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Flavell: Summary Offences (Tagging and Graffiti)

Summary Offences (Tagging and Graffiti Vandalism) Amendment Bill

Thursday 21 February, 2008; 4.40pm

Te Ururoa Flavell, Member of Parliament for Waiariki

Tena koe Mr Speaker.

In the midst of Mine Bay on Lake Taupo, Mr Speaker, there is a series of rock carvings over ten metres high, if you have ever been there, and accessible only by boat.

The carvings, created by Matahi Whakataka-Brightwell, depict Ngatoroirangi who guided Tuwharetoa and Te Arawa through to Taupo over a thousand years ago.

The carvings also include two smaller Celtic designs - one depicting the south wind and another a mermaid.

The visual representation of the knowledge and skills of tangata whenua are powerfully exhibited in these precious carvings.

Matahi has worked with our natural environment, he has left his mark, and I think we are all better for it.

So what is so different between these works of art, and the tagging, bombing and stencil art being debated in this Bill, Mr Speaker?

Is it a case of beauty is in the eye of the beholder?

Is it an issue around power and control of our environment?

Or is this Bill just about the pre-election hype designed to stamp out youth crime as spoken about by my colleagues on either side of me?

The Maori Party believes that getting tough on tagging is about all of these factors, actually, and more.

Mr Speaker, we see tagging as a form of anti-social behaviour which the bill attempts to redefine as a property crime. It is a claim to a place in society, which will become punishable as an attack on the property rights of others.

Our concern throughout has been to avoid falling into the fallacy which assumes that punishment and tougher sentences are the only answer.

We have also been alarmed at the way in which the fatal stabbing of a teenager was minimised and it has made us wonder whether in focusing on the tagging, we are actually avoiding the much bigger issue, of the culture of violence that exists right across our society.

I believe that one of the most outrageous acts of violence this year has been in the killing of a young boy who was reportedly tagging a property.

And yet so much of the talkback has suggested that perhaps killing was a little bit extreme, but beating up a kid up, putting him in hospital, would be an appropriate response.

The Prime Minister referred to this incident as an, “unfortunate outcome” of anti-tagging rage.

I doubt the family of young Pihema Cameron see this incident as an “unfortunate outcome”.

As I understand it, this young boy cared for his father, a tetraplegic, he was literally his dad’s hands and legs. His mother described him as a quiet, gentle, family-orientated boy, who liked working on cars and was one day, hoping to be a mechanic.

Now I don’t generally like to bring individuals into this House, but I have been really disturbed at the way in which the act of tagging a fence has cast this young boy and his whanau under such a dark cloud, and the personal, wider consequences of the crime that has robbed this family of their son, has been avoided.

And now we have a Bill in front of us which can issue a fine for $2000 for an offender, a fine of up to $1500 for a shopkeeper who sells a spray can, and graffiti vandalism and tagging are now summary offences worthy of conviction.

Mr Speaker, we in the Maori Party absolutely acknowledge that the defacing of any property is annoying, it is disrespectful and it can have a major effect on feelings of community safety.

Some of my own children attend Te Kura o te Koutu, for example, and it has been a frequent target for taggers. For the whanau who are so proud of what our kura looks like, the scribbled signatures have been a real höhä, he mahi whakaparanga tera.

We know too that blatant tagging and defacing of properties often serves to discourage economic investment in that community.

But we are making a huge mistake in this House if we think that simply slapping a massive fine on an offender will make the difference. Limiting the sale of spray cans to those who are eighteen years or over, to solve the problem, is simply dreaming.

We need to be brave enough to look for answers outside of a quick, politically expedient knee-jerk response which targets young people as the focus of our rage.

Mr Speaker, during the course of this ugly public debate, I received an interesting email from Pat O’Dea of Papakura.

In his opinion the hatred that is being expressed against taggers is centred on two things:

 protection of property rights (argued by those who actually have property); and secondly

 the monopoly of all means of public expression by the privileged.

Now it was a very interesting point of view which challenged politicians to examine their conscience about their need to suppress the tagger sub-culture.

He asked us all to consider – what was the message that these messy, often incomprehensible taggers were wanting to share with us.

The message, according to Mr O’Dea was, and I quote: “one of alienation, anger, boredom, societal breakdown and increasing inequality and lack of resources at the bottom of society”.

Mr Speaker, like it or not, Mr O’Dea makes a good point.

There are other individuals and groups that perceive tagging as representing significant community and political commentary.

Members of the Wellington Architecture Centre, for example, contend that graffiti contributes to the city's urban life, and to its branding as the "creative capital".

They will take you down to “graffiti alley", a small lane I understand between Ghuznee Street and Cuba Street's Left Bank, and point out the cut-out, stencil and graffiti art as being an outlet for creativity.

The difference, however, between ‘art’ for arts sake, and tagging or defacing of property, is very clearly understood.

The distinguishing features of responsible art, according to this group, has to do with three things - permission, intelligence and respect.

Permission to work on a space, rather than marking out a wall as your territory, staking your claim to that site.

Intelligence – in terms of having something useful to say.

Respect – in acknowledging that tagging can make people feel that they have no sense of belonging to the physical environment – and acting in a way which recognises that.

Mr Speaker, harsher laws, greater emphasis on enforcement, community condemnation, will do nothing to address the issues Pat O’Dea brings to our attention.

In fact, there is a real likelihood it could make the situation worse.

This Bill is but symptomatic of our general attitude towards young people.

Mr Speaker, we have sat in this House, and listened to endless kauhau on the evils of text bullying, youth crime, youth gangs, boy racers, youth drinking, and even a debate about whether young people should be allowed to vote.

The debate has become even more emotive, even more intense, because it is taking place in election year.

Victoria University researcher, Fiona Beals, has suggested that we shouldn’t be at all surprised that youth crime debates have already surfaced. Her research revealed that young people are negatively stereotyped in youth crime debates each election year.

Her research has questioned the way in which politicians, the media, academics have stigmatised certain groups of young people – particularly a young and poor ethnic minority.

She suggests we should be finding a less stereotypical way to talk about youth crime, and challenging the psychology around the placement of ‘youth crime’ as the trump card in election year.

So, Mr Speaker, what are some solutions that we could be exploring?

The restorative justice model would encourage us to work alongside our young people, providing other ways and means for them to express their social and political views.

DJ Poroufessor, Hone Ngata, from Te Oho Ake Youth Team working with Raukura Hauora o Tainui, works with tagging and taggers around seeing the ‘problem’ as the cure.

Hone is currently working in South Auckland, lending his skills and expertise as a carver, a visual artist, a graffiti artist, to support young people in their quest for identity. Part of this approach may see businesses and property owners even asking young people to paint a wall, to enable an alternative message to be viewed.

Other projects could be more preventive focused – anti-graffiti coatings, sensor lighting, and even the provision of designated spaces for young people to express their messages.

Mr Speaker, while we do not condone the defacing of property, we cannot support this Bill in that it is so narrow in its scope and application, and we believe that it is unlikely to address the real problem beyond the writing on the wall.

Kia ora tatou.


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