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Wednesday 08 October 2008

Ministry for Whose Families?

Posted in: Comment
By Craig Young - 15th September 2008

As Social Development Minister Ruth Dyson observed, the National Party seems to have a different 'family' policy each day. How can we be sure that the Opposition will protect the needs and interests of LGBT-led families?

Let's timeline National's current apparent confusion over its family policy. At the Christian Right Family First pressure group's so-called "Forum on the Family" last weekend, John Key was heard to say that he would disestablish the Families Commission, established as a Labour measure to win United Future's confidence and supply support in 2002. Fortunately, the Families Commission has worked to support New Zealand families, and represent them in all their diversity (although it would be nice to have a suitably qualified LGBT Families Commission member).

Predictably, Family First doesn't like this. That organisation has been steadily ingratiating itself with the National Party, sharing its opportunist opposition to the Electoral Finance Bill, and Key returned the favour, cooing that the Opposition's 'door would always be open' to the pressure group (for services rendered). While Key, Rodney Hide and Peter Dunne said that civil union legislation would not be repealed, I suspect LGBT potential voters will be disturbed by Key's disclosure that the Families Commission would be disbanded, and the money given to community organisations and 'church groups', particularly the (anti-gay) Parents Inc group.

Let us remember that Ian Grant was on the board of a Milford Baptist Church meeting held to oppose the Civil Union Bill, and that he put his name to an inflammatory piece of correspondence from the "For the Sake of Our Children Trust" leader John Sax, utilising flawed and long-discredited propaganda from the likes of US Christian Right 'social scientist' Paul Cameron against the same legislation. It would be completely unacceptable to fund that sort of organisation from public coffers. Key seems to think that organisation receives no money from central government because it is a "Christian-based" group. No, it receives no money from government because it is amply supported by other fundamentalists. Mr Grant may be somewhat of a pop parenting guru in the fundamentalist community, but why should we trust him, given the above?

So, National is to throw money at fundamentalist pressure groups involved in family work. And exactly how are these funds going to be allocated, and to which organisations? On what basis? I would say it should be on the basis that organisations are subject to good governance, that their operating procedures and social work are subject to evidence-based criteria and strict oversight and accountability, and that they serve meaningful and tangible objectives, like working to end child poverty, child battery, child sexual abuse, violence against spouses, and assist the economic wellbeing of low-income families in all their forms. I suspect that many mainstream New Zealanders would strongly oppose any starvation of funds to mainstream child health, welfare and development groups in favour of fundamentalist pressure groups, apparently on the grounds of croneyism and social conservative ideological purity.

However, when potential National coalition partner Peter Dunne objected to the sabotage of the Families Commission, Key relented, saying that he would preserve it. Today, he says that he would combine the Office of the Children's Commissioner with it if the Opposition is elected. Oh no, said Family First in their media release, we want a Minister for Families. (Read: Solo parents and same-sex-parented families need not apply. And don't worry, we won't raise any ruckus about the needs of low-income families who'll be disadvantaged or hurt by your New Right industrial relations and 'welfare' policies).

Again, Ruth Dyson observed, perceptively, that the Opposition's 'family' policy is a shambles. She argued that children's needs mean that there should be a distinct Office of the Children's Commissioner, as distinct from the Families Commission.

Typical, really. National hasn't changed when it comes to pandering to the Christian Right. Moreover, it seems to be incapable of releasing any detailed and well-developed party policies. No wonder the Opposition is dropping in the polls and attracting critical scrutiny from respected community organisations. As left blogger "No Right Turn" recently asked, is this a sign of the right-wing PR firm Crosby/Textor at work- focusing on cliches and soundbytes to conceal National's real unreconstructed New Right and Christian Right policy agenda?

Granted, Winston Peters should be held accountable if there are any donor irregularities and questions of public accountability outstanding after due process has been observed, but the Opposition appears to have sacrificed meaningful policy for populist diatribes against the New Zealand First leader, and cares about little else. Certainly not substantive policy.


Gilbert Wong: 'The Moralist' Metro 293 (November 2005): 66-69

Colin Espiner and Michael Field 'Nats to give cash from family body to churches' 10.09.08:


Craig Young - 15th September 2008