Green Party on Fathering - Election 2005

This is the response from the Green Party to questions put by the NZ Father and Child Society.
Click here to see the questions. (PDF, 95k)

1. What programs would you promote, to:

a) Get more father involvement in schools and pre-schools?

We believe that providing good role models for our children will help them succeed in education and in life. The Green Party's position is based on providing the best teachers and education for students at all levels.

We understand that it is important for all children to have effective male and female role models from an early age. Where families and extended families, for whatever reason, cannot provide this, schools and pre-schools end up filling the gap. Our policies to support work-life balance ought to enable and encourage working fathers to take a more active role in activities such as community pre-schools.

We also recognise there is a shortage of male teachers, especially at pre-school and primary level. This is part of a chronic overall shortage of teachers. Our policies are aimed at increasing the number of qualified teachers and retaining them through addressing student debt and teacher pay and employment issues.

Almost all of the male Green MPs are also fathers (or grandfathers) and very aware of the challenges of maintaining active involvement in school and pre-school activity. Most schools and pre-schools are very keen to see more fathers involved. A key problem is often time and the pressure of work. Some of these issues are cultural and men need to take some responsibility for their own choices. However there is also a lot that Government’s can do.

The Greens will legislate to enable parents to negotiate flexible working hours without penalty. We will also raise the minimum wage, bring forward four weeks annual leave, and ensure any extension of parental leave beyond 14 weeks allows for parents to share this between them more easily. We believe a family ought to be able to survive on the equivalent of one full-time income and that parents ought to be able to choose how to share this work between them.

b) Reduce the tragic suicide rate where over ¾ of cases are men?

Suicide is tradgedy – recently considerable progress has been made with intervention. Critical to suicide prevention is working on building resilience and working at enhancing people’s sense of belonging and connection. The Greens have been strong supporters of both adequate funding and availability of acute mental health services (a key factor in aiding people with mental illness who are suicidal). We also worked with the Government in the development of the Youth Development Strategy – which has a broad ranging approach to building young people’s sense of belonging and identity. Ensuring young men have a clear sense of how they can fit into society and feel valued is a key part of tackling male suicide.

c) Promote Male input into government run agencies and social services?

Looking purely at numbers of people, men still dominate the running of most organisations in our society. However, the whole area of male studies and the constructive assessment of the positive male role in society is relatively undeveloped. There is no easy answer to this. Organisations such as the Ministry of Women’s affairs were only possible because of generations of feminist thought developed beforehand. Men as a group need to articulate positive ideas in ways which can be considered in development of policies. The work of people such as Steve Biddulph, Rex McCann and others is a good start in developing a positive analysis of Men and their role in the modern world.

2. What are your policies on…

a) Joint parenting in - and outside of a residential relationship?

The Greens were critical in securing the passage of the Care of Children Act. This includes as a principle that the child should have ‘continuing relationships with both their parents’. It also provides for fathers to automatically be joint guardians if at any time during the pregnancy they were in a committed relationship with the mother. Under the Act, a father not covered by these provisions must be appointed joint guardian, unless it is not in the interests of the child to do so. This new law is a significant change from the previous legislation and ought to provide much greater certainty for fathers.

b) Paid parental leave for fathers as a separate entitlement?

See below 3(a)

3. Do you believe that…

a) Publicly funded support services for parents should be equally accessible to both parents and encourage the involvement of fathers as well as mothers?

The Greens support a parental leave system which encourages effective and engaged parenting by both parents.

Paid parental leave for the first 14 weeks is in part recognition of the physical and biological stresses placed on a mother who has just given birth, and of the lasting value of a strong, early mother-child bond. The law currently provides opportunities for mothers to transfer part of this leave to partners.

There is also a separate entitlement for partners of up to 2 weeks leave following the birth. Where there is an single father with a young baby and no mother (eg due to absence, death or severe illness) logic suggests that provision ought to be made for extended paid leave for the father.

Currently, unpaid parental leave of up to 52 weeks can be shared between parents. If paid parental leave was to be extended, eg out to a year as in some Scandanavian countries, then it would make sense for fathers and mothers being able to decide how to share this extended parental leave between them.

b) Family law and the family court adequately recognize violence by women to men and children?

Most physical violence in domestic situations is committed by men. The minority of men who find themselves the victim in an abusive relationship are often very isolated and unsupported. These men need appropriate support, just as women in this situation do – the best means to provide this is unclear and considerably more research is needed.

c) Current legislation sufficiently protects men from false allegations?

Recent reforms through the Care of Children Act have focussed the system even more on identifying outcomes which work well for children in the long-run. This will help shift focus off past disputes between parents, and onto the most constructive way forwards. However it is inevitable that claims and counter-claims will continue to be made. Our society has yet to come up with a better system that the courts as the final arbiter in these situations.

d) The current system of child support is fair?

There is a good case for reviewing the child support system to ensure it operates fairly and in the best interests of the child. The current system was a reaction to a situation where many parents were avoiding their obligations. Concerns exist both that the present arrangements are unfair and inflexible and that some parents still avoid their obligations. We need to ensure that attempts to crack down on avoidance do not create new injustices and that the system can recognise diverse individual circumstances and provide fair outcomes.

e) Fathers who are obstructed from having a full relationship with their children should still have to pay child support?

This is a complex issue where blanket answers inevitably fall short – demands for child support and delays in resolving access should not be able to be used as means of one adult punishing another. Equally however witholding child support can be damaging for children if it increases child poverty, and “obstruction” is often in the eye of the beholder. Our view is that the recent changes to the Family Court process will result in faster resolution of access and parenting issues, and together with a review of child support, will go some way towards addressing the concerns that underly this question.

4. Should DNA paternity testing at birth be routinely available? Is it acceptable that paternity can be established by a court without use of DNA evidence?

5. What message would you have for young men today?

Be proud of being a man! Not the fake macho stuff, but the real strengths of manhood. Being a man is about being loyal, dependable, strong (not necessarily in a physical sense). It is about courage, and sometimes the courage to admit weakness or being wrong. It is about trusting your self: your thoughts, emotions and instincts, and trusting yourself enough to listen to other peoples opinions. It is about caring for others and sometimes putting other people first. Its about respecting your self as a man, and respecting women as your equals and friends.

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