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Heather Roy's Diary - 18 August 2006

Heather Roy's Diary

Back to the future for sentencing and parole

Labour used recess week - typically a quiet news week - to announce its revised sentencing and parole policies. I say revised because there is nothing new, instead this is a leap back to before 2002, when Labour passed its new Sentencing and Parole Acts.

Helen Clark's polling obviously shows that the public is fed up with high levels of crime and what is happening in our prisons, so changes have been made. Not content to leave announcements to Corrections Minister Damien O'Connor or Justice Minister Mark Burton, the Prime Minister herself called a press conference and made the announcement - supposedly to show just how seriously she is taking public concern.

Helen Clark began her speech by saying that crime rates are dropping. What she didn't say is that rates of violent crime have escalated, and although reports of less serious crime such as burglary have dropped, no one really believes this is a true indication, or that things are getting better. Many people see little point in reporting crime to police, as they believe it will never be followed up, let alone result in any real punishment for criminals. The only reason many bother at all is because they want to make an insurance claim.

Several people have commented to me that Tuesday's announcement was an introduction of ACT's long-espoused "truth in sentencing" policy. Indeed, Helen Clark has obviously been so impressed with ACT's slogan that she has taken it as her own - something that hasn't escaped the media. The problem is her definition of "truth in sentencing". ACT always believed it meant criminals serving their full sentence - that "life means life", and a sentence of nine months means spending nine months behind bars. Helen Clark's "truth in sentencing" means convicted criminals will serve a minimum of just two-thirds of their sentence. She has taken a popular phrase and twisted it to try and cover up the fact that Judges will be expected to reduce the sentences they hand down by around 25%.

The proposed changes to parole are in fact an admission that parole is a failed experiment. We are now paying the price of a culture that penalises the innocent and forgives the criminal, with 37% of offenders released from prison re-offending within six months, 58% within a year, and 73% within two years. It is no surprise that Labour is backing away from its own disastrous Sentencing and Parole Acts, but it is a disgrace that Labour's announcement also indicates shorter sentences and more criminals remaining at large in our communities.

Also announced were changes to home detention, which will become a sentence in its own right. Rather than having to serve at least part of their sentence behind bars, many criminals will merely be sent home with an ankle bracelet. This new emphasis on home detention is more about excusing their failure to cut the number of serious offenders than doing the right thing for communities. Home detention is a viable option for blue collar criminals, but the most effective punishment for white collar crime is prison - because it is prison that these people fear most, and which serves as the best deterrent for offending and re- offending.

Government's first duty is to keep citizens safe. When the government cedes control then the power vacuum will be filled by thugs.

I have a Bill ready to go before Parliament that would introduce real "truth in sentencing". My Bill limits the possibility of parole to the last 60 days, meaning that more criminals will pay the full price of their crime by serving their full time.

The answers to New Zealand's crime wave are proper resourcing for the police and truth in sentencing - real truth in sentencing - not Helen Clark's namby-pamby version. Parole and profit for criminals must not be an option. Phil Goff talked about getting "tough on crime, and tough on the causes of crime" in 2002, but that promise is obviously still some time off.

The link to Helen Clark's speech ishttp://www.beehive.govt.nz/ ViewDocument.aspx?DocumentID=26773

Kiwis Left Behind As Australian Army Expands

An article in The Australian newspaper this week reported that Australia may be considering increasing the size of the Australian Army by 20%, from 25,000 to 30,000 soldiers, over the next decade. This is in stark contrast to New Zealand's inability to play a meaningful peacekeeping role in Lebanon. An increase of 5,000 Australian soldiers represents almost the entire full time New Zealand Army. New Zealand's regular and territorial forces are at critically low levels.

Kiwi troops are already heavily committed in East Timor and the Solomons, and while we maintain a presence there, helping to keep the peace in other parts of the world is impossible.

Helen Clark has famously stated that we live in an incredibly benign strategic environment, but it's time she pulled her head out of the sand and accepted - like John Howard has - that we live in an unstable region. If New Zealand is to continue playing an active role in peacekeeping, we need the recruits and resources for deployments.

Our part-time Territorial Forces are significantly under strength. We have a Territorial Army of 1,912 (including yours truly), a Naval Reserve of 291 and a Territorial Air Force that numbers just 25. These services need to be built up and used as a retention pool.

While New Zealand's Army will never be as large as Australia's, we must maintain the ability to pull our weight alongside our neighbours, in both peace and war. We need more people making the choice to serve our country - and that means better recognition, remuneration and respect. New Zealand, like Australia, should consider more innovative recruiting practices - including the simplification of process and incentives. We rarely give our defence forces the credit that they deserve, although they are enormously well respected around the world.

ENDS

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