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Chris Ford: Paula Bennett's eugenic comments mere distraction from National's classroom cuts crisis

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Chris Ford
Chris Ford
Paula Bennett

 When the Nats get into trouble these days, it always come up with a sure fire distraction - bashing the poor.

Today, Social Development Minister Paula Bennett (a former single parent herself) suggested that any children born to potentially abusive mothers could be forcibly removed. She even suggested that the Family Court could have the power to order that abusive women who did so could be legally prevented from having any more children.

There's just one word for this - eugenics.

Essentially, eugenics is the set of nineteenth century pseudo-scientific ideas which held that the reproductive rights of the poor and other marginalised groups (such as disabled people and those living with mental illness) should be regulated by the State. The Nazis practised involuntary euthanasia against disabled people and sterilised supposedly "unfit" women (for example, those who worked as sex workers or who were deemed promiscuous) so that the population would include fewer people from within these groups. Pre-eugenic ideas also permeated the thinking of such early eighteenth century neo-classical thinkers as Thomas Malthus whose own work was read by Charles Darwin. Darwin, in turn, developed the concept of the "survival of the fittest" to signify that only those with supposedly mental, physical and moral strength could and should survive and those deemed to be weak should be left to die or have their lives severely regulated by the State. It is no wonder then that right wing parties and groupings (from across the conservative/libertarian spectrum) have endorsed eugenic ideas in some form over the last three centuries.

And particularly when Tory parties are facing problems (as National is over class sizes), then they nearly always fall back on the tried and true populist option of eugenic-style poverty bashing.

Of course, I am very supportive of children being removed from abusive parents and of the need to protect all vulnerable kids from whichever social class they come. Beneficiary rights advocate, Sue Bradford, correctly pointed out today that Child Youth and Family Services (CYFS) already have extensive legal powers to intervene where such an outcome is feared. But when abusive women (who often hail from disadvantaged backgrounds) are targeted for possible forced sterilisation by court order (which is what Paula Bennett is suggesting) then this is the beginning of a slippery slope for this group of women (many of whom would have been abused themselves as children). Already, I have personal difficulty (as a disability advocate) with the law permitting (in some circumstances) the involuntary sterilisation of women with intellectual disabilities by court order. If Bennett advances this idea as Government policy in tandem with the targeted free contraception policy for Domestic Purposes clients, then we are on the road towards full blown eugenics once again.

I also have deep concerns about National pushing what is an emotive issue at a time when it is fighting a popular revolt against class size increase plans. Bennett's statement looks like a Government attempt to erect a smokescreen while it attempts to defuse this issue. Will it work? It could do amongst certain groups but increasingly many New Zealanders are beginning to see National for what they are - a bunch of right-wing politicians who campaigned on a hidden agenda before the last election.

I believe that National should stop playing politics with the vulnerable and get on with cleaning up the mess they've created in education and other areas of social policy. Bennett should re-think her suggestion and instead focus on doing what's needed to alleviate the root causes of child abuse which include poverty, amongst others. Our Government should be doing all it can to give a decent education to all Kiwi kids and also protecting them from not only potentially abusive parents but an errant Education Minister!

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