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Mapp Speech: Sentencing And Parole Reform Bill

Dr Wayne Mapp National Party Justice Spokesperson

Speech On The Third Reading Of The Sentencing And Parole Reform Bill

This Bill is the Government's response to the 1999 Withers' referendum. Everyone in this House knows the depth of community concern about the scale of crime; it is undisputed that murders have risen from 16 in 1960 to 56 in 2000. This one fact has led to the establishment of the Sensible Sentencing Trust. There has been a groundswell of interest. In just two years, they have reached a membership of 110,000. Public meetings on justice attract the largest audiences in the country.

There were great expectations of the Government. Mr Goff campaigned on this issue. Even when he introduced the Bill last year people welcomed it.

But the scales soon fell from their eyes. This Bill is a failure. The Minister's belated SOP was a stark recognition of that fact. Mr Barker knows the deep sense of grievance that is held by people regarding his failure to understand the depth of emotion felt by people severely affected by crime.

This Bill has many failures. But one in particular stands above all. Violent offenders will now be able to apply for parole at one-third of their sentence. That means a rapist sentenced to nine years will be able to apply for parole after three years. No matter how the Government spins this, no member of the public voted for easier parole.

How did this catastrophic failure of Government policy occur? Documents that had to be extracted by Official Information Act requests show the Minister of Justice wanted eligibility for parole at 50%. Mr Robson, Progressive Coalition, wanted one-third. By some extraordinary default, Mr Robson won this contest. The tail wagged the dog.

Everyone recognised that automatic eligibility for parole at two-thirds was wrong. Everyone expected it would be replaced by eligibility at two-thirds.

National will be campaigning on this issue. We are opposed to violent criminals being eligible for parole at one third of their sentence. Giving judges the discretion to impose longer minimum non-parole periods - but not more than two-thirds - is simply not an adequate response. In effect, the Government's decision means that the Parole Board will have more sentencing power than judges.

Parole does have a proper place. It provides an incentive for prisoners to rehabilitate. It helps prison management. But it should not be so liberal that it effectively displaces the sentence imposed by the judge.

Through the Committee stages, National put forward a series of considered amendments - not as political theatre, but to repair the deficiencies in the Bill. The Government voted against every one; even amendments requiring offenders to do work for victims, with the victim's consent.

The Government's failure on parole is symptomatic of the whole tenor of this Bill. There is a consistent failure to recognise the constitutional role of the sentencing judge. There is a consistent failure to recognise the importance of punishment, both as a sanction and as a moral imperative. And there is a consistent failure to give victims a true voice in sentencing.

It would seem axiomatic that the judge imposes the sentence, and that it will be largely served. Instead, we see parole eligibility at one-third. The Minister tells us that parole will only be granted if community safety is assured. That is not what the Bill says. Under section 169 , prisoners must be released unless it can be shown that they pose an undue risk to the community. The Government has this around the wrong way. Surely the offender should have to demonstrate that they are reformed, before they are considered for parole.

Even in community sentences, judges have been overridden. Whether an offender gets periodic detention or community service is not in the hands of probation officers. All the judge can do is sentence the offender to community work. After that, probation officers - many with heads filled with fanciful notions about offenders - will make a decision about the type of work.

It is surely fundamental that punishment is a key component of sentencing. That is why National is backing life imprisonment for the worst murderers. Society is entitled to be protected from them. They have forfeited their right to return to the community. How is it that William Holtz, with 50 previous convictions for violence, who committed a brutal murder while on parole only yesterday was sentenced to a minimum non-parole period of 10 years. He is a prime candidate for life without parole. He has forfeited his right to live in the community.

And when someone like Holtz comes up for parole, where is the victim's representative on the Parole Board? Someone specifically charged with understanding the fear and anxiety victims face with the impending release of violent criminals. Victims representatives will err on the side of community safety, not on the side of the criminal. The voice of victims must be heard. Victims are the missing people in this Bill. Their rights have been neglected in favour of the criminal. The parole provisions speak starkly of this fact.

National will have proper sentencing legislation. We will ensure that parole is only given at the end of sentences. We will ensure that society is protected from the depredation of criminals who prey upon innocent members of our community.

Ends

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