To Wellington yesterday for the launch of my new book, New Zealand’s Gift to the World: the Family Group Conference. The latest Listener (6 December issue) has five pages on it, which is nice. There was a great speech from Judge Andrew Becroft, the principal Youth Court judge. There was a great speech from Judge Carolyn Henwood, whose idea the book was and who has driven the project. (And by driven, I mean driven. No, DRIVEN.) There was a great speech from the deputy Prime Minister, Bill English, who launched the book.
He knows much more about the youth justice system than I expected. He was funny – which is not easy with this grim subject – but also serious and a classic liberal in his comments about the coercive power of the state and how damaging it can be to vulnerable youth. One of his points was that the various state institutions who are involved don’t talk to each other: they tick the boxes of their own processes but this does not help the child. These are difficult, damaged kids. New Zealand is good at diverting the salvageable ones early, so those who get a family group conference are the hardest nuts. He argued for an approach that would be child-centred rather than form-filling. Basically, he gave a major rark-up to the bureaucrats.
The venue was the Icon Room at Te Papa with about 200 guests. There were judges, cops in uniform, Youth Aid workers, social workers, FGC co-ordinators, people from ministries of certain things… I didn’t know any of them apart from Judges Henwood and Becroft, so stood at the back with my very pregnant niece, present as my support whanau; the book’s editor, Jane Parkin; designer Katrina Duncan; photographer Nigel Gardiner; and my friend Paul Diamond who (along with Jennifer George of the Trust) did many of the interviews which were the raw material for the book. None of them apart from Paul knew anyone else in the room either. We huddled.
It was a great launch – top food, lashings of wine and, for my pregnant niece, water – with a strong emphasis on what a team effort it was. Four years in the making. The most collaborative book project I have ever worked on: not surprising, as it is one of the most Maori. Totally the most New Zealandy, because the FGC concept came from the revered Judge Mick Brown whom I met 25 or so years ago over dinner at Phil Gifford’s with Buck Shelford. We joke about New Zealand’s two degrees of separation, but it is real. At the launch I thought also of Neil Finn’s line “Seven worlds collide”. So here he is with “Distant Sun”: