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Heather Roy's Diary

Heather Roy's Diary

Less Government is good government

My youngest brother, an astute judge of character from an early age, won the position of class captain aged 7 by promising everyone in the class an important position and naming all his supporters Minister of something. I was reminded of this long forgotten achievement when Helen Clark announced the Ministerial positions in her minority government this week. Support of all sorts has been rewarded with 'jobs'. Over half of her caucus has been given ministerial positions, 21 in cabinet and 8 outside of cabinet. In all there are 29 ministers, including Winston Peters and Peter Dunne. Having a Minister of Foreign Affairs and Minister of Revenue sitting outside cabinet as these two are is a new approach and the collective responsibility that accompanies traditionally important positions such as these is left in some doubt. According to the Prime Minister they will be collectively responsible for their own portfolios but free to criticise the government in other areas - a Clayton's collective responsibility by any other name it would seem.

The burgeoning executive, larger than ever before, has brought with it problems of a very practical nature. Accommodation is now at a premium in the parliamentary complex. The Beehive houses most of the executive with other MPs in Parliament Buildings and Bowen House, situated across the road from the main buildings in Lambton Quay. Each Minister attracts a staff of 6 per portfolio so with more Ministers comes more staff. Parliamentary Service - responsible for finding a home for everyone - is having great difficulty squeezing everyone into the now limited space. No one has asked what this is costing the taxpayer - yet. For our part the ACT team of two MPs and four staff is moving to temporary accommodation while parliamentary staff are moved from the offices we will occupy and they are reconfigured.

Suggestions for the new Police Minister

Most Ministers have said very little about their new portfolios. Annette King - previously Minister of Health - has picked up Police and was interviewed about her new role. She said it was going to be a challenge to find the extra 1,000 police Labour has agreed to as part of its supply and confidence agreement with New Zealand First. Ms King said in her radio interview that any suggestions would be welcome - so I have made several suggestions for the Minister to consider.

It will be some time until the 1,000 new officers can be recruited and trained but some creative thinking and looking to programmes that already exist could provide quick results. For example, special constables can be appointed under Section 192 of the Summary Proceedings Act, 1957. According to 'Laws of New Zealand' special constables can be "appointed to preserve the public peace and to protect the inhabitants and the security of the property in that place. In carrying out these duties they have the powers, authorities, immunities, duties, and responsibilities of a constable". Special constables may be paid for the work they do and they could be used to fill the critical gaps in our police force now.

Maori wardens also do valuable work and could have their roles extended to assist in the maintenance of law and order. The position of Maori warden is governed by the Maori Trustee and the Maori Community Development Act 1962. Appointments are for a period of three years and are specific to the district in which the warden resides. Although the Act was passed in 1962 the initiatives are not new but have evolved since the late 19th Century to give Maori a degree of self-management in their own affairs. Maori wardens work in close association with the Maori committees and with the police in their areas. Their role is to promote respect amongst Maori people for the standards of the community and to take appropriate steps to prevent any threatened breach of law and order.

The potential role of special constables and Maori wardens should not be underestimated. It is important that police be perceived as being a part of the community and not external to it. Sir Robert Peel who started modern policing in the English speaking world and on which our police are modelled had the following to say approximately 200 years ago: -

"Police, at all times, should maintain a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and the public are the police, the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence".

The new Minister of Police could also look to some of the excellent international examples. In Tasmania, experienced police officers can be retained in the service part-time - a far better solution than losing them altogether. This policy helps both the police organisation, and the people they protect.

The Chicago Alternative Policing Strategy (CAPS) program, running since 1992, places heavy emphasis on community-based policing. By making officers familiar to their communities, CAPS is helping to both prevent and solve crime. There has been talk for a long time about increasing community policing initiatives and the numbers working in the community in New Zealand. Greater use of special constables and Maori wardens would be a good start.

"Ultimately, individuals should be responsible for taking care of themselves and their neighbours. Government can play a role in empowering communities to take responsibility, and until it does, no increase in the number of police will be enough.

Given that the Minister was asking for constructive suggestions, I hope she will consider these in the spirit in which they are intended.


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