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Ryall Speech: Law and Order - A Key Election Issue

3 July 2002

Hon Tony Ryall
National Police Spokesman
Speech to Kawerau Community - Law and Order: A Key Election Issue

I've been in politics for almost 12 years now. At the last election, the people of New Zealand gave politicians the most emphatic message I have ever seen - 92% of people voted for the Withers referendum and voted for a tougher criminal justice system. You can quibble with the wording of the question, but the voters' intent was clear and overwhelming.

Unfortunately, this message has been clearly and overwhelmingly rejected by this Labour - Alliance - Progressive Coalition Government. It took Labour and its quarrelling partners over two years to progress their key law and order legislation - the Sentencing and Parole Reform Act - which finally came into force this week, on 1 July. The Act is a slap in the face for every New Zealander who voted for the Withers Referendum.

Today, I want to explain to you why the Government has failed so woefully on the crucial questions of law and order. I want to describe to you how a National led Government would respond to the issues which worry ordinary New Zealanders around the country. It's not enough merely to criticise - no matter how much there is to be critical of - I want to outline the policies we have to make New Zealand a safer place, and make New Zealanders feel safer.

The three areas I am going to cover are:

* The need for longer sentences * The rise in violent crime * The decline of front line police numbers

The need for longer sentences

Labour would have you believe that they have got tough on crime. Their new pledge card, bearing Helen Clark's now infamous signature, is one of the vaguest documents ever written but has this to say about law and order: Labour commits to tougher sentences for the most serious offenders. Ten words have never meant so little.

Now, the Government's new act does increase the penalties for a small number of headline crimes like a few murderers. But the overall effect is to soften the penalties for violent offenders under the new law and, like 92% of New Zealanders, I think that is simply wrong.

Under this regime a violent offender can be eligible for parole after serving just one-third of their sentence. Currently, they are not eligible until two-thirds of their sentence. Phil Goff tried to toughen up his law by adding a clause allowing judges to impose a non-parole period of up to two-thirds. But how tough is this? Goff is saying that the maximum penalty is now the same as the old minimum. That's simply not good enough.

Goff claims that while most offenders will be eligible for parole at one-third, virtually none of them will get it and they will serve long sentences. This is either naïve or plain stupid because it overlooks two key facts. Firstly, we have all seen too many cases where people have got parole when they clearly shouldn't have. The same mistakes will be made - but even sooner. Look at Taffy Hotene. He killed Kylie Jones just a few weeks after having been released on parole.

Secondly, look at the money. Goff says keeping people in prison for their full term would cost a billion dollars or more. His scheme costs just $90 million or so over three years. How does he do this? Simple - while some murderers will be in for longer, many, many more will be out earlier. A rapist sentenced to nine years could be out in three. The bottom line is that under Labour's new Act, serious offenders will be let out sooner. That's not what New Zealanders want or need. And it is not what people voted for.

The prominent and respected Auckland defence counsel Gary Gotlieb yesterday warned that the new laws will lead to more lenient sentences.

I mentioned at the start that there has been some questioning about the wording of the referendum question. But the new law also ignores victims. Victims have no say on what happens to their attackers. In fact, in a show of petty partisanship, Labour voted down our proposal to have a representative for victims on the Parole Board. This Government has betrayed every part of the referendum.

National's policy takes on board the peoples' message. We are serious about addressing crime and imposing tougher penalties. Our Law and Order policy includes: life means life for the worst murderers, a minimum of 15 years' jail for all murderers, no parole eligibility until offenders have served at least two-thirds of their sentences and no automatic parole for violent offenders. Criminals will have to show they have reformed - or they will serve their full sentence. Where Labour has ignored you - National has listened.

The rise in violent crime

I think we all know that New Zealand is becoming an increasingly violent place to live. Well, everyone except the Police Minister, George Hawkins. The Minister recently said "New Zealand is a more secure place to be".

You would think the Minister of Police would know the facts. The facts are that under Labour, violent crime has jumped 11% to the highest rate ever. Labour has delivered an 11% increase in violent crime.

An 11% increase in violent crime is horrific. But it's just a number. What it means in flesh and blood is that 4,500 more people were bashed, robbed or killed in 2001 than in 1999. And those numbers are likely to go up.

Yet the Minister of Police continues to focus on his beloved highway patrol. The Minister who can take a personal interest in what colour traffic patrol cars are painted, who can take the time to be photographed with a traffic cone on his head (which looks suspiciously like a dunce's hat) doesn't seem to have the time to acknowledge that violent crime is the most serious problem facing New Zealand communities today.

Imagine another three years with George Hawkins as Minister of Police? Fortunately you won't have to.

National's answer to this violent crime crisis is two-fold. Firstly, we know that the Police's current focus on burglary has been successful. Offence numbers are down and resolution rates are up. We congratulate the Police on their efforts. National would make violent crime an equal priority for Police.

And we would ensure they had the staff and resources to fight violent crime - because people know that one of the best ways to keep crime down is the visible presence of police on the street.

We need to crackdown on the gangs. I agree with the Whakatane Police. Gang members should not be permitted to wear their gang patches and colours in public. The wearing of gang patches is provocative and likely to incite violence. We've seen that in our own district. Gang patches should be banned from public display.

The Civil Liberties people will go ballistic. Well, my message to them is: get a life! The right of the community to safety is greater than the right of gangs to intimidate with their patches and insignia.

The decline of front line police numbers

Under Labour, the number of police on the streets has dropped. It's a fact. 9 out of 12 police districts have fewer frontline police than they did two years ago. This is a problem across the country - but is worst in Auckland. Police staff numbers up - but sworn police numbers on the beat are down. Staff are being diverted into the highway patrol and administration. Recruit numbers are down - some recruit wings were cancelled and others have gone through under strength. Police numbers have not kept up with population growth. Whichever way you look at it - front line police numbers are inadequate.

I don't want to quote George Hawkins too often, though it may be the first some of you have heard of him, but when he was an Opposition spokesman, he had this to say "What is certain is that as soon as police numbers are cut, crime will increase." Let me give you some numbers, right now, to prove him right for a change.

Police are about 200 officers under their targets - and that's after the Minister cut the targets to hide the gaps. From December 2000 to March 2002, frontline police in Auckland dropped by 40, Counties/Manukau by 26, Waikato by 29, Central by 22, Wellington by 31 and so on and so on. These aren't our figures - these are figures straight from the Minister in an answer to one of my written Parliamentary questions.

So Hapless Hawkins was right - when Police numbers drop, crime does go up - especially violent crime. And he has proved it. And people have suffered because of it.

National will put 500 more frontline police on our streets within three years. More police on the streets will prevent crime. We want a police force everyone can see ... to make our communities safer. This pledge is a priority for National. We want 500 extra police, properly resourced, free from Ministerial interference and focusing on violent crime. These extra police will make a genuine improvement to the safety of New Zealanders. It is not enough to assert that New Zealand is a secure place to be - we need to make it a reality and that requires more police - not fewer.

Labour's smug election propaganda claims that Labour has delivered. Let me tell you what they won't tell you - let me tell you what Labour has really delivered:

* Labour has delivered the chance for violent criminals including rapists to get out at one-third of their sentence * Labour has delivered fewer police on the streets in 9 out of 12 Police Districts * Labour has delivered an 11% increase in violent crime * Labour has delivered the highest violent crime rate ever * Labour has delivered a slap in the face for 92% of people who voted for tougher sentences.

In contrast, let me conclude by telling you what a National led Government will deliver:

* National will deliver a genuine life sentence for the worst murderers
* National will deliver tougher sentences for all violent criminals
* National will deliver no automatic parole
* National will deliver 500 more frontline police
* National will deliver the justice system demanded by 92% of New Zealanders.

Crime is an important issue for most New Zealanders - whether Labour wants to admit it or not. Labour has ignored the clear message of the Withers referendum - National has heard it and will deliver. I ask for your support for National on 27 July so that New Zealanders can have the justice system they voted for.

ENDS


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