Glenn Inquiry implodes: highlights deepening colonisation & corporatisation of community sector

Image courtesy of

Image courtesy of <a href=” width=”300″ height=”197″ class=”size-medium wp-image-16211″ /> Image courtesy of
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.

TDB Recommends

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.


  1. Interesting piece, Sue.

    It’ll be interesting to learn, eventually, what prompted those resignations. It’s unfortunate that a culture of silence – backed up by “cofidentiality agreements” and an abuse of the Privacy Act – permeates our society and people aren’t talking.

    I suspect hat your assessment of why those resignations happened has more than an element of truth to it.

    It’ll be interesting what results (if any) Glenn’s Forum comes up with.

  2. Yip.. This is one of the reasons I left my community sector job of 15 years and am now unemployed…..sick of government,/ministry exclusions from our programmes for just one thing also obsessional testing for another.
    I worked in the adult education sector.

  3. Very well put in a nutshell. I instinctively felt the $80 million was a way of validating Owen Glen’s particular point of view on what is the cause domestic violence and abuse in New Zealand society. I think I read that Glen puts his own earnings in tax free havens outside New Zealand which I can’t see as comfortably squaring with being a responsible and caring New Zealand citizen.

    • Yes he does have dosh in tax free havens, how people like him can sleep at night is beyond me, paying a living wage for all would help lower the domestic violence stats, people like him never paying any real taxes are a large part of the problem.

  4. I’d say Sue is right on the mark with her analysis of what’s going on. All those that have left will be well and truly gaged by confidentiality agreements. Lets not forget big money is involved here and I’m sure the researchers would have strict conditions attached to working for Owen Glenn……just remember he holds the purse strings. Sue is right in saying that there will be a clash of values in the analysis because the most effective change is in, “empowering and conscientising those most affected,” something Owen Glen would probably never understand in his life time.

  5. I would say they left because they weren’t coming up with any results. Those still in the enquiry also have no history of results. Sure they have letters behind their names and so do thousands of others in the system who have been working on the problem for decades without any reduction in the problem They may have gotten away with no results in the state funded sector but they won’t get away with it in The Glenn Enquiry.
    Deliver or jump ship, before you get thrown over board..

    Are We Being Unkind To Psychiatrists
    We—the taxpaying public—have hired just such an expert. He is psychiatry. And he claimed to be the expert who would take care of society’s drug problem, crime and violence problem and education problem. He also said he would take care of our mentally ill and cure them. And we have paid him not millions but billions upon billions of dollars to perform these functions.
    His results?
    In the United States, there has been a more than 370 percent increase in violent crime since 1960. Today, a violent crime is committed every sixteen seconds. 26
    The rehabilitation of criminals has become a forgotten dream. Instead, we are building more prisons, knowing that in addition to the new criminals, about 80 percent of the old ones are going to end up back in jail.
    Today, drug abuse is ravaging society, particularly our young. The illicit drug trade moves more money through the world than the economy of some nations.
    There has been a drop of almost 80 points in SAT scores and more than 90 million Americans, including many high school graduates, are too handicapped by illiteracy to function effectively.
    As for mental illness, according to census takers, last century one in a thousand people were mentally ill. After World War II, psychiatrists promoted the figure as 1 in 10. Then we heard that it was 28 percent of the population, and now some psychiatrists say that 50 percent of us are suffering from “mental illness.”
    Psychiatry is still doing more studies. And still asking for more money. And still promising that the problems will soon be under control.
    Unbelievably, governments still fund them.”

  6. Surely it can’t mean another psychopathic nut job as miss-read his markers on how to be Human by throwing money about like red herrings only to be tripped up by his own brilliance ? Money per se is enabling a minority of lunatics globally to dominate the predominant , ‘Human ‘ species . Call me old fashioned if you must .
    Give a man a spear and he might spear you in the arse . Once . Give a man a billion dollars and he can raise an army to wipe you , your whanau , your friends , neighbours , the post man , the milk man , your cat , dog and gold fish right out of existence .
    This Owen Glenn farce is starting to look like the Mother of all metaphors .

  7. Industrial civilisation is predicated on violence.

    Initially, it was violence against non-Europeans in the form of slavery and colonisation of lands. And violence to drive people off the land and into factories and mines.

    Later, there was industrial warfare, in which millions died so that bankers and factory owners could improve profits.

    Nowadays, it is institutionalised violence against most forms of life on this planet and against the poorer and weaker members of society -the sweatshops of Asia, the last indigenous peoples fighting oil companies etc.

    The global elites are working on returning society to a form that prevailed centuries ago -a large populace of semi-starved serfs who worked for the lords of the manors for a pittance. Anyone who disagreed got annihilated.

    Events in Europe and the Middle East are harbingers of what is to come: disenchanted youths who have no prospect of escaping ghettoes end up rioting on the streets, and are shot or incarcerated. ‘This is what happens if you stand in our way.’ (Much as what happened to Iraq and Libya when they stepped out of line.)

    The 1% already own 40%+ of everything, but that is not enough. They want it all, and will use violence to get it.

  8. Thank you Sue. You’ve guessed correctly, particularly regarding the community-based methodology being pursued by the team previously leading the inquiry. I suspect there are many matters associated with the resignations of Ruth Herbert, Jessica Trask and the increasing numbers of others involved in this inquiry who are now resigning. (Surely all of these people can’t have had a ‘relationship breakdown’ with Glenn?! – that, of course, is the official, corporate response coming from the Chair, the new CEO, Glenn’s media adviser and now Greg Fortuin, etc etc). My hope is that you and the media will continue to pursue this matter – important to ask very pointed questions until truthful answers come from Glenn and the members of this new board…

  9. Fabulous article. I have noticed the gagging of groups over the past 7 years when I entered the community sector. Sometimes prominent groups would put their leaders on the phone and they would ask me, “Who knows you are talking to us”. The funding and discrediting silences them and MSD has their 5-10 year goal of bringing every group under 1 umbrella with political figures telling protesters, “You won’t stop us or change anything”.

    Even social workers sitting their masters are being told they can’t make a difference.

    As for feminists, well, …. when we started including men, they told the men to get their funding from business because there wasn’t enough resources to share between both groups. Sometimes you get what you ask for.

  10. I need to ask, “How can your coporatise domestic violence?” I don’t understand what this means? Does it mean children become capitalised and profits will be made by raising the children in institutions under professionals? Or similar?

    Could it be like capitalised prisons and you need to keep extending the meaning of domestic violence to gain more children in care?

    Sorry to ask, it’s just that I am trying to picture what will change.

  11. My son was beaten unconscious as a baby and both CYF and Police initially refused to investigate. After 9 months of agitation I finally forced Police to investigate and by then they were motivated to discredit my complaints against Police and CYF. Eventually Police falsely misled the Family Court that there was no evidence to substantiate my complaint and persuaded the Family Court that I was making false allegations likely to harm my son and used this justification to deny me contact with my son for a decade. Last year Police Commissioner Peter Marshall finally and grudgingly disclosed my son’s mother admitted “smacking” my son. Something they would not disclose to the Family Court. Nor did Police admit that the CYF social worker had asked Police not to interview witnesses. The Police to this day maintain that there was no evidence yet ACC forms disclose that my then 17 month baby son had a black eye. My experience of CYF, Police and the Family Court is that they are all dysfunctional and dishonest… The Glenn Inquiry has ruffled feathers because it is uncovering hundreds if not thousands of similar tales from victims where CYF and the Family Court got it wrong… Those with vested interests, ie incompetent Family Court judges, social workers and the likes are desperately trying to discredit and torpedo this Inquiry to stop the truth coming out. Shame. Protecting children is not about politics nor is it about protecting the careers of incompetent social workers, judges or police officers.

Comments are closed.