Millionaire philanthropist Sir Owen Glenn says he was 'vilified' for domestic violence inquiry

A year on from the release of the Glenn Inquiry, Sir Owen Glenn said the work he funded has made "no difference" to the ...
MICHAEL BRADLEY/ FAIRFAX NZ

A year on from the release of the Glenn Inquiry, Sir Owen Glenn said the work he funded has made "no difference" to the appalling record of domestic violence in New Zealand.

A Kiwi multi-millionaire offers to be a UN ambassador against violence like Angelina Jolie.

Sir Owen Glenn has accused the government on being "all talk and no action" when it comes to dealing with the underlying issues that cause family violence.

A year on from the final release of the Glenn Inquiry – a $2 million project funded by Sir Owen carried out over two years – the philanthropist said not one MP has contacted him to discuss the findings.

Sir Owen Glenn has offered to the United Nations to be a global ambassador against domestic violence like Angelina Jolie.
MARIO ANZUONI / REUTERS

Sir Owen Glenn has offered to the United Nations to be a global ambassador against domestic violence like Angelina Jolie.

The report aimed to produce a blueprint design to solve the appalling record of domestic violence and child abuse in New Zealand by gathering experiences from about 500 survivors of abuse, frontline workers and offenders, and making recommendations on how the Government could address the issue. 

The inquiry detailed harrowing accounts of people being dragged by the hair, slammed into walls, bitten, strangled and nearly drowned. 

Sir Owen also sent his findings to the United Nations to give it some traction, but he said he appeared in front of the wrong committee.

"I even suggested in a letter to the UN that 'would you consider appointing me as an ambassador at large', very much like Angelina Jolie is an ambassador for women in conflict," he said.

"I was talking about domestic violence, per se, in any country. Most countries are guilty of it in some way shape or form. I just wrote a letter and I never got an answer.

"I have not made one iota of difference ... then I was vilified for the inquiry. People say, what's your motive. I had a good childhood, and I wasn't beaten. I've never raised my hand at another human being."

READ MORE:
Glenn Inquiry: Domestic violence a disaster
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Glenn's inquiry at critical crossroads
Child abuse laws need major overhauls

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The high-profile Glenn Inquiry was plagued by problems – and Sir Owen's personal issues hit the headlines more often than his charitable work. At least 15 people, including the inquiry's two top managers, Ruth Herbert and Jessica Trask, resigned in May 2013 amid concerns around the integrity of the project after it was revealed Sir Owen had pleaded no contest to charges of physically abusing a woman in Hawaii in 2002.

He also withdrew an application to become a White Ribbon anti-violence ambassador despite calling the case in Hawaii "pure fraud".

"I had to pay that girl $100,000 because the judge said to me in Los Angeles it's going to cost you $300,000 to defend this case."

Sir Owen said he agreed to pay the $100,000 on the proviso the money "goes to her psychiatric fees".

"Nobody printed that. But [a newspaper] sent two reporters off to find this lady. God bless her, she's a lesbian and she lives with a lesbian and that's all right. They adopted a child."

In 2013, the Department of Internal Affairs investigated the Glenn Family Foundation – which has pumped more than $33 million into charitable projects around the world – fter accusations of financial irregularities. As a result, Sir Owen voluntarily deregistered the charity but is still battling the taxman, with a deregistration tax due on Tuesday. The IRD would not comment.

"They investigated my charitable Trust. They put the Charities Commission on me, there is no case to answer. None. It cost me about $70,000 in cost. Straight after that, the tax department decided to look at me," he said.

"So who's next? The fire department to see if my apartment is properly covered? The health department? Why pick on me? I haven't lived here since 1966."

Sir Owen said he was also accused of reading survivors' stories submitted to the inquiry in a cabin on his 34 metre luxury yacht, Ubiquitous – and laughing.

"By the way, I never read anybody's file even though I was accused of it. I didn't have the authority to do that ... absolute lies," he said.

Sir Owen slammed the government's Children's Action Plan, implemented by Justice Minister Amy Adams and Social Development Minister Anne Tolley, as "just another report that will sit on the shelf and gather dust".

The government spends an estimated $1.4 billion annually on sexual and domestic violence.

"We're waiting. It's all talk and no action. It's not a big enough issue, apparently," he said.

He said if he ever saw Tolley at the helm of New Zealand's government, he would hand back his passport.

But Adams said her decision to make family violence her core priority when she stepped into her role "predates the release of the Glenn Inquiry report".

"In my view, family violence is one of the most insidious forms of social evil facing this country, and more must be done to address it," she said.

"It's not an issue that's unique to New Zealand but it's a very real issue and one we can't shy away from."

Adams said when the final Glenn Inquiry report was released, she and Tolley acknowledged that it was a "useful contribution to the insights and information being gathered by officials".

"The key point was the the report reinforced the importance of taking collective action on family violence."

She added that the issues around family violence were complex, and the Glenn Inquiry "is just one of many sources of information and insights that are informing our efforts to address the horrific level of family violence in New Zealand".

"Many of the Glenn Inquiry's suggested reforms relate to or are reflected in cross-government initiatives already in place or underway," she said.

"In particular, the new work programme is focused on improving and better coordinating the Government's overall system for addressing family violence and sexual violence. This will help chart a course that leads to real and lasting change."

The government has launched many initiatives to address the problem since then. Among them are appointing respected victims' advocate Kim MacGregor as chief victims advisor, asking the Law Commission to resume its work into the way sexual violence trials work, establishing a nationwide home safety service to help victims, and strengthening better sharing of information between police, courts, Corrections and social developments. It is also reviewing the Domestic Violence Act.

But even all that work is likely not to make a difference unless the government addresses economic disparities which cause high stress environments that could lead to violence at home, according to Labour MP Jacinda Ardern.

The Labour Party is also working together with the government in reviewing the Domestic Violence Act, but Ardern said New Zealand needs more than a law change.

"If there was a silver bullet, we would have grabbed it ... There are a number of incremental changes being made. Our problem is the government is picking off bits without looking at the whole," Ardern said.

"Labour had a really comprehensive policy, and still do, on domestic violence and the number one thing is demonstrating that leadership and taking that much broader approach in how we tackle it. That's going to take some time but until we start investing in it, I doubt we will see any massive changes."

Ardern said the Glenn Inquiry provided a platform for voices and real life experiences that needed to be heard, but there were "certainly distractions" when it came to Sir Owen's personal troubles.

Sir Owen said until the focus is less on him and more on the issue of domestic violence women and children in New Zealand will "still get battered and killed".

"There is nothing more I can do, instead of marching on Parliament, or changing the government, but is the next one going to be any better?"

And despite pledging $8 million to the cause, he said the constant scrutiny he and his charitable trust faced has forced him to take a step back.

"I got cancer and half my liver had to be chopped out in December ... I was in full flight. Doctors said to me, the worst thing is stress. The same with the quadruple bypass, the haematoma. I had 22 operations," he said.

"They're just waiting for me to die. Truly. Then there will be nobody who cares."

 - Sunday Star Times

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