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Prebble Speech: Zero Tolerance For Crime

Zero Tolerance For Crime

Speech by Hon Richard Prebble, Leader ACT New Zealand,
to a public meeting at St Heliers Bay Community Centre, 100 St Heliers Bay Road,
on Tuesday, 30 April 2002 at 7.30pm

ACT is going to make your right to be safe the issue in this year's election. I am determined that we are going to claim back our community from the violence that threatens us.

Consider the facts:

- 92 per cent of New Zealanders voted for longer sentences for violent offenders, in a referendum at the last election;

- Today in Parliament the Labour/Alliance/Alliance/Green coalition is proceeding with the Sentencing and Parole Reform Bill. Clause 240 means that most violent offenders must be let out of jail after completing just a third of their sentences;

- Violent crime has increased 14.9 percent since the election.

The issue of crime and justice is now a constitutional issue. Is New Zealand a democracy? Can our elected politicians ignore a referendum proposition voted for by all but 8 percent of the electorate?

Does a government have the right to impose its left-wing ideology on the nation? ACT says that providing a system of law, and the protection of citizens' safety and property, is the first obligation of government.

When women are not safe going for a walk in their own neighbourhood, the government has failed its first duty.

Ignoring a referendum, approved overwhelmingly by the people, shows contempt for democracy and for ordinary people. Helen Clark and Michael Cullen believe themselves to be an elite. They have profound contempt for the views and values of mainstream New Zealand.

Clark/Cullen/Anderton/Harre/Fitzsimons and Donald believe that when we voted for the referendum, we were being emotive. That arrogance of our leaders knows no bounds. They believe that long sentences do not work.

They believe that judges who have heard the evidence, and seen the victims, do not know what the penalty should be.

They believe that criminals should not be punished, because to the socialist left the criminals are just victims of capitalism. So punishment for crime has been removed from the justice system in the Sentencing and Parole Bill.

This government can read the public opinion polls and uses them to manipulate the media and the public.

Yes - a few crimes have had penalties increased. The Minister of Justice, Phil Goff, says he expects only a few criminals will be caught each year by the new provisions.

The Labour/Alliance/Green government is exploiting the public's fears - the very thing it accuses Sensible Sentencing of doing. The cynicism of our government has no limit. Phil Goff does not really believe that adding a few years to a few criminal convictions for spectacular crimes, will make any difference to crime levels.

The contempt Helen Clark showed for those who bid at auction for `her' paintings is the contempt she has for all voters. I believe that this issue is an issue of values, not politics.

I believe that every one in a civilised society must take personal responsibility for our actions. That's a fundamental New Zealand value.

What is wrong with our justice system, is that politicians have removed all accountability out of the system. When New Zealanders voted to increase sentences for violent crime, we were voting to register accountability for crime into the justice system.

Let me be fair in my criticism of Labour - the treatment of offenders as victims did not start under this government. New Zealand has been on a 30-year experiment of treating criminals as victims.

It was 15 years ago when Labour and National, the two old parties, decided that judges did not know what they were doing, and that jails were too expensive. Parliament passed the Justice Amendment Act - that let violent criminals out of jail after doing two-thirds of their sentence and most other criminals out after just half their sentence. Did it work? No it has not. New Zealand is now the most violent nation in the OECD.

It is a shocking fact that you are more likely to be the victim of a robbery, a rape or an assault in New Zealand than the United States of America. The homicide rate in America is higher. But New Zealand's murder rate is rising, while America's is falling.

In the last decade, America's crime rate has fallen as New Zealand's has increased. The US success shows that the public is right - we do not have to accept ever-increasing crime as a cost of modern life.

First, we need to restore integrity into our justice system. Letting criminals out of jail after just one-third of their sentence is making a mockery of the courts. ACT is campaigning for Truth in Sentencing. Offenders should serve their full court-imposed sentence. If you do the crime, you should do the time.

That applies to fines as well. If offenders receive a fine, then they should pay it. The justice system sends a message that society does not care about its laws when the courts wipe $80 million worth of fines, as they did last year.

A majority of US states now have some form of Truth in Sentencing laws - and in every such state, crime has fallen. There is a very good reason for this - prisons do work. It is hard to commit a robbery, a rape or an assault on the public when you are in jail.

Yes, Truth in Sentencing does mean more jails and more offenders in jail. But that's the best and safest place for them.

Violent crime is done by a tiny number of repeat offenders - about 6000 people. Claims by the Labour Party that Truth in Sentencing will require a doubling of jails, is nonsense.

New Zealand runs a revolving-door jail system. Fifty percent of early- release offenders commit another indictable offence with 12 months. Seventy-six percent are back in jail within three years. My proposal just removes their home leave.

Of course, any successful anti-crime policy must tackle the causes of crime.

We have too many schools in New Zealand where the majority of pupils leave unable to read an elementary textbook, unable to write even a request for an interview, and completely unable to do any arithmetic.

ACT regards our proposal to ensure that every child is able to read, as being part of our anti-crime policy.

Too many parents are parents only in a biological sense. Children having children. In this city of Auckland we now have over 400,000 beneficiaries. A huge financial and social burden.

Real welfare reform will have, as a benefit, a long-term lowering of crime, child and spousal abuse.

But there are immediate measures that can be taken to lower crime. The Zero Tolerance for Crime approach, as used in New York.

In New York, violent crime has fallen by over 30 percent. In the same period, violent crime increased in New Zealand by more than 30 percent. The Zero Tolerance approach to crime is the opposite of New Zealand's current policy.

Under a Zero Tolerance approach, instead of ignoring minor crime, police focus on it. Offenders who commit minor street crimes are arrested and prosecuted. In the US, the police found that when they prosecuted passengers on the subway for free riding, and youths for tagging and minor vandalism - the so-called "broken windows" policy - to their surprise all crime fell.

Last year, the New York murder rate was lower than anytime last century. Would it work in New Zealand? Yes, it would.

How do I know? I am a former Minister of Police. Crime fell on my watch. I promoted community policing, opening a community police station every two weeks.

I noticed while Minister that crime in part of South Auckland was much lower than elsewhere. I asked, "Why?" No one knew. But they did say the local community policeman hated graffiti and stamped on it hard. Zero Tolerance for crime. It works.

Yes, it does mean we need more police. Today the Auckland Police District, where we are now, is short of 59 beat police. That's based on the numbers the Government admits we need. The CIB is hopelessly under staffed. Too few police. It's criminal.

ACT is a party of fiscal prudence. ACT would not finance social welfare for business, $800 million for Air New Zealand, $84 million for Kiwibank, $100 million for Maori TV, $300 million for `Closing the Gaps', $300 million for Anderton's projects. But we would finance a professional police force.

There is a programme on TV2 on Thursday nights called `City Beat'. It shows how Queen Street is now policed by a firm of security guards. The programme is a constant stream of street crime, with no consequences. Young Maori, Pacific Islanders, Asians and skinheads in a constant state of tension. We are seeing our city turned into something out of LA.

Crime is the issue of this election. Only one party, ACT New Zealand, from its inception in 1995 has made law and order a central policy. It is core to our philosophy of personal responsibility.

Neither of the two old parties can be trusted on the issue - since National fired John Banks and put $100 million into the INCIS computer system.

Matt "warm milk and cuddles" Robson believes crime is just part of modern life. An ACT Party with 20 MPs will have the clout to tell any government that enough is enough.

Now is the time for Action. For Zero Tolerance for Crime.


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