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Brash Speech: National Lower NI Conference

Don Brash National Party Leader

9 April 2005

Speech to National Party Lower North Island Regional Conference Palmerston North

National Will Treat The Symptoms of Crime Earlier

Welcome to the second National Party regional conference in a very important year for the Party and for the people of New Zealand.

I want to begin by thanking all of you who have done so much to help National in the past year.

In particular, I want to thank President Judy Kirk for her tremendous support. All of us – and none more than I – owe her a huge debt of gratitude for the work she has been doing on our behalf.

I also want to thank the many senior office-holders in this region who have given me their support and their advice over the past year – your regional Chair Patricia Morrison, and the National Members from this region.

I do want to pay particular tribute to our hard-working whip Simon Power, and the retiring Roger Sowry.

First, I want to say a few words about Roger.

Since being elected to Parliament as the MP for Kapiti in 1990, Roger has done the lot.

Junior whip, senior whip, social welfare, Leader of the House, associate health and the minister in charge of war pensions, Deputy Leader, to name just a few of his previous incarnations.


He’s been a member of the National Party since 1977, and inside the organisation in this region he has held many official positions – providing an unbroken period of service to this area, the Party and New Zealand.

If a week is a long time in politics, Roger has spent an eternity promoting the National Party brand.

His experience, his sense of humour and his common sense will be sorely missed around Parliament’s corridors. I personally want to wish you and Shirley every success in the future.

Simon Power, of course, is the lone voice of reason among the constituency MPs here in the Lower North Island.

He’s one of only two National MPs from this end of the country and the only one in a constituency seat. And it’s a BIG constituency to look after.

I’d imagine that Sam, your young son at home, hasn’t made the balancing act any easier. Often we forget the partners of our MPs and I think we owe Lisa a debt of thanks, too.

Thanks for your help and support this year, Simon. The chief whip’s job is no picnic.

As we approach the election, I do expect voters in this region to start thinking about whether they wasted their vote on too many ineffective Labour MPs in the lower North Island. National has a strong line-up of effective voices ready to replace their complacency.

And we’ve started strongly. So strongly, in fact, that Labour’s once great hope, John Tamihere, has seen the writing on the wall and given us all a fascinating look behind the scenes in Labour.

Helen Clark was prepared to have him back in Cabinet after he lied to her and the public about accepting a golden handshake, but now he’s told the truth, his future is far less certain.

I’m sure most people would consider a blatant untruth a much more serious offence than a series of embarrassing truths – but clearly not Helen Clark.

He’s being punished for what many others inside Labour are thinking, at least ten for sure, and up to 25 on a good day, according to Mr Tamihere.

Labour is deeply divided.

Normally such fear and loathing comes out years after a government disappears. But here we have an insider’s view of the social engineering of Helen Clark and her close advisors.

The façade of unity is crumbling, and the public are seeing from the inside what we’ve seen every day for the past six years.

New Zealanders deserve better.

The Government should represent the best interests of all New Zealanders, not just the sectional groups that might be convinced to vote for them.

National will not be playing favourites. National will be working on behalf of all New Zealanders to create a better country for all of our children, as indeed our Party’s name implies.

But I am sure I don’t need to remind any of you about the political battle we face this year.

The Labour Party is ruthlessly pursuing a third term; they have no qualms about massively misrepresenting what National stands for; they have no shame in using public money to pursue their own electoral advantage; and they have no reservations about using your taxes to bribe selected voters.

In spite of all that, a National or National-led Government by the end of this year remains a totally realistic goal. Why? Because the issues we have identified are the real issues facing New Zealand: poor incentives for working people, a generation being short-changed in our education system, high levels of violent crime in our community, entrenched welfare dependency, and a backward looking Treaty grievance industry.

We can fix these things.

Labour doesn’t even recognise them as problems.

Most recently, Labour’s complacency has been laid bare in the police portfolio.

Wellington's Mayor put the Capital's understaffing on the agenda, closely followed by Peter Chin in Dunedin. Sir Barry Curtis added that Counties/Manakau is 160 officers short, while North Shore Mayor George Wood is also concerned, and there are clearly problems in Lower Hutt.

The Labour MPs in the Wellington region don’t think there’s a problem.

This is nothing short of a crisis.

Why should the public be worried? It is taking longer to get 111 calls investigated. Over worked staff are getting unallocated files dumped on their desks to make the numbers look better and detectives are being pulled off investigations to do traffic duty.

We’ve seen the most extraordinary series of blunders in the 111 system. Taxis sent when police cars were needed, women told to walk to the police station after an allegation of rape, people kept hanging on the line while their partner is severely beaten. The Police Commissioner even suggested that it would help if callers to the 111 service screamed when they were really in danger.

Just this week the Hastings victims of a theft rang a detective to find out whether he had made any progress on their case. He told them, and I quote "if you wanted to help – as you are obviously motivated people – see your MP and tell him the police are under-resourced."[1]

Well, people are telling their MPs. Look at the letters section in any local newspaper. Still, the local Labour MPs aren’t listening or don’t care.

Meanwhile, Helen Clark continues to put her confidence in a Minister of Police who has repeatedly shown he is incapable of getting to grips with the issues in his portfolio.

For all its talk, Labour is visibly failing in one of the most basic responsibilities of any government, to keep the public safe.

Law abiding people have a right to expect that they will be kept safe from those who prey on them, their families, and the wider community.

But at present the public do not, and cannot, have that expectation.

Despite the claims to the contrary, Labour has made a significant contribution to the crisis that the hard working frontline police are now facing.

For instance, we know that the police sought an extra 60 staff to run the 111 service, and got just 18. This just isn’t anywhere near good enough, especially when they had the resources to hand out a huge increase of nearly 200% in speeding tickets in just four years!

We know the police have been pleading for help to beat the P epidemic and pleading for the legal tools they need to smash the gang syndicates running this evil industry.

Yet all Labour has produced is a watered-down version of National’s own proposal to toughen up the Proceeds of Crime Act.

Meanwhile, Labour continues to trumpet crime figures which frontline officers are increasingly calling into question.

And what was the response to the serious and disturbing claims about the handling of reported crime numbers?

Police bosses attacked the whistleblowers, accusing them of treason. [2]

Today I want to caution the Commissioner and police headquarters.

Ignoring the increasingly frustrated pleas of frontline officers and accommodating the public relations demands of the Labour Government over crime figures will put at risk continuing public confidence in, and respect for, our police force.

If George Hawkins was serious about keeping our communities safe, he would be congratulating those who’ve had the courage to go public in the face of such threats and he would do something about it.

Those officers are doing what they think they need to do in order to protect the public and their own integrity.

It’s not hard to work out what happens when confidence in the police is shaken.

People just don’t bother to report minor crime.

Why on Earth would they, when a victim can provide video footage of the crime being committed, when they can provide the name and address of the thief, only to get a letter back saying the police are too busy to investigate?

Why would people continue to put their faith in the police when a Sunday newspaper reporter can go out and find that same thief in just 30 minutes?

George Hawkins claims the police have the resources they need, despite the ample evidence now that they do not.

How else can he explain the more than 2,000 unallocated cases throughout the country as of two weeks ago – some of which were for serious crimes including rape?

Worryingly, senior lawyers have told National that police investigations and preparations for trials are suffering. Some criminals have walked free from court because over-worked police officers have not been able to prepare bullet-proof prosecutions.

When investigators don't have the time to do some basic evidence collection, then guilty people do go free. If guilty people walk free because of police under-staffing, then they are free to commit crime with impunity.

National's solution?

In the short term, we would amend the Labour Government's heavy handed traffic policing demands in their contract with Police. Minor traffic ticketing should get a lower priority than serious violence and emergencies.

Labour has deliberately chosen to divert resources into speeding and away from investigating serious crime.

Within the first fortnight in office, National will also meet with the Commissioner to determine what is required across the country to improve community safety. We will not enter into an election-year auction. The issue is too important.

But, faced with all the circumstances I have outlined, the answer is clear. We need more frontline police officers dealing with serious crime. Let me assure you that is precisely what a National Government will do.

National will also hold a summit soon after the election to re-evaluate the current approach to road safety, which is based on ticketing drivers regardless of circumstances, without enough emphasis on driving to the conditions, seatbelts, drink driving and driver fatigue.

We are serious about repairing the damage done by Labour and we have been rolling out a series of policies to attack crime at its source.

Just a few weeks ago, I released National’s Youth Justice policy where we signalled our determination to get on the case much earlier.

Here are the facts: the overwhelming number of prison inmates began their criminal careers as young offenders. Young people aged between 10 and 16 are responsible for a quarter of all crime in New Zealand. And a small group of fewer than 5% of young people commit a significant amount of that crime.

Over the last five years, the numbers of young people being apprehended for committing acts of violence, property abuse and property damage have all steadily increased [3] .

However, like every other parent I want a justice system that gives a second chance to a young person who has, for whatever reason, had a minor brush with the law.

People make mistakes. Most learn from them.

But for those who don’t, National believes we should get their problems dealt with much sooner than is the case now.

National will limit the use of Family Group Conferences and have children referred to the Youth Court more promptly.

Recent research shows that two-thirds of the 15 to 16-year-olds dealt with by Family Group Conferences re-offend, and one in five ends up behind bars within three years [4] .

We will change the system so that cases against young people who are aged 12 and over – and who have a record of two previous Family Group Conferences – are referred immediately to a Youth Court judge.

Two yellow cards and then you face the judiciary. We will focus more serious attention on the small group committing almost all the crimes.

National will grant the Youth Court the powers to issue new parenting orders.

Under parenting orders, parents whose children have been involved in offending, anti-social behaviour or truancy are required to attend regular counselling and guidance sessions on parenting skills in courses lasting up to three months.

3,000 parents participated in a trial of these orders in the UK. Two-thirds participated on a voluntary basis.

It is not a punishment but a positive development consistent with parental responsibility, helping parents build their skills to better deal with challenging teenage behaviour.

In fact, in the UK trial it was found that 90% of participants would recommend the programme to other parents. Meantime, re-offending by the children of parents subject to parenting orders has dropped 50% [5] .

National also thinks the Youth Court itself is too constrained in its ability to deal with young offenders involved in serious crimes.

Take the case of 12-year-old Bailey Junior Kurariki, who was dealt with by the criminal court for his part in the killing of Michael Choy at Papakura.

This boy faced criminal sanction only because our current law permits the courts to deal with murder and manslaughter charges laid against young people aged 10 and above.

If Mr Choy had not been killed – but instead left maimed, or in a permanently vegetative state – Kurariki would not have faced any criminal sanction at all.

That simply can’t be acceptable.

When our crime statistics show that the most significant increase in apprehensions for young people is in the area of crimes of violence – up nearly 20% in just four years – we have to act.

The current provisions relating to young people charged with murder and manslaughter will remain unchanged.

But National will lower the age of general criminal responsibility for young people from 14 to 12.

In taking this step, we are taking a moderate, mainstream, position in line with many other countries.

Serious crime requires serious treatment.

Of course, all of this fits together neatly with the law and order policies I unveiled at the Sensible Sentencing Trust last July.

Then I made it clear that we would abolish parole for all repeat and violent offenders so that rapists and murderers, among others, are kept behind bars for their full court-imposed sentence.

We will increase police numbers, require DNA testing for all people convicted of a crime and, as I mentioned, we will amend the Proceeds of Crime Act to target organised crime more effectively.

National makes no apologies for taking a no-nonsense approach to sentencing and parole in adulthood at the other end of the justice system.

We know that longer jail sentences don’t work in isolation – but the reality is that

62% of the inmates currently in prison for serious violence have 10 or more convictions. [6] Our communities must be protected from them.

But that becomes more difficult when even our top judge can’t seem to accept the simple truth that if repeat offenders are in jail they aren’t free to commit more crime. [7]

National believes these serial criminals must face the consequences of their repeat offending.

Let me be clear. I don’t think anyone is born bad.

But we do know the social factors frequently associated with youth offending and we know how they manifest themselves later in life.

We know how to identify patterns of bad behaviour as they form, and we have the ability to intervene and correct these behaviours before it’s too late.

What National is saying is that we are prepared to invest time and energy to turn young lives around, but where that fails we must be prepared to send the strongest possible message through the prison system and the courts.

……………………………….

Welfare reform is an important part of National’s whole-of-government approach to law and order and community responsibility.

In spite of international conditions giving us a period of quite buoyant economic activity, we still have 15% of our workforce dependent on welfare benefits of various kinds.

There are more than 300,000 working-age people dependent on welfare; sickness and invalids claims have ballooned by 40% since Labour came to office despite billions more being spent on healthcare; and welfare is now on average costing each and every worker more than $50 a week.

Yet Labour simply does not recognise the problem.

National will introduce a programme of community work for welfare, emphasising reciprocal obligations, and not endless handouts. We will audit and encourage literacy training among the unemployed. We will require parents on welfare to return to part-time work when their youngest child reaches school age. And we will make sure there is consistency in the way sickness and invalid benefits are applied.

We will expect the parents of the quarter of a million Kiwi children who grow up in households supported by a benefit to present their children for all appropriate dental and medical check-ups. And we’ll make it clear that a National Government will take action against beneficiary parents who allow their kids to remain truant from school.

These are the things that we expect of all responsible parents. We should expect nothing less from those who rely on other taxpayers for their support.

In the US, the sort of reforms National is signalling resulted in a massive shift of people from welfare to work: between 1996, when US welfare reforms were introduced, and 2002 welfare caseloads fell by an amazing 58%, while the employment rate for never-married single mothers rose from 46% to 68%.

Here in New Zealand, the next National Government will work towards reducing the number on welfare by about a third, from over 300,000 to 200,000, over ten years.

Under National there will always be a safety net for those who are physically or mentally unable to support themselves, but we have no intention of locking people who are perfectly capable of supporting themselves into long-term dependency. That is doing them no favours at all.

Fair and reasonable welfare reform simply won’t happen under Labour.

They’ve refused to discuss work testing for those on welfare; they’re tinkering with sickness and invalids’ benefits after denying there was ever any problem; and since my speech on welfare reform at Orewa in January they’ve resurrected the idea of a universal benefit, an idea which has been rejected by those who have looked at it.

It’s hard not to see these welfare announcements in the same light as last year’s empty promises over the Treaty of Waitangi and its vague ‘principles’. National predicted Helen Clark’s Royal Commission would drop off the agenda and we predicted Trevor Mallard would give Labour’s race-based policies the green light.

National will speed up and conclude the settlement process and we will remove divisive race-based clauses from legislation. We will treat all New Zealanders as equal under the law.

Labour claims it is already making the changes.

Labour claimed to have fixed the foreshore and seabed issue too, but now the claims under the new legislation are coming in. It is clear, as National warned, a whole new Treaty gravy train is pulling out of the station.

Labour has lost touch with working Kiwis.

Labour thinks the government has money to spend, rather than understanding that every dollar that it spends has come from some hard-working taxpayer.

Our tax rates are too high at all levels; our taxation of families is punitive; our tax and benefit system is destroying incentives for work and penalising those who work hard; it punishes those who save, and blocks their ability to build an ownership stake in society; and because of this our tax system is essentially unfair.

What New Zealanders will be deciding at the next election is fundamental to our future: what is fair and what is unfair, what is right and what is wrong.

I don’t believe in a culture of envy; I believe in a culture of aspiration and achievement.

A culture like that, when harnessed to shared values of compassion for those in need, and a determination to take care of the weak, the ill, and those who have simply stumbled upon bad luck, will produce a society we can all be proud of.

This is the sort of New Zealand the National Party represents and will be fighting for at the next election.

Ends

Inquiries: Richard Long (027) 285 3504

[1] From the article “Police say `try writing to your MP'”, Hawke’s Bay Today, 6 April, 2005.

[2] One of Auckland's top police officers is so fed up with his staff passing material to the media that he has sent out a special memo asking them to dob in the "traitorous actions" of their colleagues (Counties Manukau District Commander Steve Shortland, New Zealand Herald, 3 March, 2005).

"I sometimes wonder why we make it so hard for ourselves. There are internal channels available for concerns to be aired. You are strongly encouraged to use them when necessary." (Police Commissioner Rob Robinson, Ten One Magazine, 4 March, 2005)

[3] Data drawn from answers to Parliamentary Question 2623 (2005).

[4] “Achieving Effective Outcomes in Youth Justice” – p 198; Maxwell, Gabrielle et al.; Ministry of Social Development, Wellington, 2004.

[5] “National Evaluation of the Youth Justice Board’s Parenting Programme” – p47; Ghate, Deborah and Ramello, Marcello, London, 2002.

[6] PQ 8378 (2004) Minister of Corrections.

[7] "Long prison sentences are counterproductive for the eventual security of the public, measured by recidivism rates." Dame Sian Elias, New Zealand Herald, 10 February 2005.


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