Scoop Election 08: edited by Gordon Campbell

On the government’s hostility towards women

August 11th, 2010

Once again, the Key government has shown it doesn’t give a stuff about issues that primarily affect women. Cabinet has rejected an official recommendation to compensate the victims of a rape culture that existed within the Police It has also shown no interest in taking action to address gender pay inequities. In addition, its welfare working group has stigmatized women on the DPB despite the fact that most women are on this benefit for a relatively short time.

The welfare working group appears to believe that being on this benefit is (a) a career choice (b) that plenty of jobs exist in the economy for such women to go out and find(c) the care of children isn’t a socially worthwhile job and (d) good childcare is readily available and affordable in our provincial towns and urban centres. To date, Attorney-General Chris Finlayson has shown no interest in making firms – or even state agencies – live up to their obligations under the Equal Pay Act, which was passed nearly 40 years ago.

To many though, the decision to reject the rape compensation will be particularly galling. Barely a fortnight after Police Minister Judith Collins blamed the media for the growing lack of respect for the Police among the public, Cabinet has decided to abandon a group of vulnerable women that Police officers had preyed upon. According to Attorney- General Finlayson, there is no legal basis for such a payment. Well, duh. That’s why the forum set up by the Clark government to liaise with the victims had recommended to government that an ‘ex gratia’ payment should be made, given the circumstances. That’s what ex gratia payments are. They are made when no official avenue exists to address a clear moral obligation. Does Finlayson think a moral obligation exists in this case – yes or no?

Apparently not. In a letter to the 10 women at the core of the inquiry, Solicitor-General David Collins, acknowledged the lifelong impact of their abuse, but then added :

Attorney-General Chris Finlayson and the Cabinet had “seriously considered” reparation but decided against it because they believed it was not clear that it was the Government’s responsibility or duty, Dr Collins said. “I know this decision will be disappointing. I hope that the opportunity to tell your story and be referred to additional services has been helpful,” he said.

So Finlayson believes the legal position is ‘not clear’? Wow, what a weasel term. Surely, isn’t providing legal clarity supposed to be his job? Moreover, while the government via its Police Minister blames the media for telling the public about Police misconduct (and thus lowering our esteem for the Police) its own Solicitor-General is willing to cite ‘telling your story” to the media as one way that the victims have been enabled to regain their self esteem. Thus helping get the government off the hook for paying compensation.

Talk about gutless. Evidently, the fear in Cabinet was that payment would create a precedent for the hundreds of women who might otherwise qualify for similar compensation, for similar treatment by the Police. Finlayson talked (just before 9am today) on Morning Report of the “floodgate’ consequences of such a course of action.

Dismayingly, the same pattern is evident in our foreign policy as well. Thanks to Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully, our aid programme has been directed towards economic development – and away from poverty relief. As a result, the Women’s Centre in Luganville, Vanuatu may now have to close. Until recently, New Zealand has co-funded the centre’s work in tandem with Australia, to the tune of $US100,000 a year. According to RNZ Pacific News this morning, the centre’s advocacy work is recognized as offering effective and essential help to women and children in rural areas in particular,who have been the victims of sexual violence.

According to NZ diplomat in Vila Sarah Carley, we are now talking to the Australians, to see if they will fill the funding gap we have created.“We can’t continue funding every activity that we’ve ever funded. So it’s a natural progression. We don’t want to leave them in the lurch, because they are providing a valuable service and we don’t want to see any risk to that.” Except of course, when Murray McCully chooses to create such risks.

Quite a contrast, isn’t it? Only last week, John Key was swanning around at the Pacific Forum in Vanuatu and inviting Pacific leaders to hold their next conference in Auckland, at the very same time his government is cutting essential aid support for the women and children of Vanuatu. If Key simply re-directed the money he is planning to spend on taking Pacific leaders to Rugby World Cup games, the Women’s Centre in Vanuatu would probably get the funds it needs to survive. But then, I’m sure Chris Finlayson could be wheeled out to say that this government has even less legal responsibility to the victims of rape in the Pacific than it has for the victims of Police rape in New Zealand.

Ever since the Rogernomics period, conservative governments have struggled to win votes from women. The gender gap was decisive in the 2005 election – and John Key’s charm has hitherto taken the edge off this government’s hardline policies.

No longer. By next election, the GST hikes, the tax breaks for the rich, the childcare subsidy reductions, the disdain for women on the DPB – many of whom are caring for children as the result of marital breakdown – the contempt for gender pay equity etc etc. should make this a potent line of attack for the Opposition. On the evidence, this government hates women. Surely even Phil Goff can make that accusation stick.

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