Family Services back then. One of the problems was that as the department drowned in notification numbers, it needed to share the workload. The idea of a differential response model, which we asked the Minister to look into, has been piloted in New Plymouth and in Royal Oak in Auckland, and I thank the Minister for her openness to that idea. My understanding is that the pilots have been very successful. So we are looking forward to the roll-out of that. The Children, Young Persons, and Their Families Act does not allow for the work to be contracted out; we need a law change so that work involving medium to low risk cases and notifications can be passed on in a timely way to competent agencies within the community that can intervene before these cases deteriorate and become high-risk cases that need statutory intervention.

United Future is very pleased with much of the content of this bill, and we look forward to the submissions to the select committee.

  • Debate interrupted.