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Duplicitous Dunne’s Smoke and Mirrors

The United Future (UF) policy is in some ways positive. Legal recognition of the concept of a “presumption of shared parenting” after separation is a step forward. Acknowledgement is welcome of the growing research showing that fatherlessness is perpetuated through current family law but is very bad for children. Those who have slaved away for years in he men’s and fathers’ movement need to pat themselves on the back because some of their efforts have trickled in to wider awareness.

However, published details so far show UF is hardly moving in the direction that fathers know will be better for children and for society.

For example, the “shared parenting” proposal does not equate to a presumption of equal shared care as called for by fathers’ groups. (In fact, Judy Turner gets it quite wrong when she claims that “sole custody” is granted. The concept of “custody” is no longer a part of the law and at present both parents remain guardians regardless of the amount of time the child spends between them. The current presumption is already shared care but “primary day-to-day care” is usually awarded to the mother and fathers are otherwise too readily restricted from children’s lives.) Without specifying equal share care, the UF policy is likely to mean, even when there are no allegations of risk, that mum gets 70% and Dad 30%, still enabling mum to be the only parent receiving the DPB and all child tax. Little different from the present situation.

Even more importantly, it’s easy for United Future to add “unless there are good reasons why it should not be”, without specifying the reasons that might be seen as sufficient to disallow shared care. The Republic of NZ Party policy specifies there should be limited grounds and these should impose high goal posts. For example, allegations of violence or other behaviour presenting an unacceptable risk will need to be recent, significant and proven beyond reasonable doubt before they can be allowed to influence this decision. Even serious parental mental illness or addiction will need to be shown to present an actual and serious risk if it is to reduce the time that parent has with the children. The Republicans believe that children need to be protected from injury and abuse, but that the benefits of child-parent bonding outweigh most parental imperfections. The current Kangaroo Court damages parent-child relationships as a default option when allegations are uttered, and is much more ready to accept what women allege and to disregard men’s accounts in line with decades of feminist propaganda. Judy Turner’s policy shows no awareness of what the current problems really are, and without specifying the grounds on which shared care could be disallowed is unlikely to lead to much change.

Similarly, Turner’s call for the Family Court to be allowed to order DNA paternity tests falls well short of the fathers’ demands that DNA testing occur either routinely for all children or on the request of either parent. Giving the Family Court the right to order a test may make little difference if that Court is left to decide whether it will or won’t make such orders, because we know whose wishes the Court will usually pamper and it won’t be the father’s. A law that obliged the Court to order a DNA test on application by either parent would show some real commitment to fathers’ concerns; Turner’s policy does not.

The third policy is even more mealy-mouthed. Calling for a “review” of the child support system could mean anything. In his next breath Duplicitous Dunne happily uses the term “deadbeat dads” (ignoring the fact that liable mothers are more likely than fathers to default), usually fails to mention that child support debt is primarily made up of vicious administrative penalties, and has recently been responsible for changes that allow agents of the state to share more information about fathers and to treat them as criminals without trial at our borders. Any proposed review organized by Dunne seems unlikely to be aimed at improving fathers’ ability to be involved meaningfully in their children’s lives. Indeed, there is no mention of that aim at all by Dunne. Instead, he wants to make the scheme “responsive” to such things as the income levels of both parents and the “costs of raising children”. This is just as likely to make things worse for fathers.

Adding a list of consequences of father absence gives the impression that the policies are aimed at increasing fathers’ roles and becoming fairer to fathers, but this is misleading. The policies are unlikely to achieve those outcomes and don’t actually seem to be designed to do so.

More significantly, no mention is made of keeping families together in the first place. No mention is made of the importance of changing the DPB system in order to stop it encouraging family break-up and fatherless pregnancies. No mention is made of preventing the government from redefining terms such as “family” and “marriage” to mean any group of people who happen to cohabit for a while.

Turner’s claim that her party is “the only party working to make sure children continue to enjoy the support and care of their entire family” is arrogant and wrong. The policies announced are little more than smoke and mirrors and go nowhere near what has to be done to bring about that claimed goal. The Republic of New Zealand Party however is committed to that goal and unlike the Dunne party has policies capable of fulfilling it.