Today is White Ribbon Day so it is a significant day to be meeting. This international symbol of hope for a world, where women and girls can live lives free from the fear of violence is one that we continue to aspire to.
When I spoke that day I paid tribute to Lesley and Gill Elliott for their work through the Sophie Elliott Foundation, which helps young women become aware of the warning signs and patterns of behaviour of an abusive partner and provides them with the tools to leave the relationship early. I believe this approach will save lives.
When I was first elected to Parliament 25 years ago, there was a report on domestic violence that had been commissioned by the Victims’ Taskforce. When I read the report, I was shocked at what I learned about these warning signs that were not only unknown to victims, but ignored by police, judges and experts. The dedication to the women who had been killed read:
“The days of your death were marked by the system’s trivialisation of the dangers you faced.”
Over the past 25 years I have seen real changes in the way the police and others respond. I don’t feel that the dangers are trivialised by the authorities, but we still have an appalling record - here in New Zealand one woman dies approximately every five weeks at the hand of her partner or former partner.
We need to see real change.
It is five years since I last addressed a Community Law Centres Hui.
It was September 16 2010 – 12 days after the first of the Canterbury Earthquake Sequence that shook our world in more ways than one.
There is something naïve and something ironic about what I said back then, but the essence is what I would still say today. This is what I said:
I know that some people are ‘over’ the earthquake – they don’t live in Canterbury. I personally won’t be ‘over’ it for a very long time. It was massive and the extent of the damage has been understated. Over 2000 families and individuals have lost their homes.
If people in the very hard hit areas did not know what the word community meant before 4.35am on September 4 – they do now.
A community could be described as the cluster of people with whom you live, work and play. They are also the people upon whom you can rely in times of crisis.
I have four of the hardest hit areas in my electorate and they are all very strong communities… Rebuilding those communities will be an easier task than for those where the physical infrastructure – the roads / footpaths and co-location of homes were the only defining features of the community.
I am making this point because community resilience only comes from a sense of engagement or involvement in all aspects of community life. It does not exist when people live in isolated homes – not wanting to know their neighbours or not able to participate in community activities.
Although a lot more people know each other now – it is those communities that were already tight-knit that will recover more quickly than others – even though the physical infrastructure may take longer to repair.
I make this point because I think it is very relevant to the concept of community justice.
I then moved onto Neighbourhood Justice Centres, which I had seen in Australia.
Reading what I wrote back then takes me back to the time when my life changed forever. There is no way I would have predicted leaving Parliament, running for Mayor and taking on the scale of challenge that Christchurch has had to confront.
I have not regretted that decision for a minute although I do question my ability to achieve what I set out to do, such are the frustrations that are inevitable in these situations.
What I can say without a moment’s hesitation is how little I could do without the support of the community.
And in that respect, I want to pay tribute to the Canterbury Community Law Centre and what the people who work there – whether paid or voluntary - have done for our city.
They have taken 20,000 earthquake-related enquiries to date, which have all resulted in information, advice or assistance.
They also have a contract with CERA for their Residential Advisory Service (RAS). To date RAS solicitors have now handled over 3,500 demanding cases, working with clients who are stressed and emotional from conflict with EQC and insurers. These cases have had a high settlement rate: RAS solicitors have achieved extra recoveries of over $100 million dollars for Christchurch property owners with earthquake damage.
And this is on top of what they usually do. The service they have offered has been utterly extraordinary. They have maintained an unwavering commitment to social justice throughout and I believe that is what makes them so successful.
So welcome to this special city on this special day. I hope you find inspiration in this setting for your deliberations.
It is a pleasure to welcome the Community Law Centres of New Zealand to Christchurch for your annual Hui. Thank you for choosing Christchurch.