Overhaul of family violence laws goes before Parliament
A sweeping overhaul of New Zealand's family violence laws has been introduced to Parliament, with the Government saying it wants to tackle "one of the most difficult social issues" facing the country.
The Family and Whanau Violence Legislation Bill is part of a $130 million package to change the way family violence is dealt with and put a stronger emphasis on the safety of victims.
The Government says the reforms will make it easier for victims to apply for protection orders, require earlier interventions by support services in family violence cases, and improve the identification of family violence by "flagging" all cases where police file charges.
Three new criminal offences will also be created: non-fatal strangulation, coercion to marry, and assault on a family member.
Justice Minister Amy Adams said the bill, which would make significant changes to over 30 pieces of law, was an attempt to address "one of the most concerning and most difficult social issues facing New Zealand".
"Part of this is the ingrained and insidious nature of the problem. But it's also in the fact that there's no easy or quick fix."
The changes would create an integrated system to intervene in family violence cases earlier and "break the cycle of reoffending", Adams said.
The reforms also created a new aggravating factor during sentencing for offenders who broke a protection order, she said.
"I'm sure judges take it into account, but when you look through the list of statutory provisions and the aggravating factors, we felt that it was a clear gap that should be highlighted."
Green Party women's spokeswoman Jan Logie said the Government's reforms were "an important first step", but she still had concerns about inconsistencies in ensuring the safety of children.
Logie wanted the reinstatement of the Bristol clause, which would refuse abusive former partners access to their children until their safety was assured, and was also concerned about a lack of funding for support services like Women's Refuge.
"If we're going to be asking these organisations to do this extra service and they're struggling to stay open and meet the demand, then it's not going to work."
However, Adams said the safety of children was an "absolutely paramount consideration" both in existing law and the family violence reforms.
"We've done a lot more in these reforms, but broadly speaking, the underlying rationale still remains, which...has always and continues to put the safety of children right at the forefront of decision-making."
Then-Prime Minister John Key announced the overhaul last September, saying the Government would not "shy away" from tackling family violence.
"The challenge of reducing family violence lies with all of us, with the Government, the police, social agencies and with everyone who knows that violence is occurring."
At the time, the announcement was welcomed by Police Commissioner Mike Bush, who said being able to identify family violence offenders more easily would make it easier for police to provide support.
Women's Refuge chief executive Dr Ang Jury also praised the reforms as "possibly the most significant change in the domestic violence sphere".