A feminist critque of the Government’s latest budget
The Budget – how the government spends its money, and what commentators and opposition parties say about it in the following days – is an interesting reflection of the values of the country. This year, the government allocated just under $74 million to prevent and respond to family violence. This included $9 million to provide specialist responses for disabled people and contribute to making mainstream services more accessible. It also included $8.60 million for Māori-led responses to family violence. That’s great, right? Around 50% of NZ women have experienced physical, sexual, or coercive emotional violence from a partner. This Budget allocation tells us that the government of the day is concerned about this high level of violence against women and children and wants to do something significant to reduce this harm.
I’m not sure. Let’s just look at one comparison – a substantial Budget allocation that received almost no publicity and has not been talked about in the post budget analysis. The Labour government, in this Budget, gave the military $6.52 billion, including an extra $419 million for wage increases plus $328 million for upgrading NZDF assets and infrastructure. That’s almost 10,000% more than the money allocated for family violence. $74 million to prevent family violence in New Zealand, nearly $7 billion to an organisation based on violence.
No, no you cry. Our military is all about peace keeping, fisheries protection and civil defence. They don’t engage in active combat. But they do. News revelations have shown that our military engages in active fighting when they are on so-called peace keeping and reconstruction missions, such as in Afghanistan. They kill people – civilians as well as soldiers. Over the past few years, the military has been used in New Zealand for civil defence and for support during Covid lockdowns. This has led to many people leaving the military – why? Because it’s not what they signed up to do. It is a culture based on violence. Further proof of this is the number of defence force personal currently on ‘extended leave’ who are fighting in the Ukraine. Further to this, and very relevant to this discussion, are the high rates of sexual and family violence against women who work in the military. This is a culture that encourages the misuse use of power, and models that misuse of power in its own ranks and to the wider public.
This brings us back to government priorities. I know that stopping violence is a critical priority for some of the women in Government. However, what the figures above tell us, is that this country values systems that use violence to solve problems over stopping violence. Notice also the $328 million for military wages goes mainly to men. There is no money to increase wages in the anti-violence sector (mainly women).
Family and intimate partner violence don’t come out of nowhere. The problem is not about a few bad men who harm women. The high rates of violence in New Zealand against women, disabled people, people in the rainbow community and elderly people are a result of societal attitudes that enable, and don’t prevent, the normalisation of this misuse of power.
Giving billions to the military, verses $74 million to prevent violence, is one very clear message to people about what form of power and dispute resolution are valued, and about who is valued – and who not.
The usual mindset is to see the defence force as keeping us safe – yet if the family and sexual violence budget and the defence budget were swapped, New Zealanders in general would be safer.
Dr. Debbie Hager is a public health researcher and activist with a focus on violence against women, particularly the intersection between violence, substance abuse and mental illness, and violence against disabled people.