Category Archives: Our Campaigns

Our inconvenient truth: New Zealand’s climate change shame



Climate change is the defining challenge of our times. The Spinoff is devoting a week of coverage to the issue, its advocates, complexities, and solutions. Today, The Morgan Foundation’s Paul Young looks at the data and uncovers some dirty secrets about New Zealand’s emissions.

Aotearoa New Zealand – clean and green, principled and progressive. So we like to tell (and sell) ourselves.

Helen Clark’s Labour Government talked about being a leader on climate change and aiming to make New Zealand carbon neutral. Under the current National Government, the line has been that New Zealand won’t lead but will be a “fast follower” and do our “fair share” of global efforts.

How true are any of these words in light of our actual record? The data would suggest ‘not very’.

A tale of two countries

Outgoing Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment Jan Wright’s final report last month highlighted the stark contrast between the UK and New Zealand. There, net greenhouse gas emissions fell by 38% from 1990 to 2015 (with most of that decrease occurring in the last decade). Here, net emissions grew by 64% in the same time period.

Of course, the UK and New Zealand are different countries, and this needs to be put into wider context. We’ll get to that.

First, let’s look closer at New Zealand’s record. The graph below shows annual emissions by sector (or source) since 1990. Net emissions (the black line) is the sum of all sectors, including carbon emitted or stored by forestry and other land uses. In New Zealand, forestry is an overall ‘carbon sink’. (Spinoff app users – unfortunately infogram is not supported, so please open the site in a browser).

The story can be crudely summarised as follows.

Gross emissions (excluding forestry) grew more or less continuously between 1990 and 2005, then fell from around 2005 to 2010 (the 2008 financial crisis played a role here), and have been slowly creeping up again since. Most of the increase since 1990 is actually from energy and industry – not agriculture.

Meanwhile, New Zealand’s forest carbon sink was roughly steady through the 1990s but has been in gradual decline since, as the rate of new planting dropped and deforestation increased. (The fluctuations around 2008 are the result of landowners bringing forward harvest or deforestation ahead of the introduction of the Emissions Trading Scheme.)

In an interview on the AM Show, Climate Change Minister Paula Bennett implied that the UK’s success in reducing its emissions was largely because they “stopped producing steel there”, making them look better without benefiting the planet.

There’s a kernel of truth there: UK steel production fell by about one-third from 1990 to 2015 (though climate change policies can’t be blamed for that). But the reduction in emissions from that is less than 10 million tonnes of CO2 – a tiny fraction of the total UK-wide reduction of over 300 million tonnes.

The real picture is that the UK’s emissions are down significantly since 1990 in every sector except transport, which they held flat. The graph below shows how New Zealand compares. (You can also change tabs to look at the changes since 2010.)

Where we sit in the world

OK, enough about the UK. How does all this compare with other developed countries?

There are two measures commonly used to compare emissions levels: per capita, and per unit of GDP. New Zealand is one of the most emissions-intensive developed countries by either measure.

Below I have graphed emissions per capita and per unit of GDP for all ‘high-income’ OECD countries in 2015 or the most recent year available. New Zealand ranks fifth worst on a per capita basis, and third worst on a per GDP basis. If we remove agricultural gases from the picture and look only at CO2, New Zealand sits near the middle of the pack (but still above the EU average).

That’s the current snapshot, but the important thing is that all developed countries reduce their emissions over time. How are we faring?

Comparisons are often made from a 1990 base year, as it was around that time the global community came together and committed to take action on emissions. Of the 33 high-income OECD countries, 19 have reduced their gross emissions below 1990 levels (all in Europe). New Zealand’s grew sixth fastest, behind South Korea, Chile, Israel, Australia and Iceland. As we saw above, our net emissions growth was even higher.

A lot has changed since 1990, and I’m more interested in the recent trends. Below I have graphed the changes since 2010 (aiming to avoid the impacts of the GFC).

As you can see, New Zealand is one of a small handful of developed countries whose emissions have grown since 2010. Chile (which only just meets the World Bank’s ‘high-income’ threshold and has low per capita emissions) and Japan (whose emissions increase was due to increased reliance on coal and gas following the Fukushima disaster) can arguably make excuses. South Korea, Canada and New Zealand will struggle to come up with justifications.

The picture gets even worse for New Zealand when we look at net emissions, including changes in forest carbon sinks. There is insufficient data here for Israel, South Korea and Chile, but it is possible that New Zealand has had the highest growth in net emissions in the developed world since 2010.

Searching for excuses

Some like to point out that New Zealand has a faster rate of population growth than most developed countries, making it harder to reduce emissions. Is this yet another problem we can blame on immigration?

Adjusting for population change makes a little difference (click the ‘Per capita’ tab in the graph above). New Zealand has managed to reduce emissions per person since 2010 – but by less than most countries. We shift ahead of Japan, Portugal and Latvia (all of which have shrinking populations) in the ranking. Meanwhile Australia, Norway and Switzerland all had higher population growth than New Zealand from 2010-2015 but managed to reduce their total emissions.

What about economic growth – are our rising emissions just another unfortunate consequence of New Zealand’s “rockstar economy”?

Again, looking at the change in emissions per unit of GDP doesn’t change the picture much. On this measure, we are ahead of the sluggish or contracting economies of Greece and Spain, but remain well behind the pace. Seven countries had higher GDP growth than New Zealand from 2010-2015, and all reduced their total emissions.

We can’t just blame our high proportion of agricultural emissions for our poor performance either. If we look at changes in CO2 emissions only, New Zealand actually ranks the same as or worse than when we include all greenhouse gases.

Nor can we claim it’s because our electricity is already highly renewable. At least eight of the countries shown have a similar or higher proportion of electricity from low carbon sources when we include nuclear power. With the exception of Canada, all of these countries have reduced their emissions. Notable examples are Sweden and Switzerland, which have had close to 100% of their electricity from non-fossil fuel sources since 1990.

And lastly, we can’t hide behind China and India. Developed countries committed as far back as 1992 at the Rio Earth Summit to take the lead in combating climate change. India’s CO2emissions per capita are still less than two tonnes. China’s rose rapidly since 2000 to almost as high as New Zealand’s, but there has been a huge shift in direction since 2010. China’s CO2 emissions have actually fallen since 2013, and global emissions have been flat, while New Zealand’s have continued to rise.

Our inconvenient truth

The data assembled above shows one thing very clearly: whichever way we choose to look at it, New Zealand is doing very poorly at reducing our emissions.

We are one of the highest emitters per capita and per unit of GDP in the developed world. This should drive us to work harder than others. But we are not – our record in recent years also rates among the worst. Unlike the vast majority of developed countries, our emissions are still going up. Rather than improving our position, we are falling further behind.

We continue to rely on excuses (or myths), rather than look at the real reasons for our poor performance, like our weak and ineffective laws and policies.

I suspect most New Zealanders are unaware of this information, and many will be shocked. If we want to be true to the values we espouse and the stories we tell about our nation, we need to stop kidding ourselves with soothing platitudes, and get to work.

Climate Change Week at The Spinoff is brought to you by An Inconvenient Sequel – in cinemas August 24.

A decade after Al Gore’s film, An Inconvenient Truth, brought climate change into the heart of popular culture comes An Inconvenient Sequel – highlighting the perils of unmitigated climate change and the need for more action. See it in cinemas from Thursday August 24.

The Spinoff Longform Fund is dedicated to facilitating investigative journalism. Our focus is on supporting in-depth reporting on important New Zealand stories. Your donation will help us sustain this most resource-intensive form of journalism, ensuring that the most complex and important stories still get told.

Afghan villagers’ lawyers go to High Court

RADIO NZ 18 August 2017

The lawyers acting for Afghan villagers caught up in a raid allegedly involving the SAS have gone to the High Court to try to get a government inquiry.

Rodney Harrison QC, left, Deborah Manning, and Richard McLeod announce they are to act for Afghan families affected by the 2010 SAS raid.

Rodney Harrison QC, left, Deborah Manning, and Richard McLeod announced in March they were acting for the Afghan families affected by the 2010 raid. Photo: RNZ / Brad White

The book Hit & Run, written by Nicky Hager and Jon Stephenson and published earlier this year, alleged several civilians were either killed or injured in the 2010 Afghanistan raid, which involved New Zealand special forces.

It also claimed homes were destroyed, wounded people were not treated, and a prisoner was mistreated.

In April, Prime Minister Bill English said there was no basis for an inquiry.

But the lawyers – Rodney Harrison QC, Deborah Manning, and Richard McLeod – said today that decision was unlawful and they had filed papers seeking a judicial review.

In June, the United Nations Committee Against Torture asked the government to report on what measures it had put in place to fully investigate the allegations about the raids.

Tears as petition for Family Court inquiry handed over

17 AUG 2017

Tears as petition for Family Court inquiry handed over

A petition calling for an inquiry into the Family Court has made its way to Parliament. Shane Cowlishaw reports.

Terrible weather in the capital has not stopped an advocacy group delivering their tearful demands for family law reform to Parliament.

More than 2800 people signed an open letter calling for an inquiry into the Family Court.

Organised by Community in Action (CIA), the letter was written by a group of domestic violence survivors and is in support of a call by another advocacy group, the Backbone Collective.

The Backbone Collective has a fraught history with the Family Court.

“If we stand up and say ‘this is reality and this isn’t OK’, it gives it a bit more weight…it’s our children, it’s our families, and it’s devastating.”

Earlier this year it released a report about its concerns with the judicial system that included 160 questions posed by members of the collective.

It was not received well by authorities, with Principal Family Court Judge Laurence Ryan issuing a press statement following the report’s release, labelling its claims “erroneous”.

It was an extraordinary step, considering the judiciary usually remain silent on such matters.

“Many of the questions addressed to this office relate to matters either already being actively considered by Parliament around family violence, or which have been dealt with by Parliament relatively recently,” Judge Ryan said.

A Newsroom investigation Taken By The State revealed shocking footage of police enforcing court orders to uplift children in the night from parents who had breached parenting orders.

It has raised several questions about the issuing of ‘without notice’ warrants, with Justice Minister Amy Adams asking officials to investigate why the number of urgent without notice applications have increased.

Victims of domestic violence march on Parliament to seek an inquiry into the Family Court. Photo: Lynn Grieveson


CIA spokeswoman Ninakaye Taanetinorau said the group were marching to Parliament to add credence to the issue.

“If we stand up and say ‘this is reality and this isn’t OK’, it gives it a bit more weight…it’s our children, it’s our families, and it’s devastating.”

Taanetinorau said the videos showing child uplifts were shocking and a much needed insight for society.

Complex situations, especially those involving family violence, were not being dealt with adequately by the Family Court, she said.

The letter was handed over to politicians including Nanaia Mahuta, Marama Davidson, Louise Wall, Poto Williams, and Jan Logie.

Davidson said the Māori Party would support not only an inquiry into the Family Court, but every facet of government.

“We would support a review into every system of the Government and ask the same thing; are there equitable outcomes, are people prejudiced, are they women, are they children, are they Māori, are they Pasifika, are they migrant families and if they are fix it. It’s not that difficult.

“Women do it hard in this country, they raise families on their own, they have to put up with a system of government and in the courts and all over the place that prejudice against them. We just want equitable outcomes for our families and for a Government and a country that helps families grow stronger, not decimate them.”

Last week Labour leader Jacinda Ardern called the uplift footage “horrific” and said the Labour Party was in favour of a review of the Family Court.

Justice Minister Amy Adams told Newsroom that tackling family violence had been her number one priority as Justice Minister since taking on the role.

“I respect the petition and those who have delivered it to Parliament today,” she said.

“I will always be open to hearing from victims of family violence and court users to better understand how we can improve the system for them and their families. I would say though that many of the concerns that have been expressed appear to relate to the way that individual judges apply the law, which as Minister of Justice I cannot comment on.

“The process can be fraught and difficult, but judges must act on the best evidence before them when making decisions,” Adams said.

“In respect of the legal frameworks that underpin family court processes, I am currently in the process of reforming the domestic violence laws and all groups have been able to feed into this process through both an earlier discussion document and more recently the select committee process on the Bill. In addition I have asked officials to carry out a review of the Family Court reforms of 2014 which will look at how they are working in practice and if they are achieving the intended outcomes.”

Equal pay advocate Bartlett ‘let down’ by Govt

17 AUG 2017

Just four months ago, the Government described its $2 billion deal with Kristine Bartlett and her fellow aged care workers as an historic first step towards achieving pay equity. But Bartlett now says she feels betrayed by the Government. Andre Chumko reports.

Back on April 18 there was so much hope that the settlement would be the first of many for women across a range of sectors, including education, mental health and hospitality. After five years of legal action and consultation with both employers and unions, the Government promised its new Pay Equity Bill would be the vehicle for more of these claims to deliver fairer and higher pay for women. Economists have even started building it into their wage inflation forecasts.

Instead, Bartlett, unions and the Opposition are now accusing the Government of reneging on that promise with the bill just read in Parliament. They say the Government has effectively pulled up the drawbridge behind Bartlett to block similar deals by forcing pay equity claimants to firstly compare their wages with men in their own businesses and sectors.

“We all feel very, very let down. Totally let down,” Bartlett told Newsroom.

“They’ve reneged on what the initial agreement was when they set the principles and pay rates, and made it so much harder if ever there’s other guys go for it,” she said.

“That’s the disappointing part. I was so so happy knowing that when this went through, when mine was put through, I was so excited thinking now all these other low paid women-dominated industries or workplaces can now go and put claims in. And of course that’s all stopped at the moment. So it’s back to the drawing board again.”

The disillusion began to set in within two days. On April 20 the Government released its draft bill, which unions and the Opposition said erected a road block to settlements similar to Bartlett’s by forcing pay equity claimants to compare themselves first with colleagues in their own businesses and sectors, rather than with similarly skilled workers in other sectors. They argued the Government had ignored the good work done over two years by employers and unions in a Joint Working Group led by Dame Patsy Reddy, who is now the Governor General.

The bill’s presentation to Parliament last week for its first reading confirmed for many that the promise of April 18 had been dashed.

“I listened to the first reading and I was just absolutely gobsmacked to think that they could stand up there and say what they had to say about it. They didn’t care a damn. Not one of them. They totally changed their minds and they totally reneged on what was the exciting part about this case, and just stopped it basically for everyone else,” Bartlett said.

There was particular bitterness and fear about the way mental health workers were treated. They were part way through a claim and suspended it in the expectation of benefiting when the aged care deal was settled. Instead, their employers — many of whom are the same as for aged care workers — are implacably opposed to increasing their pay to match those in aged care, despite the workers being at similar skill levels.

Many providers of mental health care services fear an exodus of workers from mental health jobs to aged care jobs that pay around 20 percent more from July 1. They argue this exodus will make the Government’s recent announcement of extra funding for primary health care projects and hospitals redundant.

The sense of betrayal was evident in the impassioned debate in the first reading last week.

Labour leader Jacinda Ardern called the proposed bill an “absolute disgrace” during its first reading on August 8. It was narrowly accepted by a vote of 60-59, with all of National, ACT and United Future voting in favour of the bill as it currently stands, and all of Labour, the Greens, New Zealand First and the Māori Party voting against it.

“How is it possible that he could present to this House a bill that takes us not only a step backwards but an entire generation backwards in terms of our ability to actually move forward in terms of giving women access to pay equity,” Ardern said across the debating chamber to Workplace Relations and Safety Minister Michael Woodhouse, who is in charge of the proposed bill and introduced it to Parliament.

Woodhouse’s introduction was a rowdy affair and he was forced to stop repeatedly when justifying the move to make claimants compare their salaries with men in their own businesses first.

He dismissed the complaints of Green MP Jan Logie, who said his bill was entrenching 40 years of inequity.

“Pipe down, Jan. You will blow something,” he said.

It’s all about the comparators

It’s worth diving into the detail of how pay equity is determined to understand why the Pay Equity Bill in its current form disappointed workers and the Opposition.

Pay equity differs from pay equality in that it has a focus on paying different types of workers of equal skills and experience the same amount of money, as opposed to paying male and female workers in the same positions the same amount. When making a pay equity claim, a valuation is done to figure out the relative weight of a job in comparison to others. The employee’s role is compared to other jobs, known as comparators, in order to assess the equity claim.

Under the proposed bill, any pay equity claim has to first compare the wages of the woman making the claim with male workers in the same business or sector, before comparing with similarly skilled men in other sectors. This hierarchy of comparators is included in section 3a of Section 24 of the bill.

Labour, Green and New Zealand First MPs argued this part of the bill went against the Court of Appeal’s judgment in the Bartlett case against TerraNova Homes and Care.

Ardern said TerraNova unsuccessfully attempted to use male gardeners at TerraNova as a comparator to Bartlett’s job as a rest home worker.

“That would be the exact kind of outcome you would see if you follow the Minister’s logic. Yet the complexity of the job that Kristine Bartlett and others were doing should have been compared across a wide range of other sectors,” she said.

Woodhouse argued in the debate that he interpreted the Employment Court’s ruling as specifying that the first comparison should be made within the employer’s business and that the Court of Appeal had not overturned that ruling.

Pay Equity Coalition spokesperson Angela McLeod said the group, which sent two separate submissions to the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment on the draft bill, also had issues with Section 24. She said the “hierarchy” of comparators in the bill imposed onerous limits on the progress of claims, which were in conflict with the Equal Pay Act 1972 that the draft bill sought to replace.

“When somebody wants to take a case, what the Government wants to do is change it so the comparators are only in the business. So if you’re an accountant or a plumber, the Government is only expecting to do it within that industry. That’s why there is a problem,” McLeod said.

Opponents were also unhappy with Section 14, which demands that women making the claim prove that they have been historically undervalued.

Ardern said this clause established a set of “macroeconomic criteria” which was problematic because individuals or small groups who did not have access to a union which could do the legal work for them would have to prove the above criteria by themselves. Pay Equity Coalition supported Labour’s view, and said in their submission to MBIE that as the burden to prove merit was on the employee, it would inhibit claims being made altogether. National has rejected these claims.

Labour had one final problem with the proposed bill – that it would completely replace the Equal Pay Act 1972. It also seeks to replace the Government Service Equal Pay Act 1960 and amend the Employment Relations Act 2000.

“The Equal Pay Act no longer exists. You now have to operate under this legislation, which is utterly unfair in the way that it is applying retrospectively to any other sector that is currently under negotiation. That is patently unfair,” Ardern said.

Opponents were also concerned about the lack of a pay transparency component which would enable employees to know whether they are receiving equal pay in the first instance, and the lack of the ability to claim backpay.

Commissioner also concerned

The Human Rights Commission’s Equal Employment Opportunities Commissioner Jackie Blue, who was previously a National MP, also said she was concerned that the Government had left it largely unchanged from its draft despite receiving 92 submissions on the draft bill.

“It is absolutely vital that the select committee submissions process is thorough, thoughtful and constructive to ensure the final legislation provides a fair outcome for workers who have had an unfair deal for far too long,” she said in a media release last week.

“The Government, through its engagement with the Joint Working Group on pay equity principles, have taken positive steps in recent times. It is important that they continue to build on that foundation and getting this legislation right will be an important part of that,” she said.

Blue said the Commission would make its own submission to the select committee in the coming months to ensure its concerns would be addressed.

So what happens now? 

The bill has been referred to a select committee which will not meet to consider submissions until much later in the year. But there is some urgency building, particularly around mental health care workers who are leaving in droves for better pay in aged care.

E Tū assistant national secretary John Ryall told Newsroom via email that the Ministry was “dogmatically opposed” to mental health workers being included in the settlement, and despite being warned of the consequences, it said there would not be a settlement without their exclusion.

“The Minister of Health is stalling for time because if the Pay Equity Bill that was introduced to Parliament last week is passed in its current form the mental health support workers will have their equal pay claim extinguished, and will have to start again under different more difficult rules,” he said.

“Quite frankly I think that the Government was willing to pay the $2 billion price for the union withdrawal of the Bartlett case and union agreement to extinguishing equal pay claims in this sector for five years, with the intention of pulling up the drawbridge and ensuring that no other women, even if they are employed by the same organisations (as are the mental health support workers) do not achieve the same levels of pay,” he said.

John Ryall, E Tū lead negotiator at the signing of the care and support workers’ pay equity settlement agreement on May 2. Photo: Lynn Grieveson.

The election result will matter

Having failed to achieve what they wanted through the Joint Working Group and the Government’s bill, unions and workers have now turned to changing the equation in Parliament by getting more Opposition MPs elected on September 23.

Bartlett said she had now accepted that widespread pay equity would never happen under the National Government. She had been phoning voters in recent days to drive that point home.

“I’m out there with a lot of other members of my union and there’s a lot of very upset angry people – women,” she said.

“Labour, New Zealand First, Greens — they’re all for it. So get one of those in and it’ll be fine. That’s all you’ve got to hope for now. The 23rd of September.”

The breakdown in once cooperative relations in the lead-up to the settlement illustrates just how unusual the Government’s celebration was in April, and how far apart the sides are now.

“It is an historic moment for the Government to address this undervaluing with Ms Bartlett and the unions,” Coleman said at the time.

Just two weeks later (see picture above) Coleman was all smiles when formally signing the settlement with Bartlett.

“I would again like to thank the unions and sector associations for their constructive and positive approach throughout the negotiations over the past 20 months,” he said.

But that’s where it ended.

Family Court using discredited US theory: Newsroom


The Chief District Court Judge and the Principal Family Court Judge need to review the application of the law in the Family Court.

A series of reports and judgments in the past year has opened to public view the following disturbing aspects of the court’s practice –

· Footage published by Newsroom on 8 August of children being forcibly uplifted by the police;

· The 7 July Court of Appeal decision in SN v MN, which held that an experienced Family Court judge had misinterpreted the Domestic Violence Act in every respect;

· Reports published by The Backbone Collective on 7 April and 8 June, telling the stories of women seeking to protect themselves and their children from domestic violence and finding the Family Court process worsens the situation, with the court sometimes placing children in the care of the abuser;

· A report published by Parliament’s Justice and Electoral Committee on 5 July 2016 expressing concern that in February 2016 more than 80 per cent of applications made under the Care of Children Act were filed “without notice.” Anti-domestic violence campaigners warned the Government about the dangers of its proposals when it changed Family Court processes on 31 March 2014, but these concerns were ignored.

One of my key concerns about the Family Court is its ongoing use of the long-discredited “Parental Alienation Syndrome.”

In addition, children are sometimes placed under the guardianship of the High Court – with the Chief Executive of the Ministry of Social Development appointed as the court’s agent – when mothers report violence towards them and their children and the violence is minimised and disregarded by judges during lengthy court proceedings.

Instead of providing the legal protection the women and children require, judges conclude that there is a mutually-difficult relationship between the parents and third party guardianship is required to resolve this.

One of my key concerns about the Family Court is its ongoing use of the long-discredited “Parental Alienation Syndrome.”

Parental Alienation Syndrome is a term coined by American psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Dr Richard Gardner in the early 1980s. He wrote self-published books titled The Parental Alienation Syndrome and the Differentiations Between Fabricated and Genuine Child Sex Abuse in 1987, and Sex-Abuse Hysteria: Salem Witch Trials Revisited in 1991.

Gardner posited that both mothers and children in custody cases falsely and maliciously accused fathers of sexual abuse and violence as tactics in court proceedings. He sent his 1987 book to many judges and lawyers and subsequently trained thousands of judges and lawyers, both in the United States and in New Zealand.

He also testified in more than 400 child custody cases.

Gardner claimed that the vast majority of children who reported sexual abuse fabricated what they said, after being “alienated” and coached by their mothers.

As early as 1993, research in the United States questioned the existence of Parental Alienation Syndrome. More than 500 studies have now been conducted into the so-called syndrome and not one of them has been able to replicate the eight characteristics claimed by Gardner. All of Gardner’s books were self-published and none was peer reviewed. His books were not based on research.

American lawyer John Myers in 1993 argued that there was no empirical evidence to show that the eight claimed characteristics of Parental Alienation Syndrome were a syndrome. Other research discrediting Gardner includes –

· “Parental Alienation Syndrome and Parental Alienation: Getting it Wrong in Child Custody Cases,” Carol S Bruch, Family Law Quarterly 35, 527 (2001); and

· “The Parental Alienation Syndrome: A Dangerous Aura of Reliability,” Cheri L Wood Loyola of Los Angeles Law Review 29: 1367-1415 (1994);

· “Alienation and Alignment of Children,” Philip M Stahl, Complex Issues in Child Custody Evaluations, Sage Publications, 1999.

More recently, Dr Robert Geffner, President of the Institute on Violence, Abuse and Trauma, has written and spoken extensively on the devastating impact of the continued application of Parental Alienation Syndrome in the making of child custody decisions. He lectured in New Zealand in 2014 about the issue.

The American Psychological Association’s Presidential Task Force on Violence and the Family in 1996 reported that many mothers were losing custody cases in which there were concerns about domestic violence, because abusive fathers were able to convince the court that the mothers were engaged in alienating behaviours.

Gardner’s recommendations were that the mother reporting violence and abuse should be encouraged to stay with the abusive father; she should be helped over her “anger;” and the child should be placed in the father’s care in cases of separation. He also advocated society “come off it” and take a more “realistic” attitude to paedophilic behaviour. Mandatory reporting of child sex abuse and immunity for those reporting it should be abolished, and federally-funded programmes should be set up to help the “millions” of people Gardner said had been wrongly accused of child sex abuse.

As long ago as 1994, the American Psychological Society said that courts should not accept testimony about Parental Alienation Syndrome.

In cases where women and children report abuse and violence, the application of Parental Alienation Syndrome means children are threatened with being removed from their mother’s care if they persist with their reports of abuse. In addition, mothers are threatened with having children removed from their care if they continue to report. Judges in some cases have placed the children in the care of the abusive parent, and even gone so far as to cut off contact with the protective parent.

Bancroft & Silverman’s research reported that families with “the greatest degree of psychological health among mothers and children appear to be among those most vulnerable to being labelled as having “parental alienation.” This is because the children have a secure attachment to the protective parent and – completely rationally and understandably – reject the behaviour of the violent parent on separation. However, instead of the courts and professionals listening to the women and children, their reports of violence and abuse are dismissed as false complaints arising from alienation.

One American study found that batterers were able to convince authorities that domestic violence victims were unfit or undeserving of sole custody of children in 70 per cent of cases in which custody was challenged. On appeal, when some of these situations were more deeply investigated, the allegations made by the women and children were found to be substantiated and the decisions to place the children in the care of the batterer were reversed.

As long ago as 1994, the American Psychological Society said that courts should not accept testimony about Parental Alienation Syndrome, as the theory positing it had been discredited by the scientific community.

Joan Meier studied 2001 case law in the United States and identified 38 appellate state court decisions concerning custody and domestic violence. She found that 36 of the 38 trial courts had awarded joint or sole custody to the alleged and adjudicated batterers. Two-thirds of those decisions were reversed on appeal. However, there are incredibly few appeals in family cases. Women lack the financial resources to pursue appeals, which are an extremely traumatic and time-consuming exercise.

The tragic and frightening outcomes which have occurred in the United States as a result of the use of Parental Alienation Syndrome continue to happen to this day in the Family Court in New Zealand: judges are dismissing and ignoring reports of violence by women and children on the grounds that these are fabrications designed to alienate the children from their father.

The Auckland High Court judgment in the case of F v P [2015] NZHC 1362 was released on 16 June 2015. The judge discussed alienation in great detail in a 149-paragraph judgment, before determining that the clearly-expressed wishes of the son should be ignored. The judge stated that –

“Plainly, in the present case where T exhibits such high levels of antipathy towards his father, falsely alleges assault and holds his father singularly responsible for the difficulties he faces in life, the vehemence of his opposition must be placed in context. In the circumstances I attribute relatively little weight to his opposition.”

These comments run completely contrary to the evidence provided by research, which clearly shows in many studies over many years that false complaints of abuse and violence are incredibly rare. Dr Daniel Saunders’ 2010 research relating to the beliefs of judges and custody evaluators found that they believed that –

· Victims made false allegations;

· Victims alienated their children; and

· Fathers did not make false allegations of abuse.

All of these beliefs are unsupported by evidence. Bala & Schuman’s 1999 Canadian research found that, when accusations made in child custody and access disputes were reviewed, 21 percent of allegations by fathers were judged to be false, while 1.3 percent by mothers were judged to be false.

At a minimum, the use of so-called Parental Alienation needs immediately to be discontinued.

Trocme and Bala’s 2005 Canadian research was based on a sample of 7632 cases. It found that 4 percent of allegations of child abuse by children against parents in cases of child maltreatment were maliciously fabricated. In disputed child custody cases, fathers were found to bring 43% of all intentionally-fabricated allegations, while custodial parents (usually mothers) brought 14%.

I wrote a lengthy letter to Justice Minister Amy Adams on 8 September 2015 expressing my concerns about the continued application of Parental Alienation Syndrome in the New Zealand Family Court. I received a brief response on 16 September 2015, which did not specifically address the issues I had raised about the so-called syndrome.

Adams in July 2016 told Parliament’s Justice and Electoral Committee that a review of the 2014 Family Court law reforms was scheduled to begin in 2017. That review is underway at present, with the Minister saying a report is expected before the end of the year. There has to date been no opportunity for public input into the study.

The review being carried out at present either needs to be broadened to examine more aspects of the operation of the Family Court, or a new study needs to be commenced. At a minimum, the use of so-called Parental Alienation needs immediately to be discontinued.

In addition, there needs to be a review of all Family Court domestic violence decisions in the light of the Court of Appeal judgment in SN v MN so that incorrect applications of the Domestic Violence Act can be reversed and women and children can be given the protection the law says they should receive.

Find Newsroom’s Taken By The State series here
* See the original investigation
* Read responses by politicians Jacinda Ardern, Anne Tolley and Paula Bennett, and the Children’s Commissioner
* Opinion: Retired Family Court judge John Adams
* Opinion: Child psychology expert Nicola Atwool

Auditor-General report: Our right to know is being treated with contempt

 The Listener / 10 August, 2017

Fraudster Joanne Harrison. Photo/TVNZ

The committee in charge should thank their lucky stars – and Metiria Turei – for this week’s distractions.

The seven MPs on the cross-party Officers of Parliament Committee should be down on their knees giving thanks for the recent political tumult. Had the media not been transfixed by the galvanic election of a new Labour Party leader and the catastrophic backfiring of Greens co-leader Metiria Turei’s confession of benefit fraud, it’s a fair bet that far more would have been made of the scandalous circumstances in which the country learnt of the resignation of Auditor-General Martin Matthews.


The watchdog role of Auditor-General is central in New Zealand’s constitutional arrangements. It’s technically a non-political appointment – made by and accountable to Parliament – and the job calls for someone with an unimpeachable reputation, which is why Matthews’ appointment last February raised eyebrows. His competence was seriously in doubt following an audacious $723,000 fraud perpetrated under his watch at the Ministry of Transport by senior manager Joanne Harrison, now serving a jail term. Official documents have shown that repeated warning signs about Harrison’s behaviour, including advice from Australian police who had experience of her, went ignored while Matthews was the ministry’s chief executive. Worse still, whistleblowers in the ministry who drew attention to irregularities were manoeuvred out of their jobs in a restructuring in which Harrison herself had a hand.

Matthews was advised as early as 2013 that staff had suspicions about Harrison, but it wasn’t until 2016 that he called in the Serious Fraud Office. Despite knowing all this, the Officers of Parliament Committee recommended Matthews’ appointment as Auditor-General last November.

Clearly, the committee chose the wrong person. That decision in itself cries out for an explanation. But just how wrong they got it, and why, may never be known, because the committee decided not to release the result of the inquiry by former top public servant Sir Maarten Wevers. It justified this decision on the basis that immediately before the report was due for release, Matthews – who had stood aside while Wevers conducted his inquiry – announced his resignation. In a brief statement, the committee said there was no longer any need to reveal what Wevers had found. All done and dusted, then. Nothing to see here, folks. Move on.

How convenient. The committee’s culpability in the fiasco therefore escapes public scrutiny. And that’s just the start of it, because the farrago of contradictions, inconsistencies and prevarications surrounding the decision to withhold the report can only create further public suspicion.

The public is entitled to know, for example, why Matthews insisted in March that he had acted correctly, yet in the statement announcing his resignation admitted his position was “untenable”. What could be in the report that caused him to change his position? Why was the supposedly unanimous decision to withhold the Wevers report subsequently criticised by New Zealand First leader Winston Peters and Labour MP Sue Moroney, both of whose parties were represented on the committee? And what is the public to make of claims that a deal was hatched whereby Matthews agree to go quietly in return for the report being suppressed?

It’s not just Wevers’ report we’re entitled to see, but Matthews’ point-by-point response, including rebuttal, which has also been suppressed. Not only would this give the public a fairer basis on which to judge both the decision to appoint him and his subsequent decision to resign, but it would give some much-needed insight into how fraudster Harrison managed to pull the wool over senior colleagues’ eyes for so long.

Nobody comes out of this looking good, but it’s possible the very secrecy Parliament’s Speaker has enforced makes everybody look worse than they need to. Was the decision to rethink the appointment more a matter of “optics” or a question of damning new information? It is unfair on everyone concerned that we do not know. The Speaker’s argument that, technically, both Wevers’ and Matthews’ reports are still only drafts and, because of the resignation, they need never be finished is a risible excuse for continued secrecy.

It’s still murky. That’s the problem with suppression. Any of the rumours and speculation now swirling around the Wevers report may be true. Then again, it’s possible none of them are. The trouble is we don’t know – but we are entitled to know, because it’s a matter of maintaining confidence in the integrity of the public service.

The committee has behaved with arrogance and contempt for the public’s right to know. The shameful saga shows up once again the inadequacies of the Official Information Act, which is toothless at the best of times and utterly impotent as a means of holding Parliament accountable. MPs carefully placed themselves out of its reach when the Act was passed in 1981 and have remained staunch in their determination to resist calls for them to be brought within its purview.

Not for them the principles of transparency and accountability that they apply to everyone else. If New Zealand is to retain its first-equal ranking – with Denmark – on Transparency International’s league table, we will have to do a lot better than this.

This article was first published in the August 19, 2017 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

Tenants: Our human rights stomped on

10 Aug, 2017

In the last year prospective tenants have alleged they were denied a home because of a mental-health issue, because of their race and because they had an assistance dog – despite it being in breach of their human rights to do so.

Among the 118 allegations of discrimination made this year, tenants also alleged they were racially abused by neighbours or landlords, banned from bringing in male tenant replacements, and one claimed they were not allowed to wear religious clothes in a residential facility.

Tenancy Services received 29 applications relating to discrimination, in the year to June 2017.

Meanwhile the Human Rights Commission (HRC) received 89 complaints from tenants in the year to July 2017, equating to 6 per cent of the total 1392 discrimination allegations. Information the Herald obtained through the Official Information Act showed the majority of complaints, 20, were race-related, or disability related, 17.

The commission was unable to provide specifics of each situation, but gave brief examples of some of the cases it had seen, including one in which a tenant was racially abused by a neighbour in a holiday park; another in which a person was racially harassed by a property manager and another incident involving tenants being told not to wear their religious garments in a residential facility.

Prospective tenants also alleged they were unfairly barred from a home, one because of race, another because of having an assistance dog, and another because of mental health.

One of the allegations related to an advertisement that asked for “Asians only” and in another instance a prospective tenant felt they were charged more because the property was wheelchair accessible.

The rest of the allegations were related to issues of sexual harassment or discrimination (13 complaints), family status (11) and age (10).

While 11 were dropped, and six were unresolved, the remaining 70 were addressed either through an explanation of the Human Rights Act, an apology, assistance by the HRC or by compensation from the respondent.

The HRC said a property owner or agent who discriminates because of race, age, sex, sexual orientation, family status or disability risks breaking the law: “Previous negative experience with a tenant or a guest of a particular sex or race is not a valid reason to rule out future tenants or guests of the same sex or race.”

This was echoed by the Tenancy Tribunal, which also responds to allegations of discrimination against tenants.

At a hearing in February a landlord was found to have acted unreasonably when she stated rooms her current tenants wanted to sublease must go to females only.

“She is not willing to have all guys, after problems with a previous group,” the property manager texted.

The tribunal ruled the landlord be charged $2000 for unlawful discrimination.

Labour Housing spokesman Phil Twyford said the shortage of houses meant landlords had all the power and could be selective.

He said anecdotally it seemed many beneficiaries were refused accommodation after their employment status was revealed.

A Tenancy Services spokesperson said a landlord could ask about employment status but it was unlawful to discriminate on that basis.

“If a person thinks they have been discriminated against they can seek advice from both Tenancy Services and the Human Rights Commission and then decide the dispute resolution process that suits them.”

Tenants can lodge a complaint to the HRC, or make an application to the tenancy tribunal, but not both.

HRF calls for review, involving all parties, of the Family Court processes for protecting children and women.


Media Statement

The Human Rights Foundation is calling for a review, involving all parties, of the Family Court processes for protecting children and women. HRF Chair Peter Hosking says today’s Newsroom report is another wake-up call for the authorities. “HRF lawyers practising in the Family Court report similar incidents”, he says. “The Family Court has failed to establish processes that ensure that the welfare and interests of the child are the first and paramount consideration – as the law requires them to be. Whatever the conduct of the parents that led to the events in the Newsroom report, it is clear that the children’s interests have not been paramount”.

Peter Hosking says it is also important that the Family Court avoids the defensiveness displayed when responding to the earlier report by the Background Collective about its failure to protect women who have been subjected to violence in the home. Any review of the Family Court needs to involve domestic violence and children’s rights service providers and users of the system as equal partners.

The HRF has long called for the development, in collaboration with domestic and sexual violence service providers and users, of an evidence-based Action Plan to end gender-based violence against women and children. This recommendation was made to the UN Human Rights Council in its 2013 stocktake of New Zealand’s human rights performance. “While a large amount of resources are applied to violence against women and children, and to providing Family Court services, the system lacks an overall strategy that sets out long-term goals and evidence-based processes to achieve them,” says Peter Hosking.


Contact: Peter Hosking 021660275