Govt to make sweeping domestic violence changes

Govt to make sweeping domestic violence changes

More than 50 changes will be made to the Domestic Violence Act as part of a new drive by the Government to cut New Zealand's high rate of offending.

The changes include the creation of two new offences: non-fatal strangulation and assault on a family member.

The punishment for common assault will be beefed up with tougher sentences, and coercion to marry will be criminalised.

Those who commit crimes while the subject of a protection order will also face tougher penalties.

All family violence offending will be flagged on all criminal records so perpetrators are easily identified by the courts and police.

Rules around bail decisions will be bolstered to ensure the safety of victims is the principal consideration. It will also apply to parenting and property orders.

Prime Minister John Key says the changes are a result of a two-year review by Justice Minister Amy Adams.

"New Zealand's rate of family violence is unacceptable. Police currently respond to 110,000 family violence callouts a year. Children are present at nearly two-thirds of these incidents," he says.

It's estimated the measures will cost around $130 million over four years.

Mr Key says growing up in New Zealand for most children is a good experience with the home feeling like a sanctuary.

"But we know unfortunately this does not describe the growing up that every child experiences. For most New Zealanders, home is a sanctuary, but for some it can be the opposite; it can be a place of fear, anxiety and danger," he says.

Mr Key says he understands that New Zealanders would generally not want the Government interfering in their private lives, but "let me be straight up - in households where anyone is being assaulted, threatened, intimidated, belittled or deprived, the perpetrator has no right to expect privacy so they can go on to be a bully".

"If they won't stop that behaviour and victims can't stop that, then we must ensure someone else stops it."

Police Commissioner Mike Bush is shouting out for more resources, with police in 310 homes a day in relation to family violence alone.

"That is a huge commitment and we want to do be able to do more in terms of not just protecting people, but preventing it in the first place, and that takes more resources so that's critical."

He believes the new offences will provide consistency and as an adequate deterrent for potential offenders.

Labour family violence spokesperson Poto Williams says the Government has listened to proposed changes it put forward, including non-fatal strangulation, which was from Kelvin Davis' private members Bill.

"We are supportive of some of the changes around bail conditions being central to parenting and property order because they increase safety for women and their children.

"However, the Government has failed to address how their own earlier changes to the law still make it difficult for offenders to access services which assist them to stop violence."

Overall, it labelled the changes an "okay start" with a lot more work needed.

The Green Party says it is "heartening" the Government is making some changes.

"All New Zealanders need to hear loud and clear the message that family violence, intimate partner violence, and violence against children is unacceptable," spokesperson for women Jan Logie says.

She hoped important services such as Rape Crisis and the Women's Refuge, which have had hours and services cut, will get enough funding to meet demand.

ACT Party leader David Seymour has also welcomed the changes, but questioned why the non-fatal strangulation wouldn't be considered a strike offence under the three strikes legislation.