Week in Review

Jan Logie: The Government’s secret success story

The Greens' Jan Logie is just a humble under-secretary, but she's having an oversized impact on sexual and family violence reform. Laura Walters talks to Logie about what drives her, and the most difficult parts of the job.

If you scan through the list of ministerial rankings, you might miss Jan Logie.

The Green Party MP’s name is at the bottom ... the very bottom.

I apologise the second time I bring this up in the interview, but she laughs and says how much she loves the detail.

It might seem like a troubling position to be in for the person charged with spearheading the Government’s response to New Zealand’s family and sexual violence epidemic.

Logie herself was nervous when she was first named Parliamentary Under-Secretary to the Justice Minister (Domestic and Sexual Violence Issues).

In opposition she had pushed so hard for a top-level government representative dedicated to this work. But it wasn’t clear whether her new position would be tokenistic or whether there would be an actual ability to create change.

Logie’s since found being bottom of the pecking order is actually kind of ideal.

She sees herself as an non-conflicted co-ordinator and driver in the Government's work to reform and improve how the country responds to, and prevents, family and sexual violence.

It’s her job to bring in different ministers, NGOs and community groups, and support them to lead change within their departments and organisations. Because if she says it once, she says it a thousand times: “This will take all of us.”

As the most lowly ranked, Logie doesn't think others see her as threatening in terms of her political ambition or competitiveness - another advantage.

For many politicians bottom of the list would be unthinkable; no glory and little recognition, but Logie says the work matters, she doesn’t.

And so far, it's all working out well.

The work has just begun

A million New Zealanders are directly affected by family and sexual violence each year, including 300,000 children.

Police attend a family violence callout every 3.95 minutes, and that only accounts for what’s reported. On average, it takes 21 incidents before a person reports family violence. It’s estimated three-quarters of incidents go unreported.

Meanwhile, about one in five women experience a serious sexual assault in their lifetime. One in three girls will experience some kind of sexual abuse before turning 16, and one in seven boys.

Only about 10 out of 100 sexual abuse crimes are reported and three of those get to court. Only a third of those that meet the evidentiary threshold to lead to a prosecution result in a conviction.

For years, advocates and survivors have been calling for changes to the laws and the system in order to better address sexual and family violence and the harm it does to individuals and communities.

In recent years, governments have heard this call and in the past 18 months, Logie has overseen significant changes in family and sexual violence law reform.

Her Domestic Violence - Victims' Protection Bill, which came into effect in April, requires employers to give victims of family violence up to 10 days leave from work.

This entitlement is separate from annual leave and sick leave, making New Zealand the first country in the world to offer this type of leave as a universal entitlement.

Jan Logie hasn't lost her activist roots. She was once arrested in Sri Lanka when investigating human rights abuses. Here she talks at an abortion reform rally. Photo: Lynn Grieveson.

It allows workers who are victims of family violence to request flexible working arrangements and prohibits discrimination against victims of domestic violence, allowing people who believe they have been discriminated against on those grounds to complain to the Human Rights Commission.

Logie says she’s received letters from survivors who have already used the leave as an opportunity to seek support for them and their children, and leave violent situations.

Meanwhile, she has shepherded through two tranches of major changes to the Family Violence Act.

The first, which came into effect at the end of last year, most notably included strangulation as a new offence.

And earlier this month, the second tranche of practical changes came into effect, which includes: updating the definition of family violence; creating key principles and a guide to decision-making when dealing with family violence; improving access to protection orders, property orders, and safety programmes; extending police safety orders; and increasing information sharing between agencies.

Meanwhile, the Government has also set up a 'joint venture', a business unit bringing together ten government departments and agencies to co-ordinate a "whole of government response to family violence and sexual violence".

The chief executives of all the joint venture partners will report to Logie, and their work will be informed by an independent Māori body, Te Rōpū, and a broad-based external advisory group.

These new initiatives and law changes have been backed up by a total Budget package of $320 million.

Advocates, survivors, and support and prevention services all say they welcome the changes and funding, which is long overdue.

Credit where credit’s due

Of course, Logie did not start all of this work, and in some cases was the person who shepherded it through the final gate.

Former justice minister and outgoing National Party MP Amy Adams says sexual and family violence reforms were her number one personal priority when she was the one in charge.

Many of the changes to come into law under the current Government were started by Adams, and her counterpart Anne Tolley, who also co-chaired the Ministerial Group on Family Violence and Sexual Violence, set up in 2015.

Former justice minister Amy Adams says she's disappointed she wasn't the one to introduce the changes she worked so hard on. Photo: Lynn Grieveson

Adams spearheaded the work on including strangulation and suffocation as new offences, and it was under her watch the police Integrated Safety Response (ISR) pilot was established, which provides a multi-agency response to ensure the immediate safety of children and victims.

When announcing she would leave politics in 2020, Adams said one of her biggest disappointments was not seeing those reforms through to the end.

While both Adams and Logie have given numerous hat tips to the work the other has done, it’s clear Adams would like a little more acknowledgement for the hard yards she put in during her time as minister.

Adams says addressing sexual and family violence is a “journey of a thousand steps”.

“I never had a view we could solve it but we might be able to make it considerably better.”

“This is an area prone to lots of nice words and good intentions but that’s not going to help, we have done that for years."

The country is too accepting of the current statistics and many people haven’t grasped the wider social harm that flows from these forms of violence, she says. Some of New Zealand’s other great shames include the high rate of suicide, and alcohol and drug abuse, which are often interlinked.

“This is an area prone to lots of nice words and good intentions but that’s not going to help, we have done that for years,” Adams says.

Her advice to Logie, as someone who’s been here before, is get yourself a very senior champion in Government, and at the Cabinet table.

Adams says she and Tolley had to use all their political capital, skill and seniority to get change across the line.

But it seems the tide may have turned and the members of the current Cabinet are on the same page when it comes to making family and sexual violence responses a priority. 

Logie says there was no need to persuade her Government colleagues of the importance of this work - they understand how much family and sexual violence drives poor social outcomes. The discussion is always about the best method to achieve change.

The unlikely politician

Logie studied politics at university but never with the intention of becoming a politician.

“I spent most of my life, honestly, looking at politicians on the news and just being a bit disgusted.

“And I also feel for a lot of New Zealanders and I still watch the news and understand how they could think we’re all pretty hopeless and more worried about arguing with each other than actually caring about our communities.”

That’s a feeling that hasn’t altogether left her, but the moments of despair are now interspersed with hope.

“I realised people create our institutions and we can change them.”

Hope is what drives Logie, it’s hope that led her into her work and volunteering in community organisations, including Women’s Refuge and the National YWCA, and it’s hope that has kept her in politics for the past eight years.

As a university student, Logie was quite depresssed, and feels some of it came from the realisation so many of the women she knew were affected by family and sexual violence.

“I consider myself really lucky that my first job out of university was working for Women’s Refuge, because it gave me a sense of hope that I was able to be part of the solution to that, rather than just be overwhelmed by the carnage of it.”

Through her work at the refuge, Wellington HELP, Rape Crisis, the University Students’ Association and YWCA, Logie gained her sense of activism.

“I realised people create our institutions and we can change them.”

Logie seems quietly proud of what she and her team have achieved, but she knows there’s more to do.

When asked what’s next on the agenda, the answer is long and winding, through working with those who have lived experience in a way that doesn’t re-traumatise and re-victimise; to working with Māori to truly tackle institutional racism that holds so many down; getting the joint venture off the ground to create a genuine whole-of-government and whole-of-society approach; and empowering and arming Kiwis across the board with the skills and confidence to help intervene and be part of the solution.

Logie has a soft way of speaking, punctuated with passionate emphasis, filled with social worker-speak,which she apologises for.

The magnitude of the task can take its toll – sexual and family violence are what Logie and her staff think about every day, for most hours of the day.

The constant stream of horrible, heart-breaking stories can lead to a numbing, or minimisation – it’s a natural human response, she says.

It’s important those working in this space are able to keep listening to these stories, with compassion. But there is a health risk associated with the work, so Logie is introducing professional mental health supervision to her office.

Jan Logie described herself as a "lefty, feminist lesbian" in her maiden speech in 2011. Photo: Lynn Grieveson

As is the life of a Government MP, Logie has had to forgo most of her hobbies, but she does have some personal reprieve from the heavy realities of her work.

She enjoys cooking – at the moment it's Indian and Korean dishes – and spending time with her partner, Kath.

Logie works with a sense of real urgency, but she’s achingly aware change will not come fast enough for everyone.

“The most difficult part of this work for me, personally, is knowing that right now – and I get the correspondence – there are survivors who feel that their lives are at risk and they’re not getting the reponse they need in terms of protection... and they’re worried for their children.”

She doesn’t know how long she’ll stay in this gig. It’s very clear from her response to the question, she has zero plans to become a lifer politician. She still genuinely feels her home is in the community.

Logie regularly asks herself how she will know when it’s the time to go, and she doesn’t yet know the answer.

But for now, there’s work to do.

*Where to get help

Women's Refuge (For women and children) - 0800 733 843.

Shine (For men and women) - free call 0508-744-633 between 9am and 11pm.

1737, Need to talk? Free call or text 1737 any time for mental health support from a trained counsellor

What's Up – 0800 942 8787 (for 5–18 year olds). Phone counselling is available Monday to Friday, midday–11pm and weekends, 3pm–11pm. Online chat is available 7pm–10pm daily.

Kidsline – 0800 54 37 54 for people up to 18 years old. Open 24/7.

Youthline – 0800 376 633, free text 234, email talk@youthline.co.nz, or find online chat and other support options here.

National Rape Crisis helpline: 0800 88 33 00

Safe to Talk national helpline 0800 044 334 or www.safetotalk.nz

If you or someone else is in immediate danger call 111.

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