Mr Key and teh girl-mumz

In amongst all the huffing and chuffing, the hurrahing and nay-saying, and plain old stimp-stamp-stomping in respect of John Key’s State of the Nation (that is, the state of New Zealand) speech today, no-one quite seems to have picked up on the one significant attitude change in amongst all the dog-whistling.

Recall that back in 2005, Don Brash, the thankfully former leader of the National party, had this helpful suggestion to make about teenage mothers.

Ultimately, reducing the number of those on the DPB must be about finding ways of strengthening families, about educating people about the responsibilities of parenthood, about taking a tougher line on the financial responsibilities of non-custodial parents (while improving access for those non-custodial parents), and about acknowledging adoption as an acceptable option, particularly for teenage girls.

However nicely put, the subtext, and it wasn’t so very sub a text in any case, was that teenagers should be “encouraged” to give up their babies for adoption.

Katherine Rich, a woman whose integrity I admire,* was the National party spokesperson on welfare at the time that Brash made this speech. She simply could not stomach this return to the 1950s, so Brash fired her, and replaced her with Judith Collins. Brash was, unsurprisingly, taken to task for his views on the suitability of adoption. It was a bizarre call to make in any case – it was as if he had never, ever read any of the psychological and sociological literature on the effect of adoption, both on the birth mothers, and the babies, especially when the adoption was forced, either literally, physically forced on the birth mother, or forced through economic and social circumstances.

Believe me – I know that there are many, many people who long to be able to adopt a baby. I have been there myself. But that’s no excuse whatsoever for putting pressure on teenagers to give up their babies. Nevertheless, Brash saw that as a viable option.

Here’s what Key has to say about teenage mothers:

A pregnant teen or teen parent might not be able to access a place in a teen parent unit, but could stand to gain a lot from a specialised parenting course.


Teenage parents will be specifically catered for. Programmes incorporating childcare, parenting advice, and tailored education will be developed to meet their particular needs.

The expectation is that teenagers will be given the training and resources to be able to support themselves and their babies, not have their babies taken away. That’s a huge about face, and a huge rejection of the sort of policies that Don Brash stood for.

Of course, these sorts of programmes will be massively expensive. A training programme for a teenage mother is no good if she can’t get childcare. To implement this sort of policy, Key will need to make a substantial commitment to funding childcare as well as funding the courses that the teenage mums are taking. And that’s not going to sit well alongside his commitment to funding tax cuts out of expenditure cuts. Nevertheless, this is a massive shift in attitude on the part of the National party. Will there be any more?


* Rich supported the repealing of section 59, and continued to do so, even when the entire National caucus, bar her, was set to vote in favour of retaining it. That takes courage.


7 responses to “Mr Key and teh girl-mumz

  1. From the report on 3 News last night, it sounded like mandatory parenting courses for teenage mothers. Which sounds ever so Shipley-esque.

  2. I suspect Paula Bennet’s presence may have also helped.

    And I agree with you on Catherine Rich.

  3. Yeah, props to Katherine Rich on the section 59 issue. She stood her ground. It wasn’t whipped in the National Party – but there was clearly pressure from the traditional Tory base. Rich showed real mettle.

    I thought most of Key’s speech was warmed over ideas from others. The only real National bit was the “throw ’em in the Army” bit. Only, even then, Key the Centrist couldn’t help but water it down.

    I suppose the speech could have been a lot worse (think Orewa) – so I guess Key deserves some credit there.

    But I think this is yet more evidence of why Key won’t last in the National Party leadership. He’s just not one of them. And I don’t think he has the persona to make them change.

    Whatever props he got for the delivery yesterday he hosed away this morning on Morning Report. I thought he sounded awful: Hesitant, cliched, vague and uncertain.

  4. I must say I did not pick that up, I hope it is true
    Just rereading “The Handmaid’s Tale” so am a bit grumpy about adoption which quite often seems to help no one
    On the other hand the open type used now does seem more humane
    I would be interested in your feelings on this (if you are prepared to open them up for public inspection) from the point of view as an adotive mother
    Agree on Katherine Rich standing up to the party, not easy to do, I know her dad and he is a man of principals so breeding tells

  5. Hmm… we eventually had our children through fertility treatment. So the place where I have been is that state of longing for a baby, but not being able to have one. And of course, that’s when it would be good to be able to adopt. But even then, given my longing for a baby, I didn’t see how I could possibly take someone else’s baby off her. We did offer to adopt a family baby, in an open adoption, but that was a very specific situation where an open adoption within the family might have been a good option if the mother wanted to do that. She didn’t, so that was that.

  6. I missed the significance of this element of his speech, thanks for drawing it to our attention. I agree the training option is relatively expensive but only because it will be because the true costs are actually measured rather than externalised (and possibly only in the short-term). I’d not hazzard a guess at the full, direct and indirect costs, of forcing young parents to give up their kids when that was not what they want to do.

  7. But I think this is yet more evidence of why Key won’t last in the National Party leadership.

    Key will last in the national party just as long as he wins elections. No more and no less. Longer than Helen, at any rate!

    And as for his policies: well, who knows the real state of the country – or what it will be by this time next year. If 5,000 people left last year, and 20,000 people left this year, it’s not at all within the bounds of possiblity that 100,000 to 200,000 people move to Australia in 2008!

    And with figures like that; with houses unafforable to almost anyone; with interest rates at 15 or 20%, inflation nearly the same, and the economy going down the tubes, I’m sure when the time comes, Key, will make the hard decisions that need to be made.