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Dr Pita Sharples Policing Bill Speech

Policing Bill Speech

Tuesday 19 February 2008; 9.30pm

Dr Pita Sharples , Co-leader of the Maori Party

Tena koe Mr Speaker.

The question of public confidence in the Police has been uppermost in the minds of many New Zealanders for many years now. The group of New Zealanders for whom confidence in the Police has been most tenuous, would have to be tangata whenua.

The tension evident in the relationship between tangata whenua and Police came sharply into focus one Monday last October, when the police embarked on Operation Eight in Ruatoki.

Police raids were conducted at dawn using warrants issued under the Arms Act and the Summary Offences Act, accompanied by threats of invoking the Terrorism Suppression Act. A cordon was established on the confiscation lines at Ruatoki. Over sixty houses were raided in Ruatoki, Whakatane, Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch, Palmerston North and elsewhere. And the rest is history.

Subsequent to that day, the Solicitor-General referred the Terrorism Suppression Act to the Law Commission for review. Suppressed evidence was flashed across Fairfax media outlets, and before long the Solicitor-General determined that Fairfax should be prosecuted for contempt of court for its publication.

Alongside these actions, a raft of complaints was being filed with Courts, the Human Rights Commission and the Police Complaints Authority.

Internationally, the United Nations bodies on Human and Indigenous Rights, and on Countering Terrorism have also engaged in dialogue with the Government about the perceived heavy handed police tactics.

Everywhere we turn it is apparent that the opportunity to debate the appropriate framework for exercise of policing powers has never been more timely.

Absolutely central to this new Bill, is the vital issue of meaning – the functions for the governance and administration of the New Zealand Police. What should our police force do – and more to the point, what are the key values that should underpin their role?

In the 2002 Review of the New Zealand Police undertaken by Te Puni Kokiri, former Commissioner of Police Rob Robinson reported that previous research about the perceptions that New Zealand Police and Maori had of each other made for grim reading. He described Maori trust and confidence in the Police as low.

The challenge six years on, therefore, is to consider whether this new Bill will do much to restore confidence.

We are pleased to see one of the key recommendations from Dame Margaret Bazley’s Report of the Commission of Inquiry into Police Conduct given life in this Bill.

The Bill clarifies governance and accountability arrangements, including specifying a description of the roles of Commissioner and Deputy Commissioners of Police. Within this it explicitly states that the Commissioner will be responsible to the Minister for the general conduct of the Police.

It was the firm belief of Dame Margaret that introducing a code of conduct for sworn police officers would bring the police into line with other state sector employees.

A code of conduct should be the basis for identifying and addressing behaviour that does not meet expected standards. And as this House is more than aware of, there is a host of evidence out there in the public arena about Police behaviour that doesn’t meet any standards of acceptability.

The Maori Party is proud to stand by policies and practices which derive from kaupapa tuku iho, values that provide for the well-being of all. These are values and principles which guide our behaviour and instruct us in the way in which we carry ourselves in all aspects of our lives.

As an example of such values, we stand by the pursuit of manaakitanga towards others. It is our practice and our principle that we take care not to trample the mana of others, while clearly defining our own. It was because of these beliefs that we joined with Act, United Future and the Greens to call for a Code of Conduct for all Members of Parliament.

It was to our utter amazement that the other parties could not see any value in setting desirable codes of conduct for MPs, and it does of course raise the issue for this House about transparency, accountability and consistency.

For how can any party not support a Code of Conduct for themselves, then expect any government department or agency to take it up?

A case of do as I say, not as I do?

We welcome the move towards an environment in which a code of conduct has meaning, and we also welcome the opportunity for the other 59 recommendations from the Bazley report to be debated in relation to this Bill. Although many of the recommendations signal changes at the operational level, it would appear to us, that if this is a once in a fifty year review of the Police Act, it would be sensible for everything to be dealt with at once.

It is very pleasing to see up front in the Bill that effective policing relies on a wide measure of public support and confidence.

Pleasing and absolutely vital.

As an example as to how this principle could work in action, we only need to think about the recent public policy fiasco around the police preoccupation with introducing the taser.

The Maori Party raised our concerns about the proposed introduction of the lethal taser weapon in an formal complaint to the Human Rights Commission. It was our view that decisions on weapon use need to benefit from public input – input which the Police have relentlessly avoided.

The business case for trialling the laser was developed in 2005, and made publicly available in late 2006, as a result of an Official Information Act request. In that business case, the Police suggested there were no particular implication for Maori and Pasifika peoples, and that consultation had been restricted to specific sections in the Police bureaucracy.

Looking a bit further at this issue then, the statistical data now available from the taser trial of last year indicates that 56% of taser subjects were either Maori or Pasifika peoples. When we took these issues up in mediation with the Police, Super-intendent John Rivers’ explanation for the disproportionately high numbers was, and I quote:

“Maori and Pacific people have a greater propensity to commit violent crimes”.

This remarkable statement was then followed by his observation: that “there is no racism in policing”. Clearly it was the view of this Police official that Maori and Pasifika peoples just have an inclination, a tendency towards crime – a view that it would be useful to have tested with the Police’s own iwi liaison officers or ‘Responsiveness to Maori’ officials.

These types of statements must form a basis for consultation with the wider public. This whole issue of how consultation is undertaken and whether priority is given towards achieving wider support and confidence must be a key focus of inquiry in the select committee process.

In the case of the taser trial, we argued vehemently that public consultation should have occurred prior to the trial given that policing is done, in part, to ensure public safety. It would seem important, therefore, that the public should have a say to ensure that policing should be publicly accountable. We are very pleased to see that it now seems to be a call supported by the principle in the Bill that effective policing relies on a wide measure of public support and confidence.

In the case of the so-called terror raids we argued that the network of iwi liaison officers, the Maori Advisory Committees with representatives from local Maori communities, and the Maori Focus Forum should have been called on to both work with the Maori communities involved, but also to be expert advisors to the Police senior management.

Whether the issue be tasers or raids on communities - the relationship between the Police Commissioner and the Minister is a critical one, and particularly the question of who sets policy directions for policing - a publicly elected government, or appointed bureaucrats? While the Bill spells out the role of the Commissioner of Police, it fails to specify the responsibilities of the Minister. We will be very interested in select committee feedback on this point.

Finally, in the interests of the first principle of this Bill, - that principled, effective and efficient policing services are a cornerstone of a free and democratic society under the rule of law – we will be very interested as the Bill proceeds through to select committee to hear the results from what the explanatory note of the Bill describes as a “robust consultation process”.

As the party stands on our commitment to present a strong and proud Maori voice in Parliament, we will also be very interested in hearing particularly about how whanau, hapu and iwi have been consulted around the public policing service.

The Maori Party will therefore support the Bill at this stage.


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