Since its establishment, the Families Commission has struggled to overcome the ineffectuality often associated with such advocacy bodies.

Nine years have come and gone and rarely has it succeeded in placing family values at the centre of policy discussions. Its well-meaning promotion of the virtues of the likes of two-parent family and parental responsibility has tended to be lost in the hubbub.

But this week the commission's profile received a well-merited boost when it raised its voice against Bob McCoskrie, whose Family First group paints itself as an equally fierce defender of conservative family values.

If the irony in the two going toe to toe was inescapable, so was the patent good sense in the commission's defence of yesterday's White Ribbon Day, which it co-ordinates with a taxpayer-funded budget of $350,000. Mr McCoskrie had said he would not wear a ribbon because he did not believe domestic violence should be treated as a gender issue.

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"If we want to tackle family violence, we all - men, women and children - need to pledge to stop violence towards men, women and children," he said. "This is a family violence issue, not a gender issue."

That is sophistry of a high order. Of course, women are sometimes responsible for domestic violence. And, of course, every form of violence is unacceptable, no matter the gender of the victim or the perpetrator. But this hardly justifies Mr McCoskrie's attempted deconstruction of the fact that it most commonly, and most harmfully, involves male perpetrators and female victims. The 3500-plus convictions that are recorded against New Zealand men for assaults on women each year tell their own story. So, too, do the 10 New Zealand women who, on average, are killed by their partners or former partners each year.

Mr McCoskrie's assault was the more misguided in that it was aimed at a campaign that, as the Families Commission's Carl Davidson said, has proved effective "not only for raising awareness of family violence generally but also increasing the number of people prepared to do something about it".

It is about men taking responsibility for their role in violence and resolving to be part of the solution by examining their attitude towards women and challenging the behaviour of other men.

It works because men respond better to messages about men from other men. The commission's view that it and other anti-violence campaigns have played a significant role in tolerance of family violence being at an all-time low and reporting at a record high seems perfectly reasonable. By any yardstick, it is $350,000 well spent.

As might be expected, Women's Refuge took an even more scathing view. Its chief executive, Heather Henare, said she was surprised that Mr McCoskrie had even considered wearing a white ribbon. Family First's opposition to the reform of the smacking law meant that it would have been "gross hypocrisy" for him to have made a public statement against violence by wearing a ribbon.

That may be harsh. But Mr McCoskrie does himself no favours when he adopts such immoderate attitudes. He was, as the commission suggested, fairly much a lone voice.

Indeed, he succeeded only in casting the Families Commission in a far more positive light. Thus encouraged, it should step forward more often and provide a balanced and well-reasoned perspective on family issues.

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