Cunliffe’s message gets lost
The public may say they want politicians to work together for the good of the country, but the track record suggests voters prefer to elect strong leaders with a clear sense of purpose.
That’s one of several reasons why Labour leader David Cunliffe’s recent apology for being a man seemed so damaging.
Regardless of the context in which it was delivered, the apology played into stereotypes of liberals as wimps.
Cunliffe was speaking to a Women’s Refuge audience who have to cope on a daily basis with the realities of male violence against women.
Even so, Cunliffe’s awkwardly phrased apology managed to overshadow the gist of his speech.
If elected, Labour plans to invest an extra $60 million over four years in frontline services to cope with domestic and sexual violence – such as Women’s Refuge, family violence programmes and rape victim support services.
Needless to say, the abject apology got far more media coverage than the funding pledge.
For years, the organisations that deal with the victims of sexual and domestic violence have been under-funded.
Belatedly in this year’s Budget, the Government announced a $ 10.5 million funding increase over two years, barely a quarter of what the next America’s Cup campaign will be looking for from the Government later this year.
The Budget boost came too late to save the 24-hour phone service provided by Christchurch’s only rape crisis centre – which needed $ 34,000 to keep running, but which cannot access the Budget funds, because it is insolvent.
There is a grave risk of 20 years of frontline experience being lost.
Last week, the Government also unveiled an integrated programme on domestic violence that will be focused on the estimated 20 per cent of victims who contact the authorities.
The package includes assistance for victims to leave violent relationships, closer monitoring of likely offenders via GPS tracking and a review of the Domestic Violence Act.
In addition, those accused of sexual violence offences may lose their right to remain silent.
As editorial commentary has noted, the Government appears intent on bypassing some of the existing Women’s Refuge/ Rape Crisis networks, and will fund (or create) other providers to do the same work.
‘‘ Women’s Refuge could read National’s just-announced policies on domestic abuse as a slap in the face,’’ noted the Timaru Herald.
‘‘Why bypass the very organisation that is at the heart of dealing with victims? What has Women’s Refuge done wrong?’’
Reportedly, Women’s Refuge was given no warning of the Government’s policy changes, and was not consulted about them. The approach seems wrong. New Zealand has an existing organisational network that deals with this problem. Yet after being chronically underfunded, it now seems it is being cut out of the funding and service delivery loop, at a time when reported offences are on the rise.
Are we allocating sufficient funds and using the best available expertise to cope with New Zealand’s wave of domestic and sexual violence – and shouldn’t the response be doing more to reach out to the 80 per cent of victims who, for various reasons, do not or cannot take the risk of reporting their situation?
Arguably, these issues should have led the national debate last week.
Instead, Labour MP Trevor Mallard’s keen interest in reincarnating the moa and David Cunliffe’s ‘‘ man shame’’ dominated the political agenda.