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Heather Roy's Diary - February 3 2006

Heather Roy's Diary - February 3 2006

Following the election in September I have taken on a new area of responsibility which relates directly to the safety and security of kiwis - the portfolio of National Security.

A strange portfolio for a "girl" you may well be thinking but one of great importance. It encompasses a wide range of areas - defence, immigration, customs, law and order, police, corrections as well as the emergency services. Unfortunately these are often approached in isolation.

During my holiday break I spent a lot of time with the emergency services including visits to the Coastguard, the Rescue Helicopter Service in Auckland, a night with the St John's ambulance service, a night with the Wellington Police and a day with the Porirua Police.

At a time when our emergency services are taking a lot of criticism over the Iraena Asher 111 call, I can tell you about my experiences. During my time with the police two issues stood out. The first was the inadequacy of the law dealing with juveniles (under 17 year olds) and the second was the enormous amount of time spent intervening in domestic violence and other domestic issues.

Juvenile offending has become a serious and escalating problem. I was surprised by the extent of the legal constraints on the police. One incident we were called to was to deal with a fifteen year old who was attacking passers-by at random on a city street. Needless to say, he had not attacked anyone who was likely to dispense some instant justice.

He had been drinking heavily. On arrival the police were powerless to act despite three assaults with many witnesses. The youth was eventually detained in police cells but this was only permissible because he had breached bail conditions from an earlier offence. He had a string of charges for offences ranging from assaults to burglaries but because he was under 17 he had no criminal convictions. Young criminals are aware of the powerlessness of the police and they know their rights.

Even those over 17 know how powerless the system actually is. One 20 year old gang associate boasted to police that he had just had $29,000 in fines wiped by the Courts. He was particularly pleased with himself because he had managed to escape periodic detention and community service as well. His confidence in the inability of the establishment to conquer his illegal behaviour was frankly sad. In front of his gang family he was 'the man' and his lesson from that experience was that crime pays.

The legal protection given to juvenile offenders is definitely excessive and it is evident that legislation needs to be changed. The only people who can change the legislation are the legislators - my fellow MPs and me.

However the agenda of the present administration has become increasingly concerned with the private behaviour of individuals when that behaviour would be best left to the individual concerned. For example over the summer break the Food Safety Authority (FSANZ) put forward a proposal that will prevent apple producers from advertising some apples as healthy because they contain too much sugar. This is a clumsy attempt to fight obesity but to suggest that apples are bad for you sends a bizarre signal.

Given health experts have for decades been trying to get across the message that a healthy diet should be based on fruit and vegetables this scenario is quite clearly ludicrous. Dietary advice is not the role of government and should be left to the experts.

At the same time as the government develops interests in our private behaviour it seems to have turned its back on its key role which is the protection of its citizen's safety.

After all, adult New Zealanders can reasonably be expected to face the consequences of their own actions but many of us are unable to take action to protect ourselves from others. Even a 15 year old thug is going to be too much for many people. But the fact remains that a legal vacuum has been created leaving the police in the difficult position of having responsibility but no legal power to act in the majority of cases.

I accept the general argument that juveniles should be considered less responsible for their actions than adults but we do not do young offenders a favour if we give them the impression that they will never face any consequences for their actions. Despite a long period of lenient sentencing our prison population is currently rising at 15% per year and prisons cannot be built fast enough to cope. There is much work to be done if these serious problems are to be tackled.

Forward thinking

Yesterday we marked the start of the 2006 political year for ACT with a luncheon at the Crowne Plaza in Auckland for Party Members. The theme was 'looking forward' - not just to tomorrow but a decade or more ahead. Rodney Hide and I both delivered speeches. To read my speech go to http://www.act.org.nz/news-article.aspx?id=27505 and for Rodney go to http://www.act.org.nz/news-article.aspx?id=27507.


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