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Budget 2002 Debate -- Stephen Franks

Budget 2002 Debate


Speech to Parliament, Tuesday, May 28,2002.

I want to take a bit of a risk with my allotted time in this Budget debate. I want to break with what appears to me, from my relatively short experience, to be a time-honoured tradition. It probably is not a breach of the Standing Orders, but it would certainly seem to me to be a break with custom.

I want to raise a few questions about the Budget, and about the actual compliance of the Budget with the law. I look at the Budget as a document intended to allow New Zealanders and parliamentarians to hold the executive to account. This document tells us what the executive says it is going to do with our money. It should enable us, when we go back at the end, to decide whether it has done that. I believe that this Budget shows an erosion of standards in that area. I believe that it is a part of a movement back to the bad old days when the Government could be without objective measures.

There is a loss of integrity in this document as we find output measures and output classes being aggregated, we find opportunities for misleading and deceptive statements by the Government enhanced, more room for Ministers to shift around what they are doing, and much harder for them to be judged or measured, because output classes are starting to get confused with outcomes. Output classes are becoming so inclusive that ministers and their departments can move expenditure around in such a way that it is getting to the stage where Parliament can scarcely say exactly what some of the votes are for.

I believe that there is a more serious problem in areas other than justice, corrections, and the courts, but there are problems there and I will come back to them. I want to say first, just on the issue of quality, that it appears to me an open question whether the Audit Office itself is complying with the law - whether the outputs that it says it is providing in the text are authorised by its stated output classes. The purpose of those classes is so that we can check their lawfulness, and so we can ensure that their spending is are held to account. What do we find when we look at the Audit Office website? We find tax advice to local authority trading enterprises, and a whole variety of other consulting services. What we have is a prospective Enron problem. Enron's auditors gave so much advice that by the time it became clear that some of the advice was not correct, they were hopelessly compromised. I am concerned, and it is probably something the Finance and Expenditure Committee should look into, that even in Vote Audit the activity it is conducting is probably not authorised by the Budget.

I want to go back to what is much more significant to most New Zealanders in the short term, and that is justice. There has been no intention by this Government to respond to the Withers' petition with anything other than political flummery. How can there be when there is nearly $8 million less in Vote Corrections for offering useful employment to prisoners? How can there be when there is $2 million more for counselling, but overall the Department of Corrections' budget over the projection period actually reduces?

How can there be any serious intention to toughen up on crime, as New Zealanders expected, when Vote Corrections is actually reducing while all departmental projections, even before the law changes in the sentencing and parole reform legislation, were for an increase in prisoner numbers? How can there be anything but outright deception in the claims accepted by the press gallery and the media of this country that the bills passed on 5 May were toughening up on crime? They were nothing of the sort. Let us take a small example. In Vote Justice there is something called Victim Support. Victim Support, this year, gets just over $1.5 million, which is a $200,000 increase. It covers 100,000 victims, and those 100,000 victims will have approximately $2 extra spent on each of them. Previously, Vote Justice stipulated a number of hours that Victim Support was to provide. That has gone, and now it is just the number of victims.

Previously, it indicated the anticipated number of hours, help for the families of murder victims as a separate class - some 800 hours - but now it just refers to 60 or 70 murder victims. We will be lucky if that is the number. It does not refer to anything that can be measured, but there is something far more upsetting than simply that reference. The Victim Support $1.5 million can be compared, in the justice Vote, with $100 million for legal aid. It is expected that there will be more than 50,000 applications for legal aid - 100,000 victims get $1.5 million spent on assisting them, and $100 million is spent on legal aid alone. I should remember that in the courts Vote there is some more assistance for victims. There is a victims, reimbursement assistance scheme and it would be unfair not to mention that. It gives $45,000 extra to the victims. So in total we get our $1.5 million, plus $45,000 out of the courts, and we compare that with the legal aid budget of $100 million. Let us also look at other items. There is $22 million in counselling and assistance in the Family Court and $5 million in the youth justice area for this kind of assistance, most of which goes to offenders or people who have brought trouble on themselves - and we compare that with $1.5 million for victims.

Members should think of the free education that prisoners get, when the rest of New Zealand is now incurring student loans for its education. They should think of the free dental care that is so carefully given to prisoners. They should think of the 4-day dive trip by a group of serious violent offenders. They were to go on a 4-day dive trip before Christmas so they could collect their Christmas kai 200 kilometres away. The prisoners who had their dive trip cancelled reacted so badly to this loss of rehabilitation assistance that the prison officer who was rightly responsible is now fleeing to Australia because his life cannot be guaranteed by the justice system that this Government administers. I had a message from a Lower Hutt man who asked me just what prisoners were charged for. He said that he had never been on a dive trip to collect his Christmas kai. He said he would dearly love to go on a dive trip, and asked what kind of crime he had to commit to get a chance for the Government to take him on a dive trip. And what do we have for victims? We have $1.5 million plus $45,000 in the courts budget.

There is, of course, a little bit more. I may not have been entirely fair. The Government is doing something for the victims of the crimes it really cares about. The Human Rights Commission has an extra $1.5 million - a curious coincidence that it is the same as the total going to victims - to generate a national plan of action on human rights. We know what sort of victims that will go for. It is a national plan of action to generate more imaginary victims of imaginary hurts. What about the 100,000 with real hurts, the 100,000 who are victims of the crimes we all agree are crimes, the 100,000 people that Victim Support is going to try to assist with its $1.5 million? That is the total they get, while the Government will generate a whole range of imaginary hurts with its extra $1.5 million to the Human Rights Commission. So what do we do?

There is a Victims' Rights Bill, and it is no wonder the Government did not have to put any budget into it - it is still stalled. The Victims' Rights Bill, which this Government inherited from National - this Government that looked at the Withers petition asking for more attention to victims'rights - remains stuck in Parliament. It is not a very good bill. It does not allow the victims a right to say anything to the court about what a sentence should be. It does not allow the victims any right to even speak in court. It is simply pathetic, but the Government has not managed to push through even that bill, and there is no provision for the enhanced spending - if any - that it would bring. So there is no right here. There is nothing that shows any commitment to justice for crime. There is nothing in this Budget other than an exposure of Government deception.

Ends


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