Wednesday, 13 February 2008

parliament starts

parliament was sitting for the first time this year, and political junkie that i am, i had it playing in the corner of my computer screen at work (hey, i'm a woman, i can multi-task!), then listened off and on by radio when i got home. i'm just loving the wider coverage of parliament that was put in place last year. ok, please stop thinking "GEEK" now...

well, it can be quite entertaining. much as the rt hon winston peters irritates me at many levels, he performs extremely well in the house. he totally "got" john key today, with the photo of mr key & mr tame iti sharing a moment. it was hilarious, though not particularly commendable.

mr key's speech was a lot of nothing. no substance, no vision, nothing to inspire really. but there were some impressive announcements from the PM. of particular interest to me is the $446 million over 4 years to support community groups providing essential social services:

Our new funding model will see essential services with which we have multi year programmes, such as parenting programmes, support for at risk youth, women’s refuge services, family violence programmes, and services for victims of crime, funded for the full cost of delivering the agreed services.

belonging to a community organisation that provides such services, i know how difficult it is applying for funding to many different funders, scraping together $5,000 from here and $10,000 from there, to try to get together enough to pay the rent, wages, and other operating costs. most funding is project based, and many funders won't fund wages. it's a time-consuming and stressful process.

such organisations provide crucial support for the vulnerable members of our society. most are run by a large amount of voluntary work, and it is in these organisations that you find some of the most generous and caring people in this country. unfortunately, the pool of volunteers grows ever smaller (we really need to be encouraging our young people in this regard), which makes it harder to function.

not only is the funding very welcome, but the move to a grants based system to reduce compliance costs will save valuable resources. it means that these organisations can focus their efforts where they will be most useful: on programme delivery.

another important area for me is the emphasis on victims rights. as i've said previously, i don't believe we are doing enough to support victims of crime in this country, so it was good to see this:

The Government will respond shortly to the select committee report on victims rights.
- We will be developing and implementing a Charter of Victims’ Rights and making amendments to the legal aid legislation.
- A nationwide 0800 line and an information website for victims will be established.

- We have asked the Law Commission for advice on the Select Committee’s recommendation for a victims’ compensation scheme, and will make decisions on that after receiving that advice.
- We are also considering the introduction of victims’ advocates in family violence courts.

the justice system is particularly difficult for victims to deal with. the processes are difficult, victims often don't realise that the prosecutor is not acting on their behalf. one of the saddest books i've read is "fatal observations" by catherine merriman. it tells the story of a "leather-clad biker" who was violently murdered. during the trial, the defence assassinated the victim's character. a passage from the book:

When the case came to court the prosecution were only interested in proving their case, and not in protecting [the victim's] name; I didn't recognise him as the man I knew from what was said about him. What he had done may been unwise, and even provocative, but he had done it for other people, not himself, and it was his life that was lost...

The defence was allowed to get away with describing him as a violent bully, as someone who had continually threatened [his girlfriend's ex-husband], interfered wilfuly in his marital affairs, and whom [the ex-husband] had good reason to believe had deliberately manipulated the affections of his ex-wife.

The prosecution had no interest in disputing these claims, or at least re-interpreting them, because they were irrelevant to the plain facts of the murder.

it must be extremely difficult to have to sit through this kind of thing. "the victim was asking for it" is such a standard defence strategy, but extremely devastating for the victim, particularly when it is part of a public court trial. the provision of victim's advocates and compensation will go a long way in getting victims the support they need.

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