In September 2012 Owen Glenn’s inquiry into domestic violence and child abuse was established with much fanfare.
The wealthy expatriate businessman had already pledged $80m to assisting families and $8m to a pilot project in Otara.
Now he was spending $2m to look at why domestic violence and child abuse remain such major issues in New Zealand and to discover what needs to be done about them.
Groups from all sides of the political party and NGO spectrum applauded the initiative, gaining Sir Owen much kudos.
As of today, eight months later, the inquiry appears to be fast tumbling into ruins.
Since last week, six people have quit:
• Ruth Herbert, director; survivor herself, and highly respected campaigner on domestic violence issues.
• Jessica Trask, operations director; long term researcher and worker in domestic violence field.
• Catriona MacLennan, think tank member; lawyer in Manukau with extensive legal background in handling domestic violence issues, and a renowned advocate in this and related areas.
• Denese Henare – interview panel co-chair; solicitor with extensive background in legal matters affecting te ao Maori, former Law Commissioner.
• Joanne Morris – interview panel co-chair; Waitangi Tribunal member for more than 20 years; has been a Law Commissioner.
• Rosslyn Noonan – interview panel co-chair; former Chief Human Rights Commissioner.
Six down, and looking at some of the other caring and credible members of the inquiry left standing, I wonder how many to go? How much longer will people like Manu Caddie, Janfrie Wakim and Huhana Hickey – and others – continue to lend their considerable mana to this failing process?
There is, unfortunately, something of a cone of silence over what’s really going on here.
Ruth Herbert, one of the first and most significant departees, is clearly gagged by a confidentiality agreement of some sort.
In the absence of clear information, I can only speculate about what’s happened, but I suspect that whatever immediate issues may have triggered the exodus, behind them is likely to have lurked the fundamental contradiction between people who are used to working in a highly values-driven part of the community sector and a corporate power holder used to operating bluntly and decisively in the business world.
If you’ve got $80m + spare cash to throw around, I imagine you are pretty much used to getting your own way.
I also imagine, from what evidence is available, that Sir Owen’s approach to family violence does not come from the kind of feminist model which drives much of the most effective work in this sector; and that overall, his approach to the community is all about ‘helping those poor deserving victims’ rather than being driven by a community development approach of involving, empowering and conscientising those most affected.
A clash of values on this scale was always likely to end in tears.
The evidence is now is that the inquiry will continue, but very much along the kind of corporate lines with which Sir Owen clearly feels most comfortable.
The new chief executive, Kirsten Rei, is a former private secretary to Government ministers Stephen Joyce and Tariana Turia.
For me, that says it all. Sir Owen is moving fast to ensure the alignment between his inquiry, a right wing government and corporate values and methods of operating is sweet and functional.
What’s happening with the Glenn Inquiry in fact epitomises a whole lot that’s going on at the interface between business, government and the community sector in Aotearoa right now.
• Most recently, John Key’s support for food in schools focuses on injecting a small amount of taxpayer funding to enhance big business and charity provision of food to some pupils in some schools. In other words, do what you can as cheaply and in as targeted a way as possible, while encouraging the even greater devolution of the provision of basic services by the private and voluntary sectors, instead of supporting Hone Harawira’s bill which would provide for universal fully funded meals in all decile 1 and 2 schools, as a start towards universal provision not dependent on big business charity.
• In the welfare area, Paula Bennett’s reforms mean that more and more functions originally carried out by the state are now – and will increasingly – be run by a mix of private sector and community providers, who make their money by contracting to carry out many of the punitive as well as supportive employment and welfare functions of MSD.
• The charity laws seem to have been unilaterally overturned by IRD who appear to now believe that any group that carries out any political advocacy function should be denied charitable status, despite that explicitly not being the intention of the original legislation.
The whole shift over the last few decades has been towards a community sector colonised by Government and business, with groups acting as ‘little fingers of the state’, sustained by government contracts and propped up by a mix of the proceeds of pokies and various forms of corporate support.
I realise many will not think this is a problem.
However, I see it kind of differently.
The neoliberal agenda promoted by big business and driven up by successive National and Labour lead governments has entwined its tentacles deeply into the hearts and minds of many groups.
There are exceptions, and I say a huge ‘kia ora’ to every individual and every organisation who continues to stick with your kaupapa, and to fearlessly advocate for the people/cause you represent, despite all the current pressures to conform for fear of losing contracts, grant funding or charitable status.
I commend the Christchurch Supergrans, who recently announced their closure after 17 years, because they found themselves largely acting as an instrument of MSD rather than working for what they believed.
It is sad that such a good group is closing, but I feel that they set an honourable example of clarity and courage.
I hope the remaining good souls on the Glenn Inquiry follow the example of Supergrans and their erstwhile colleagues by refusing to provide cover for an already highly damaged operation.
And I look forward to continuing to work with those people and groups who are brave and clear enough to continue to resist the wholesale and deepening colonisation of our sector.