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Goff speech to Safer Communities Conference

Hon Phil Goff
Minister of Justice
Speech Notes

2 September 2002

Goff speech to Safer Communities Conference

(Delivered 9am, Wellington Town Hall)

Thank you for the invitation to join with you today to talk about how we can work together to build safer communities. Over the past week we have seen the tragic images of groups of young people, one as young as 12 years old, facing charges for murder. Responding after the event can never put the matter right. The goal must be to put more intensive effort into preventing crime. We need to work together to address the causes of such horrific events if we are to have the type of society that we want for New Zealand; a society where we can be safe and secure in our homes and on our streets.

This conference is an opportunity to consider the practical ways that local government, and Safer Community Councils can make a difference. For many years there has been an ongoing debate about who carries the responsibility for community safety and security. Is it solely a central government responsibility? Or are local governments the key players because they hold the knowledge about local situations, and they can deploy resources at the local level.

The obvious answer is that most can be achieved if both levels of government and the community work together. This is implicit in the recent changes to the Local Government Act, which makes clear that local government has a role to pay in social services.

We have a common interest in more secure communities, and we can and should pool our resources to achieve a reduction in crime. This means jointly identifying the problem each local community is facing, making joint decisions about what we want to do about it, and how, and what resources we can each contribute.

There are three key ingredients in making this happen and ensuring it is effective. They are:

- Joint partnership to achieve safer communities;

- A mix of central government direction and strong local leadership; and

- Making the best use of limited resources to achieve the outcomes we desire.

Partnership

Partnership is a concept that is central to achieving safer communities. International research has shown that substantial and lasting reductions in crime have been made when central government and local government have worked in partnership. This was the premise on which the Safer Community Councils were established.

Partnership is a term that is often misunderstood and misused. It means more than central government providing the funds and local government providing the people to do the work at a local level. A good partnership needs to include joint planning, decision-making and funding, and the joint implementation of strong and effective programmes. There needs to be effective leadership by all of those involved in crime prevention.

The Safer Community Council network provides us with a useful model for joint partnership. There are currently 65 Safer Community Councils operating throughout the country. A recent review pointed out that the existence of the network had enabled a number of communities to achieve crime reduction outcomes. But there is a lot that needs to be done to strengthen the model.

Central government agencies and senior members of local government need to work together more closely to ensure that strategic directions, programme selection, and funding decisions are relevant to achieving real crime prevention in local communities. They also need to ensure that there is commitment to them. Crime prevention decisions should be made by the people who have the power to enforce the decisions. I was pleased to learn that some areas are currently looking seriously at the structures they have, to make sure that effective decision making processes are in place.

The Safer Auckland City Executive is one such example. It is a genuine partnership between senior members of Auckland City Council, local Police, local iwi, the Crime Prevention Unit, and members of the Auckland community. It is setting the direction of crime prevention efforts in Auckland City, identifying needs and channelling funds to meet those needs. It also has the key decision-makers at the table so that there is genuine commitment of resources to the priorities that have been identified for the city. This represents the type of partnership that we need to have in place across the country.

Another example of successful partnership can be found in Counties-Manukau where the Crime Prevention Unit has been working with the Safer Community Councils in Manukau, Papakura and Franklin, as well as with Police, local Councils, and iwi to develop initiatives to reduce youth offending and general violence. I will be launching these in late October. As the recent Michael Choy murder case has highlighted, we need to be doing a lot more to tackle the problem of youth offending in Counties-Manukau and the initiatives that will be implemented there represent the result of many months of work by central and local government officials, iwi, Police and the local community. They have identified the problem they need to address, and they have jointly decided what they want to do, and how they will go about it.

We are also providing funds through Safer Community Councils to four other crime priority areas to address youth offending and general violence. These are Northland, Auckland city, Hastings and Christchurch. The Crime Prevention Unit has worked with local government, Police and the Safer Community Councils in each of these areas to put together a package of programmes that will address the local needs in a way that will produce the best results for them. Again, this is an example of what partnership is about.

Central government direction and strong local leadership

Crime prevention partnership is most effective when it is supported by a mix of central government direction, and strong local leadership. In the Crime Reduction Strategy launched last year, I announced the key crime prevention priorities the Government wishes to focus on. These are to reduce:

- family violence and child abuse

- other violence including sexual violence

- burglary

- car theft and theft from cars

- organised crime especially in relation to drugs

- serious traffic offending, and

- youth offending.

Of these, youth offending is a primary focus. I announced last week that Youth Offending Teams in thirty districts across the country will be established by the end of September. These will comprise representatives of Police, CYFS, Education and Health. They will ensure a coordinated response to youth offenders across government agencies and complement other initiatives such as the establishment of day reporting centres and the Christchurch pilot youth drug court.

But central government strategies like this do no more than provide the foundation and framework for local efforts. Strong local leadership is also needed if we are to develop practical and effective programmes to solve crime problems on the ground.

It is local communities that can identify the problems that most affect them. For example, Palmerston North has been struggling to work through problems relating to gangs over the past six months, whereas other communities such as Opotiki and Kaikohe struggle with the production and distribution of drugs. Recent refugee youths who suffer from a range of deprivation factors relating to the experiences they have lived through in their home countries are an issue facing Auckland, and “boy-racers’ are a serious problem in Manukau.

The first step in establishing successful crime prevention initiatives is the proper identification of crime problems within each community. The Crime Prevention Unit and the Police need to work more closely with local communities to establish their key priorities. Once these have been properly identified, and decisions have been made about what needs to be done to address the issues, there needs to be strong local leadership to drive these initiatives through. This is where local government and Safer Community Councils have the most important role to play.

The review of Safer Community Councils showed that they are most successful where local Mayors, Police Area Controllers, local senior managers of key government organisations such as CYF and WINZ, as well as local service providers are committed to supporting crime prevention efforts. This cannot be emphasised enough. Where leaders in the local community are involved, the combined efforts of central and local government can make a real difference to crime. Where they are not, the outcomes are far less effective. The greater support crime prevention efforts get at a local level, the more they are likely to succeed.

Targeting funds and resources

The proper targeting of funds and resources is also essential to the success of crime prevention. Once communities have identified their crime problems, they need to select programmes and initiatives that will work. Not all efforts at crime prevention are successful. With the limited resources that we have, we must ensure that the right programmes are supported.

To ensure this happens we need to be doing more to evaluate crime prevention initiatives and we need to use the results of those evaluations to ensure that funding is being channelled into programmes that are effective.

I have had the opportunity to visit a number of crime prevention initiatives established by Safer Community Councils and supported by the Crime Prevention Unit, that have been shown to be successful through the hard work and dedication of the local community.

The Feilding and Districts Youth Offender Board is one example. This is a community-based programme for young offenders that operates on the principle of restorative justice, and is jointly funded by Child, Youth and Family and the Crime Prevention Unit.

The Feilding and Districts Youth Offender Board set itself a number of goals when it was first established three years ago. These goals included:

- a reduction in re-offending by those offenders participating in the Youth Board Project

- the active participation of community members in the programme

- participation of victims of offences where appropriate

- securing a restorative effect with community imposed sanctions placed on offenders, and

- acceptance of the programme by interested parties, such as Judiciary, Courts, Police and Victim Support.

As at 1 July this year:

- 47 conferences have been held

- in all cases, agreements were reached

- of the 47 agreements, the conditions were met in 96% of cases

- 90% of reported offences of youth in Manawatu had been dealt with by the Board

- only 5 youth had re-offended out of the 47. The nature of the re-offending was minor

- young people had made significant progress in areas such as gaining employment, starting courses, and improved schooling, and

- the latest six monthly report cited positive feedback from victims, and the development of strong community support and networks.

Judge Fraser (visiting Youth Court Judge) was quoted in Crime Prevention News in December 2001 as saying that before this program was implemented it wasn't unusual for the Youth Court to take three-quarters of a day each month. Now it takes less than an hour a month with the court seeing only 3-4 young people. This is a significant achievement.

Another example of the type of effective programme that provides a model for other communities is Otangarei, a suburb in Whangarei. It has a small population of 2,300 but used to account for a significant proportion of Whangarei’s problem statistics including:

- 68% of domestic violence offences

- 63% of truancy

- 75% of families on notice with CYF

- 52% of burglaries in Whangarei, and

- 65% of health issues such as glue ear, and infectious sores and diseases.

1n 1996 local people in Otangarei worked with central government to establish the Otangarei Neighbourhood Based Safety Programme. The programme was provided by the Otangarei Youth Sport and Recreation Trust. It focuses on three things - improving the physical environment, addressing social issues that are of concern in the area, and getting the local residents to take responsibility for the safety and security of their own neighbourhood.

To achieve this, the programme has implemented a number of changes in the community including:

- cleaning up the local area by removing car wrecks, putting in better traffic signage, and building speed controls on the road to stop car racing

- setting up an after school programme that runs four days per week from the community hall to make sure that the children have adult supervision after school hours, and are fed and cared for in a safe place

- establishing three separate “youth clubs’ to cater for young people of different ages

- installing new street lights to improve safety at night

- organising and running computer skills courses for local residents, and

- establishing “clean-up’ teams to improve business and residential properties.

The success of this project has been attributed to the desire of the residents to improve their neighbourhood. It is a strong example of local solutions in response to locally identified needs, and strong partnerships established between the Crime Prevention Unit, the project staff, residents and agencies such as Housing New Zealand, Whangarei Safer Community Council, Police, and Whangarei District Council.

These examples of effective programmes need to be built on. They show that together we can make a real difference. They and other successful projects show how we can bring down crime in our communities.

Concluding remarks

Crime prevention and community safety are extremely important issues. Manukau City Council recently carried out a survey that identified community safety as the number one concern of the local people. It out-stripped every other local concern. People want to live in an environment where they can be confident that they are safe, and that their children and wider families are safe.

Traditionally, a lot of government effort has gone in to responding to offending and dealing with it after it has occurred. The recent Sentencing and Parole Acts are examples of this. The focus in this legislation is to keep the worst and highest risk offenders out of circulation longer. Minimum periods before parole can be considered for aggravated murder have risen from 10 to 17 years, the principle has been established that the worst offences should attract the maximum penalty, automatic release at two-thirds of parole has been abolished and preventative detention expanded to cover a wider range of crimes. The Parole Board now has the safety of the community as its paramount consideration and must not release early those who pose a real risk to the community.

This is only part of the solution. Prevention is a critical part of the response, through early intervention with parenting, identifying children with at risk behaviour and intervening to deal more effectively with young offenders. Working closely with local government and Safer Community Councils to jointly address crime problems before they become entrenched is a critical part of the overall response to preventing and reducing crime.

Over the past few months I have been able to visit a number of successful community-based initiatives supported by central and local government. I have been encouraged by the partnerships that have been formed. These successes need to be built on. They will make a real difference to our communities. I am sure that this conference will provide the opportunity for experiences of best practice to be shared, so that we can learn from each other about what works and what doesn’t.

Ends


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