Corporate twist has family violence experts scared

PHIL KITCHIN
Last updated 05:00 07/06/2013
Owen Glenn
WANTS CHANGE: Owen Glenn has invested in a family violence inquiry.

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The future of Sir Owen Glenn's $2 million inquiry into family violence is on a knife edge after three more staff resigned, and world-leading experts it recruited expressed deep concerns about its future.

The trumpeted inquiry - set up last year with Sir Owen's promise of $80m to fight family violence - was already reeling from the resignations of its two senior managers and three of its four chairpersons.

Yesterday, three contracted experts in the domestic violence and child abuse sector resigned.

Deborah Mackenzie, Deanne Littlejohn and Alex Port, who have more than 30 years' collective experience, said they had lost confidence in the inquiry.

They held serious concerns for the safety of information from people interviewed so far, as the inquiry was no longer being led by experts in family violence.

They also lost confidence in its integrity when it announced it would take a "corporate" approach.

"Corporate values revolve around ideas of profit, shutting out the competition and self-interest. Those values are not aligned with social justice," Mackenzie said.

A recurring theme of violence "survivors" was their disenchantment with the justice system, and the inquiry was now being led by new people from that system, she said.

The independent inquiry aims to interview victims and front-line workers and consider international examples of what works to reduce family violence, and produce a blueprint to stop it.

Fairfax Media can also reveal that members of another cornerstone of the inquiry - its "think tank" of experts - expressed disquiet about the resignations and the inquiry's newly stated "corporate" focus.

The 38-strong think tank contains some of the world's most respected experts on family violence, and another wave of resignations could leave Sir Owen's project in tatters.

The inquiry did, however, manage to keep its patron, Dame Cath Tizard, who earlier said she was considering her future.

Yesterday she said she would stay on as she believed the inquiry could achieve its objectives.

The project's crisis began with a clash over its direction between Sir Owen and Ruth Herbert, the director he headhunted to run the inquiry.

Herbert and her deputy, operations manager Jessica Trask, resigned last week and Sir Owen appointed a board chaired by former Supreme Court judge Bill Wilson.

Wilson said last night that the board was in contact with think tank members, and its new chief executive, Kirsten Rei, would provide regular updates.

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But Wilson's repeated statements that the inquiry will be corporate focused - along with concerns about what expertise the new board and management have in family violence - have alarmed members of the think tank.

Professor Jeffrey Edleson, of Berkeley University in California, said he had not yet decided on his future, but he was "very concerned".

Prof Edleson served on the United States National Advisory Council on violence against women.

The Glenn project was a "nationwide process, not a business transaction", he said.

Nicola Atwool, Otago University senior lecturer in the department of sociology, said she was "deeply concerned" about the project, but think tank members wanted more information before making a decision.

"At this stage we do not know what, if any, role the think tank will have as part of the new structure," she said.

Queensland centre for domestic and family violence research director Heather Nancarrow was also "very concerned" because those who had resigned would not have done so lightly.

Other think tank members said they were likely to resign, but did not want their names revealed as they were seeking more information.

- The Dominion Post

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