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Fran O'Sullivan: Sterilisation idea not as far-fetched as first thought

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All hell broke loose when Act MP David Garrett blogged that a $5000 incentive to sterilise abusive parents would be "ludicrously cheap" compared with the costs of monitoring and caring for their further children.

Garrett clearly didn't realise - or didn't care - that New Zealand's predominantly politically-correct Parliament, MPs and journalists included, would immediately jump down his throat accusing him of endorsing state coercion to stop unfit mothers and fathers reproducing.

Extraordinarily this quickly became the "news of the day" with the Prime Minister saying the Government would not introduce legislation on this score, Labour claiming such an incentive was contrary to Act's principles and Act leader Rodney Hide declining to comment.

In fact we're all subject to state coercion. Right now the Government is preparing to coerce all of us to pay more GST on the goods and services we buy.

It is preparing to coerce truants to spend more time at school. It also wants to lift the driving age to 16 years to coerce younger accident-prone drivers off the road so that they do not present a menace to themselves and others.

It's what governments do.

But Garrett hadn't actually recommended compulsory sterilisation. As he wrote on Kiwiblog, he was suggesting sterilisation as an "option".

"To take Kahui-King as examples, how much is it costing the state now to care for the children Maxyna (sic) King has had removed from her? How much will it cost to care for the 6 or 8 more she may have before menopause?

"How much is it costing for CYF to monitor the well-being of Chris Kahui's latest offspring? $5000 to each of them is ludicrously cheap by comparison," he wrote.

Garrett's top-of-the-head blog obviously hit a Beltway nerve.

But a case could be made for incentivising parents who have already displayed they can't cope with the pressures of bringing up more children to undergo tubal ligations or vasectomies.

The Government could simply make sterilisations free and provide additional targeted assistance to help them cope with their existing brood.

Looked at rationally, such grants could even be seen as economic in the long-run from the parents' perspective - as well as the Government's.

Plenty of middle-class parents stump up for the financial cost of sterilisation procedures once they have completed their own families.

Why shouldn't assistance be available to those who can't meet sterilisation costs?

It's arguably simply the converse of the $5000 grants that former Australian Treasurer Peter Costello introduced to persuade Australians to have more babies in his famous "one for dad, one for mum and one for the country" baby bonus scheme.

In Costello's case he was using financial incentives to get the Australian birth rate up to ensure more future taxpayers.

Garrett's blog focused on the Kahui twins.

For the sake of accuracy let's note that Kahui was acquitted in 2008 on charges of murdering his infant twin sons, Chris and Cru.

What also should be noted is the identity of the Kahui twins' killer or killers was kept secret by their whanau.

This brutal reality underscores why the upcoming Whanau Ora programme needs more hard-edged thinking before its introduction.

We still know very little about what Whanau Ora actually entails.

According to NZPA, it will bring together the various agencies that help stricken families and deliver support in a more efficient and effective way.

It will involve welfare, housing, health, justice, the police and community agencies, apparently working together through a single delivery organisation.

The idea is to deal comprehensively with at-risk families, handling all their inter-connected problems at once instead of the disconnected way it happens now.

The Maori Party claims that Whanau Ora will enable "Maori solutions to Maori problems".

But the details are fuzzy.

There are no guarantees that Whanau Ora funds will not be subject to misuse. There are also no guarantees that Whanau Ora will in fact reduce the societal costs New Zealand already shoulders as a result of the levels of murders and child abuse committed by Maori.

That's why the taxpayer funded programme's success needs to be judged on hard metrics like the progress made on reducing child abuse.

Ironically, state-sponsored sterilisation programmes are part of New Zealand's past. Just 40 years ago, our state-run mental hospitals still contained many ageing women who had been committed by their parents and left to rot.

The files revealed some of these women were committed on the basis of "moral degradation": Having a baby out of wedlock.

Something which the Government happily picks up the bill for these days through making the domestic purposes benefit available to young, partnerless women.

But certainly didn't in the 1920s and 1930s when many hapless women were sent away.

In those pre-pill days, some of these institutionalised women were subsequently sterilised to prevent them from having more children.

What is also notable is that most of those women were Pakeha - not Maori.

- NZ Herald

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