Justice Minister Amy Adams has her fair share of door-knocking stories. She recalls visiting a home in 2008. It was a secluded house, the windows were blacked out and a "chemical smell" wafted out when the door opened. She waited a day or so to dob in what she suspected was a P-lab to police, lest those within linked the candidate in blue to a subsequent visit from officers in blue.

Her wariness was a perfectly human response to the situation at hand.

The review of domestic violence laws Adams has just released shows she has a quality few politicians exhibit let alone act on - the ability to process how humans actually act rather than how they would respond in an ideal world.

Many of the proposed changes cater to human behaviour rather than something that plays out well politically. Even more rare is her ability to go for the option that might work rather than the harder-line one that gets her a good hit in the headlines.


The first evidence of this was in her decision to hold off on introducing a conviction disclosure scheme that allows people to police-check their partners for any abuse convictions. Adams has not ruled this out but was sceptical about whether it would be used. Few people in the first flush of love would be clinical enough to undertake a warrant of fitness on their partner: the health check, the police check. Instead Adams settled for allowing police to quietly tip people off if their partner had such a record.

Adams admits it's a flaw that police would actually need to know about the relationship to do that, but they could become aware of it if called out to a house for another reason. Or police could offer that information if the person asked about it, or if a concerned friend or family member made inquiries that pointed police to the new relationship.

Adams has also been brave enough to confront the sacred cow of the Privacy Act. This is an age in which there are heightened sensitivities around privacy and the Government has come under attack for actual and perceived incursions on privacy in several areas - from spy agencies to government departments.

Adams has shown some gumption by questioning whether the obsession with privacy has gone too far and is causing more harm than good. She questioned whether a "catatonia" had set in which meant those working with families were so petrified about breaching the Privacy Act that it was endangering the very people they were meant to protect.

Her discussion document makes it clear she thinks safety trumps privacy. It encourages people to make submissions but warns the review team may alert police or another agency if any raise safety concerns - even if a person has requested confidentiality. How she handles this fine line will be telling.

Adams presents well and fits in with the "compassionate conservatism" tag Prime Minister John Key has used to describe his Administration. But she is yet to be tested under fire and nor does she strictly deserve all the credit for the domestic violence measures.

Much of the material released yesterday was instigated by her predecessor Judith Collins and former Police Minister Anne Tolley. That said, Adams has put her own stamp on the portfolio, settling somewhere in between Collins and her predecessor, Simon Power. The overall impression is rather circular, that Collins undid Power's work only for Adams to come and reconstruct it. The most obvious example was her decision to re-start Law Commission work on an inquisitorial system for sexual abuse and child abuse cases.

This is not Adams' first discussion document. In 2012, there was one on the handling of 111 calls. In 2013, there were ones on the telecommunications industry to address pricing issues and the roll out of broadband. Her announcement the Domestic Violence Act reform was the biggest since it was introduced in 1995 was eerily reminiscent of her 2013 description of a Resource Management Act discussion paper as "the most significant reform of the act since its inception".


She has made varying degrees of progress in each of those areas but judging from the initial reaction, the justice portfolio could be the making of her.

Adams will be hoping to have more luck with her domestic violence reforms than she did as Environment Minister with Resource Management Act reforms. A significant chunk of those reforms are still on ice.