Absolute right to love challenged by coalition priorities

The three coalition leaders arrive for the announcement. Photo: NZ Herald
Act New Zealand leader David Seymour, National Party leader and Prime Minister-elect Christopher Luxon and New Zealand First leader Winston Peters arrive at Parliament on Friday last week for the signing of the coalition agreement. Photo: NZ Herald
It was a ungainly three-way dance. A few toes were stomped and shins kicked but the new government got there in the end.

There is a great deal to discuss from the coalition government’s agreements. Much of it is ridiculous.

For one thing they are bringing back over-the-counter sales of pseudoephedrine and repealing the smoke-free legislation, but will require a store to have a liquor licence to sell vapes.

The guy who campaigned on cutting back government departments and their staff is creating a new government department. With new staff.

They are clearly not a government afflicted with the burden of logic and good sense. Even more seriously, neither are they a government burdened with concern for the safety of children and young people.

The government proposes a wildly ideological position on gender and sexuality education. They want to remove any discussion of gender, sexuality and relationships education from the school curriculum.

This is the education that teaches our children to respect themselves and each other. This helps to reduce the anxiety children feel particularly as their bodies change during puberty.

It also helps prevent bulling and violence and it teaches children how to identify and de-escalate risky situations.

This education teaches children how to set boundaries for their emotional and physical wellbeing against threats of violence and abuse.

Consent education teaches children and young people that they have a right to, and to defend, their bodily integrity.

Because so much of the violence they suffer happens with someone they know, like a family member or a peer, they need a safe and neutral environment, like school, where they can talk about their concerns or even disclose an assault.

Relationship education can help to protect children and young people against physical and sexual violence, especially within peer groups.

Building resilience in children and young people, and teaching them how healthy, respectful relationships can work is essential. Without this education in a formal setting, children and young people will look elsewhere to more dangerous sources, such as the internet, for that knowledge.

No-one wants young people getting relationship advice from porn sites. This is why school has to be a safe, enabling place for this kind of education.

This education also teaches children that their gender and their sexuality is entirely their business and their right to explore and determine.

This education keeps these children and young people safer by giving them the tools to understand their own identity, to express that identity and to have agency over how they present themselves to the world.

They have an unequivocal human and legal right to be respected for who they are, and how they love.

And most importantly it affirms for them that they have the absolute, unequivocal right to protection, love and acceptance.

How can you disagree with teaching these protections to our children?

Does this government have no idea how high New Zealand’s violence and sexual assault statistics are, especially for young people? The New Zealand Crime and Victims survey showed that over one million New Zealanders will suffer some kind of sexual assault in their lifetime.

It is bad for young people, where 18% of people aged 15-19 were victimised at some point in their young lives. The study also tells us that one in nine adults who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual and other adults with diverse sexuality were sexually assaulted within the 12-month period of the survey.

The same survey showed about 874,000 and females and 290,000 males suffered a sexual assault at some point in their lives. Worse still, trans and non-binary people suffer higher levels of sexual violence than the general population and are more likely to consider suicide.

Behind these awful numbers are the lived experiences of the individuals and their families who are affected by the violence and sexual assault.

Sexual harassment and sexual assault is an epidemic in New Zealand.

Anything we can do to arm our children with the tools to help keep them safe is surely non-negotiable? And yet, ideologically and extremely dangerously, the coalition government is not treating this violence as preventable or even as a serious law and order issue.

They are removing key protective education while doing nothing to prevent the threat of violence against children and young people.

The coalition agreements are silent about reducing sexual, intimate partner, or relationship violence, intimidation or abuse. The agreements do not propose any specific measures to protect children against violence, bullying or sexual assaults.

Shane Jones gets $1.2 billion to spend on vanity projects but there is no funding allocation for the prevention sexual or physical violence. The inevitable consequence of this ideological idiocy is more victimisation of children and young people.

There will be more families in pain and suffering grief. This is a weight none of them ever need to bear, if this new government would only shoulder the burden to take violence against children and young people seriously.

 - Metiria Stanton Turei is a law lecturer at the University of Otago and a former Green Party MP and co-leader.