Legal ages in NZ

Here are the Legal ages in NZ – from the Office of the Commissioner for Children. Does anything strike you as wrong about this?

 6 – are required to be enrolled in and attend school (though can start school earlier, at five)

10 – can be prosecuted for murder or manslaughter

12 – are able to swear an oath if giving evidence in court (children younger than this must only promise to tell the truth in court)

14 – can be left alone without an adult looking after them

– are able to babysit for younger children but only if capable of reasonable supervision and care

– can be prosecuted for any criminal offence

15 – can sit a driving test and obtain a learner’s driver’s licence

16 – can leave home without parents’ consent (but until 17, Child, Youth and Family can send the child home if they believe they are at risk)

– can get married or enter into a civil union with parents’ consent

– can (usually) decide which parent to live with if parents are separated, and decide whether to visit the other

– can not be made to undergo treatment for mental disorders without their consent, unless under a compulsory treatment order

– may be eligible for certain kinds of benefit assistance, e.g. Independent Youth Benefit, Invalids Benefit

– can leave school or be expelled from school (excluded if younger than 16)

– can start full-time work and earn minimum wage (after a period of probation for 16 and 17 year olds)

– can legally consent to sexual intercourse

17 – are heard in the District Court rather than the Youth Court if charged with a criminal offence

18 – can be legally independent of their parents’ guardianship

– can be employed in a position which offers minimum wage

– can open a cheque account, borrow money, or apply for a credit card (subject to different banks’ rules)

– are no longer protected by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child

– can vote in local body and general elections, and can stand as a candidate for election

– are able to purchase and consume alcohol and cigarettes

– can enter into contracts

20 – are legally classed as an adult, with full capacity to make their own decisions


Housing in New Zealand

So much for the NZ dream of everyone owning their own home. NZ is apparently unique in the OECD for our raipidly dropping rate of home ownership.

In NZ 37% of people rent and of that 37% only 5% are in social housing. Social housing covers state houses, council homes, and community owned housing.

In contrast, in the U.K only 30% of people are renting and 27% of these people are in social housing.

We have a tight rental market, otherwise known as a shortage of housing, in many places.  In Auckland it’s estimated we are short of over 10,000 houses. This means the market favours landowners and in practice this further marginalises the poorest people and Maori and Pacific people. 

In this context the Government is looking at reducing the Housing NZ rental stock and is moving more people more regularly into the private rental market. From July 1 Housing New Zealand has told people who were categorised as C or D on the waiting list that they are no longer elligible for a State house.  While  the HNZC website says any resident who has a low income, not many assets (things of high value you own), and a high housing need are elligible, it’s actually far more restrictive than that. I’ve been told category A is usually people being released from Prison or a psyhciatric ward.

HNZC has also introduced reviewable tenancies for all new tenants:

“A tenant’s circumstances will be reviewed once every three years to ensure their housing needs are being properly catered for. When their circumstances improve significantly and they are able to afford a home outside state housing they will be assisted to move – freeing up a state house for someone in greater need,” Mr Heatley said.

To say it’s only fair to give housing NZ houses to those most in need sounds sensible but this will actually mean children (and other people) will lack stability as their families are pushed out into the private rental market with no security of  tenancy. 

Talk to any teacher in a low decile school and they will tell you about the difficulties of helping students to achieve educationally when the family is transient. This policy will create more transient families and consequently worsen educational,social, health and economic outcomes for the the already marginalised.

I know whole families are right now crammed into single rooms in boarding houses because that’s the only place they can get that they can afford.

It would be fairer and better for our society if  we increased our social housing stock and also regulated our private rental market to ensure minimum standards.

Letter to Judge Philippa Cunningham

Judge Philippa Cunningham
Auckland District Court
Fax 09 916 9611

Dear Judge Cunningham,

I am writing to express my dismay and disquiet at your ruling last week.

My heart goes out to the partner and mother who did what we would all hope and expect a mother to do.

Our media in recent years has profiled more family cover ups of child abuse than cases like this. Having worked for women’s refuge in the past and supported a mother and child through the process of laying a complaint of child abuse I have seen first hand the fear and trauma involved in taking a case to court.

In this example the comedian concerned admitted his guilt and while this will certainly have made the process prior to your ruling easier for the family your ruling must have been absolutely devastating.

I am not a proponent of punishment for the sake of punishment but I do believe an essential part of justice is the acknowledgement of a crime and rehabilitation and or restitution.

You reportedly decided the comedian had no paedophilic tendencies I am supposing this is because he was drunk. This suggests that if you’re drunk and your partner doesn’t want sex and you have a child in your bed then anyone might end up conducting sex acts on that child. I would suggest this is not true. How was it he didn’t perform a sex on (attempt to rape) his partner while she slept if he was so drunk he was not accountable for his own actions? He knew it was his daughter and this is not the behaviour of a man with a healthy sexuality.

I believe this judgement sends a harmful message to victims and their families. So few cases of sexual abuse make it to court in this country and even fewer manage to get convictions. Now there is even less incentive to try.

I also believe it sends a message to men that they are less responsible for their actions if they’re socially privileged and drunk.

We need a justice system that we can all have confidence in. Your decision has undermined my faith in justice in this country.

You can’t change this ruling, but at the very least I do hope you reflect on the reaction to your ruling and organise time to talk to some of the agencies working with victims of sexual abuse.

Yours sincerely

Jan Logie

A summary of party political priorities for children

I attended the Child Health and Wellbeing in New Zealand Academic and Political Forum this week. There were presentations on Maori and Pacific health, infectious diseases, infant and maternal mental health, primary care and policy approaches as well as an update on the Children’s Social Health Monitor (New Zealand).

There were several key themes I took from the day:
1. We are massively under-investing in our children
2. Our children are sicker and more at risk than children in any other country we like to compare ourselves to, and many that we see being at a much lower level of development like Turkey or the Czech Republic
3. The social determinants of health such as poverty, poor housing, over crowding and racism are responsible for this, rather than individual choices or in many cases the specifics of health care.
4. We’ve been saying this for a long time.

Then the major parliamentary political parties presented. Here’s my summary.

The Government: “Through bad economic times the vulnerable bear a disproportionate burden, but what is the long term cost of not fixing the economy (first)?” Bill English Basically, doesn’t disagree that the plight of children is terrible. He thinks that if we fix the economy we’ll have enough money to improve the situation. He also pointed to National’s core responses: the improved rates of immunisation, the home insulation scheme (forgetting that with their new policy to try to limit most State House tenancies to two years, they’ll be kicking people out of their insulated houses after two years) and the green paper. Their priorities are reducing child abuse (green paper) and changing delivery models, not putting in more money into policies aimed at children.

Labour: Annette King presented Labour’s policy platform to put children at the centre of policy making. This appeared to be primarily through mechanistic means. She outlined a range of very important and useful initiatives to do this:
1. to get cross party agreement for a multi year agenda for change;
2. start investment at maternal health;
3. establish a Minister for Children, set milestones and monitor for progress.

Maori Party: Rahui Katene – “Well the Maori Party has a distinctive difference to the other parties in this panel, in that we prefer not to talk about what we will do to you; but instead to spread the word that our most enduring solutions lie in the people themselves”.
Whanua ora and self determination

United Future: a range of disparate measures without a coherent vision.

The Greens: The Greens policy is to urgently prioritise changing the social determinants of health by:
4. lifting 100,000 children out of poverty by 2014;
5. increasing the minimum wage: 2 of 5 households in poverty are working families;
6. extending the Training Incentive Allowance and the working for families tax credit to beneficiaries; and
7. setting a minimum standard for housing quality.

The Greens have wide ranging policy that includes early support, and joined up, culturally appropriate care, but also prioritises changing the social determinants to create a step change improvement for children.

Our ageing population; one more reason to change the Government

I’ve just been lucky enough to sit through a lecture on population ageing with Natalie Jackson. It was absolutely fascinating. Here are a few of the points that she stressed.

Population ageing is not simply about the increase in the number of people over 65; it’s about the increasing proportion of people over 65.

Not to labour the point – the following graph shows that in the 50s there were more young people than older people, and that as time is passing more people are living longer and fewer children are being born. As a result more health services will be needed, and there will be fewer workers to provide the services, tax and support for the retired.

New Zealand has a slightly different pattern:

As you can see in the graph below, from 2001 we will be slightly more protected for a while compared to other countries. But over the next 5 years, as the baby boomers retire, structural ageing will become more obvious. There will be 100,000 people exiting the work force over the next 5 years. In just 12 years we will have more people aged over 65 than people aged under 15.

As a country, we are incredibly lucky that the pattern of population ageing for Maori is radically different from Pakeha (graph below). This may protect us as a country from some of the shock of the change.

This is the picture at a national level, but it doesn’t tell us the full story as there are already significant differences between regions in New Zealand.

In about 7% of Territorial Authorities (TAs) have 20% of the population is aged over 65; by 2026 that will be closer to 75% of TAs. Currently, almost 40% of TAs have more people exiting the labour force than entering it and this will grow to around 70% within five years.

This pattern will be even more noticeable in other high income countries, which will further globalise the labour market. This means young people with qualifications will pretty much be able to go anywhere and ask for whatever they want, and soon there will be a likely drop in tertiary education attendance as qualifications won’t be required any longer to get a job.

If we are to keep our young people in the country, and prepare those in their 30s for the much faster promotion trajectory, we need to increase our investment in social support and education while we have the tax base to do it.

And let me be clear, extending youth rates and fire at will legislation, attacking welfare provisions and reducing the real investment in education etc etc, will not create a generation of young people who feel valued and loyal.

Will you turn a blind eye?

Whose responsibility is child poverty? The movie Oranges and Sunshine brings attention to the outrageous situation of 130,000 poor children being sent unaccompanied to Australia from the U.K to help whiten Australia. This happened from the 19th Century until the 1970s. The Catholic Church, various charitable organisations, and both governments were actively engaged in this.

These children were often told their parents were dead, when in fact they were not. These children were sent into the most spartan of environments, usually given only a shirt and shorts, not even shoes, provided with the barest minimum of food and made to do the work of adults to pay for these ‘services.’ Many of the children were physically and sexually abused. These children were aged from 4 -15 years of age when deported to Australia.

A social worker uncovered this story in the mid 1980s and asked the U.K government and the other agencies involved to help reunite the children with their identities and family if they were still alive. The government and agencies refused to take any action to assist these children, now adults, for 23 years.

 While many of us may still have a very imperfect understanding of the role racism in colonisation, this story highlights how the poor/children were used as pawns in this. It was as if the U.K government thought it could eliminate a class of people while assisting Australia to eliminate an entire people. Is this what they thought was win-win problem solving?

Sadly I think the attitudes shown in the film continue today in the dominant attitudes to child poverty in this country. Those in power said the children were victims of terrible parents rather than any institution or government; they did not at any time consider these children as citizens or whole beings and there was no-one checking to see if their basic needs were being met.

We’re told by the Government that a rational response to the 270,000 children living in poverty in this country is to make those bad/lazy parents go to work and cut their benefits if they don’t (There is no such thing as the working poor, of course). Childrens’ rights as citizens and human beings are completely ignored in this scenario. While CYFs struggles to have the resources to respond to serious physical and sexual abuse, the state is not checking whether these 270,000 children have enough food, adequate shelter and clothing, let alone access to education.

A core Green Party policy for this election is to lift at least 100,000 children out of poverty by 2014. We believe all children are entitled to the basic human rights.

This can be done by:

  • Extending working for families to beneficiaries
  • Regulating rental housing
  • Increasing the minimum wage to $15 an hour
  • Reinstating and extending the Training incentive allowance

This is a choice for all of us; turn a blind eye, say it’s someone else’s problem; or vote to change it.

Child poverty is not an overly complex problem, in fact it’s one of the easier ones to solve.

Politics – with a capital P

I’m not actually that interested in the machinations of big P Politics, who got what in the polls, who’s doing deals with who, or who said what about who…

Specifically, I am not interested in political strategy when the focus is attracting the elusive middle-New Zealand voter.

I know some people will say this makes me politically naive, maybe it does, but I’d rather be naive than vulnerable to compromising my ideals.

However there’s one ‘Political’ thing I do want to quickly respond to. There has been a lot of discussion about Gareth Hughes not running for the candidate vote in Ohariu-Belmont. This has been compared to National not running for the candidate vote in Epsom in favour of ACT.

It is different in ways that the commentators don’t seem to understand.

The Greens only campaign for the party vote. We are not running any campaigns for electorate seats and we haven’t for the last three elections. There is a very simple reason for this, and it’s not that we don’t want to be or wouldn’t be good electorate MPs. It’s because it costs significantly more money to campaign for a seat as well as a party vote.

The reality for the Greens is we run more on love than money, and we are not in a position to campaign for the personal vote. It’s a shame because I do think there is something very privileged and special about representing an electorate.

National has the resources and the possibility of winning the Epsom seat, but they are choosing not to campaign for the candidate vote because they want ACT in Parliament with them.