So much taxpayer money is wasted in this country. It's no wonder there isn't enough for hospitals, teachers, mental health services and the thin blue line. If all the wasted dollars were put in a heap and spent where they would actually do some good, we might start making progress on dealing to some of the problems that won't go away, and likely never will.
That pile of cash destined for a hole in the ground grew last week when we were told that the government's Wellbeing Budget will throw another three hundred and something million at addressing 'family harm'. How will it be spent? On advertising campaigns, training lawyers (presumably to be more empathetic in their handling of victims), and enabling victims to give evidence in court via video. Brilliant. That'll work.
You can see it now. Perpetrators of what used to be called domestic violence, now family harm, will pick up their Sunday paper, or sit through the breaks in the evening news on television, and get the message. They'll think to themselves, 'I really must stop punching her in the head when tea's late getting to the table or she smokes the last cigarette.' Society is about to be transformed.
If that doesn't work, when the victim finally plucks up the no doubt enormous courage needed to complain to the police, and go through with it, she will give her evidence without having to confront her abuser in court. And any cross-examination will be so much gentler than it might have been in the past. Justice will invariably be done, and everyone will live happily ever after.
Anyone who believes any of that shouldn't have access to the taxpayer's chequebook. What they should be doing is looking at what's happening in Te Hiku, and learning from the mounting evidence that it's working.
Here in Te Hiku we have Whiria te Muka, a joint effort between the police and four iwi to nip family harm in the bud. It might not be the total answer — numerous relatively minor incidents that have the potential to escalate result in the supposed victim refusing to lay a complaint, but perhaps that doesn't matter. People who are prone to inflicting violence on others, and those who endure it, may be learning that they are no longer invisible. That someone who can help is just a phone call away.
Hopefully, over time, that really will reduce 'domestic' (and perhaps sexual) violence.
Whiria te Muka was only launched in late 2017, but already there are signs that it is working. The police can't produce statistics to support that, but anecdotally the landscape has changed. We are told that there has been an increase in family harm reporting. This is a good thing. It suggests that victims are less prepared than they once were to tolerate it, and that others in the community are less reluctant than they used to be to raise any concerns they might have about the neighbours than in the past. That alone is promising.
Anything that reduces the potential for a relatively minor dispute, and that definition genuinely fits many incidents that result in police involvement, to escalate to physical violence is welcome. Immediate intervention sends a much clearer message than any amount of taxpayer-funded advertising ever will that violence in any form is unacceptable, and that victims really can call for help, and get an answer. These are valuable lessons for the perpetrator and victim alike.
Even better, while family harm reports are increasing, the level of violence involved appears to be reducing. When it comes to family harm, this newspaper is aware of no more than a tiny tip of a massive iceberg, but over recent times it has become obvious that severe physical violence in domestic situations is becoming markedly less common, if not almost a rarity.
The great bulk of incidents that are attended by police, and of which this newspaper is aware, involve raised voices. People having arguments. No punches, no slaps, no kicks. A loss of temper, not uncommonly on the part of both (or all) parties. Once upon a time the police would not have responded to incidents like that. Now they do. Quickly. And it seems to be having a very positive effect.
Whiria te Muka (Weaving the Strands) was formally launched in Kaitaia in November 2017, then Northland police district commander Superintendent Russell Le Prou saying that for him it was about a commitment he made to a mother following the death of her daughter at the hands of her former partner. "I promised her we would be better, we would be different, and we would commit to not letting anyone else down," he said. "Whiria te Muka is our community response so we see fewer victims of whānau harm and a reduction in harm as a result of whānau violence."
Time has shown that to be a promise well kept. Problem is that iwi spokesman Harry Burkhardt was a little optimistic when he said the kuaka flock had arisen. (Te kuaka marangaranga, kotahi manu i tau ki te tahuna: tau atu, tau ra. The kuaka flock has arisen. One bird has come to rest on the beach, others will follow).
Well, they obviously haven't, if the best the government can do is chuck hundreds of millions more dollars at advertising campaigns and lawyer training. And they can't say they don't know what's happening in Te Hiku.
Last year the concept was formally presented to the police executive in Wellington, about the same time that Minister of Social Development Carmel Sepuloni came to Kaitaia to see for herself what was going on. That was a waste of carbon emissions.
But the government, and the police, know about Whiria te Muka, and presumably they know it is showing real signs of working. The apparent fact that the significance of that has totally escaped them tells us something about the calibre of the people who are 'running' this country. A classic case of why nothing ever changes, while money is seen as the answer to everything.
A Cabinet Minister flew half the length of the country, smiled for the cameras and flew back to Wellington, having learned nothing.
Incidentally, we are all being brainwashed into believing that the scourge of family violence is much worse than it actually is. We are told, repeatedly, that an act of family harm is committed in this country every four minutes. Technically true, perhaps, but that relies upon a very broad definition of the term harm.
To the average person, family harm surely means physical violence, not raised voices. Perhaps arguing can meet the definition of violence, particularly if children are present. Certainly arguing could be, and no doubt often is, a symptom of serious dysfunction within a family, and if the police and other agencies can intervene swiftly and effectively at that level then all power to them. This newspaper has actually been making the case for early intervention, long before descending into physical violence, for a very long time.
The distinction between verbal disputes and physical violence needs to be made very clearly, however. It serves no one's interests, except perhaps those of politicians (who claim to have the answers) and the police, to exaggerate the scale of the problem, and those who produce and wield these statistics should be much more careful about what they try to make us believe.