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John Key: Speech To Sensible Sentencing Conference

John Key MP

Leader of the National Party   


19 April 2008


Speech to the Sensible Sentencing Trust’s

Victims Conference



Thank you for inviting me to address you this morning.


I’d like to start by congratulating the Sensible Sentencing Trust and your members for the work you do.  Your advocacy for victims of crime and your fostering of awareness of the issues they face makes an important contribution to public debate and policy in this country. 

The sad reality is that you are advocating for a bigger number of people than ever before.  Soaring crime rates in New Zealand, whether in violent crime, in youth crime, or in domestic violence, are creating more and more victims. 

Labour’s record in this regard is nothing to be proud of. The fact is that in 2007 there were 17,000 more violent offences than there were in 1999.

There’s now:

A violent crime every nine-and-a-half minutes.
A sexual attack every three-and-a-half hours.
A robbery every three-and-a-half hours.

That is not acceptable.  We can – we must – do better at reducing crime in this country and keeping Kiwis safer.  We must prevent the creation of ever more victims.

Improving New Zealanders’ security is central to my vision for New Zealand. All of our law and order policies will work together to achieve that goal. 

You should be in no doubt as to where I stand on these issues: Where there is a balancing of rights to be done between criminals and victims, I will take a side.  That side will be the side of the victim. And where New Zealanders do become victims of crime, National will give them the support and respect they deserve.

The Sensible Sentencing Trust has worked to expose the lack of support and the lack of respect shown to victims by New Zealand’s current justice system.

Like you, National believes that victims of crime have been neglected for too long:

Victims have been promised better compensation for more than a decade by Labour, but nothing has been delivered.
Victims have had to endure the re-living of traumatic events because follow-up services have let them down.  Labour has talked about change but they haven’t delivered.
Victims have called for tougher sentencing of criminals, Labour has talked the talk, but again, they haven’t delivered.

It’s time for policies that will truly deliver for victims.  That’s what National will do.

A few weeks ago I was proud to announce National’s victims policy, which takes on board many of the concerns that have been expressed by the Sensible Sentencing Trust. Let me outline it for you. 

First, National will establish a Victim Compensation Scheme which will be funded by a levy on all offenders at sentencing.  We envisage this levy being $50. This scheme will help victims of serious crimes with one-off expenses not covered by ACC or other state help, such as travel to court and additional counselling.

It will also be supplemented by any unclaimed cash in the Victims Claims Trust Account. That account was meant to ensure that any compensation payments made to prisoners ended up in the hands of victims.  But the reality is that this hasn’t always happened. Under Labour, criminal offenders continue to benefit from compensation payouts because of the understandable reluctance of victims to make claims. 

National will ensure that any money remaining in the Victims Claims Trust Account goes back to victims by putting it into our Victim Compensation Scheme.

Secondly, we will establish a Victims Service Centre within the Ministry of Justice.  This will co-ordinate all agencies that interact with victims and will support the great work done by Victim Support. This one-stop service centre will also provide victims with an initial point of contact, and will have responsibility for overseeing and allocating funds from the Victim Compensation Scheme.

Thirdly, we will upgrade the Victim Notification Register to allow victims to be on an ‘active’ register, which will notify them of developments relating to their case.  Alternatively, if they don’t want to be involved any further, they will be able to be placed on a ‘silent’ register, which will be overseen to
Finally, National will review the Victims’ Rights Act 2002 to ensure victims’ rights are recognised across the justice system. We envisage that this review will result in concrete amendments to the Act and will enhance victims’ rights and access to support services. 

This could include, for example, strengthening the ability to make a victim impact statement without censorship, as happened when the son of murdered Tokoroa school teacher Lois Dear was asked to ‘tone down’ the victim impact statement he wanted to read in court because it included comments about the offender and the justice system.

The aim of all of these policies – the Victims Compensation Scheme, the Victims Service Centre, the Victim Notification Register, and the review of the Victims’ Rights Act – is to better support victims.

These initiatives form a very important part of National’s law and order policy.  But they are only one part.

Ultimately, our law and order policies are aimed at ensuring there are fewer victims of crime in New Zealand. The sad truth is that for the past eight-and-a-half years, violent crime has been allowed to soar in this country, creating far too many victims. 

Victims like Karl Kuchenbecker, father of two, who, while out on his quad bike, was shot and killed by Graeme Burton while he was out on parole.

Victims like Lois Dear, who was murdered while working in the classroom she had taught in for decades.

Victims like the dairy worker stabbed to death in South Auckland in January, and victims like the tourists attacked in a mall in Christchurch just this week.

National sympathises with the victims of these crimes, their families, and their communities. But more important than offering our sympathy, we are prepared to take serious action to prevent the escalation of the crime spiral. 

National has already released significant parts of the law and order policy we will take to this year’s election. 

My Justice and Corrections spokesman, Simon Power, has put extensive work into developing these policies.  He has consulted widely with sector groups, with experts, and with everyday New Zealanders. 

In addition to our victims policy, there are four key areas where National has announced law and order policy so far: youth justice, bail laws, police tools, and gang control. 

Let me go over these today.

At the start of the year, in my State of the Nation speech, I highlighted the growing problem of youth crime.  This is a serious law and order issue in New Zealand and the Labour Government has given up on tackling it. 

Violent youth crime is at an all-time high. Robbery by youth is up.  Grievous assaults by youth are up.  Aggravated robbery is up.  Young criminals are graduating from petty crime to more serious crime – unexploded time-bombs on a fast-track to Paremoremo.

Rather than being the hope for a better future, these young people represent our future fears.  Left unchecked, they will create the crime victims of tomorrow.

So National has a serious plan for dealing with young criminals.

On the one hand it’s about education.  We will require all those under 18 years of age who aren’t working, to participate in some form of education – be it at school, or learning a trade, or studying at a polytechnic or wananga. 

We will fully fund under-18-year-olds to take part in that education – but it comes with a catch. If they fail to take up their entitlement they will not be eligible to receive government income support.

On the other hand, our policy is about cracking down on those kids who already pose a serious threat to the security of our communities.

As many of you already know, under Labour, 12- and 13-year-olds accused of high-order crimes, such as aggravated robbery and home invasion, can be dealt with only by the Family Court. 

National will fix that by extending the jurisdiction of the Youth Court so it has the power to deal with 12- and 13-year-olds accused of serious offences.  We think that the Youth Court, with its much wider range of powers, could play a much stronger role in getting these young offenders back on track.

We’re also going to give the Youth Court three new powers for following up on young offenders once they walk out of the courtroom doors:

We will give the court the power to issue parenting orders, requiring the parents of young offenders to address problems at home that may be contributing to their child’s offending.
We will give it the power to refer young offenders to mentoring programmes that can give the extra push to get young people back on track.
We will give it the power to refer young offenders to compulsory drug or alcohol rehabilitation programmes.

We’re also going to get serious about dealing with the really hard-nut young offenders. 

As a priority, we will double the possible length of residential sentences for youth offenders.

We will also introduce a new ‘Spotlight Sentence’ to follow up on young offenders when they are released from their custodial sentences.  This sentence will require them to comply with a court-ordered contract.  This contract will set out the court’s expectations of the offender, including, for example, curfews, an end to gang involvement, regular school attendance, and compliance with drug treatment programmes.

Where young offenders don’t comply with their ‘Spotlight Sentence’ they will be subject to electronic monitoring using an ankle bracelet.

Finally, National will fund a new range of revolutionary ‘Fresh Start Programmes’. These will be designed to give young offenders what they need to make a fresh start – structure, routine, clear boundaries, intensive support, and a sense of self-discipline and personal responsibility.

The programmes will last up to one year and will include up to three months of residential training at, for example, army facilities.  The New Zealand Army may work with others to provide these programmes.  It has a long and successful history of instilling values and discipline into young men and women.   

National’s ‘Fresh Start Programmes’ will take a modern approach and tackle the underlying causes of criminal offending.   We will take this fresh approach because the current system just isn’t working.  Today’s young offenders are ticking time-bombs that we must defuse as soon as we can. 

All these tough new youth justice measures will carry a considerable financial cost, but it will be money well spent.   Without doubt, the financial cost of getting serious about youth justice is far less than the social and economic cost borne by the community when young offenders are allowed to continue offending without sanction.

But youth justice is only one part of the law and order system.  National plans to tidy up other parts of that system as well.

We plan to repeal Labour’s dangerous amendments to the bail laws.  Even before last year’s amendments, Labour had overseen a 150% rise in the number of defendants failing to report for bail. 

The new law has made things even worse.  Just think of some recent examples:

The granting of bail to murder accused Chris Kahui, even though he had previously breached his bail conditions three times.
The awarding of bail last December to a 16-year-old who was released to his mother’s Matamata home while awaiting sentencing for aggravated robbery.  When police did a bail check on a Saturday night he wasn’t there.  He allegedly raped a 15-year-old girl that night and was bailed again.

These cases are horrific.  They tell a sad story of preventable victimisation that has to stop. Labour indicated that their 2007 Bail Act changes were aimed primarily at reducing the prison population. We think they’ve got their priorities wrong. We will prioritise public safety, and have already tabled a Member’s bill that would repeal those changes.

Our law and order policies will also properly equip the police with the tools and powers they need to protect the public.

No one would expect a mechanic to fix a 2008 model car with a set of tools from the 70s.  Neither should the government expect our modern police officers to fight 21st-century crime with outdated equipment, laws, and powers.

So, National will:

Introduce Tasers, subject to a positive evaluation of the trial.
Require DNA samples to be taken from all those arrested for offences punishable by imprisonment.
Give police the ability to issue time-bound on-the-spot protection orders, to better protect women from domestic violence.

We will also give police better tools for fighting the scourge of the criminal gangs.

We will strengthen the provisions in the law that make it illegal to be a member of a criminal organisation.
We will amend the Crimes Act to make it easier for police to conduct surveillance on gang communications.
We will change the Local Government Act to give police increased powers to remove and storm gang fortifications, and …
We will amend the Sentencing Act to make gang membership an aggravating factor
In short, we will search out all legal and practical means available to make it much, much harder to be a member of a criminal gang.

I’m confident that all these policies – enhanced rights and support for victims, a drastically improved youth justice system, stricter bail laws, new powers and equipment for police, and a clamp-down on gangs – will make a huge difference to the lives of everyday New Zealanders.  National is eager to have the opportunity to put these policies into action. 

In the coming months, in the lead-up to this year’s general election, I will announce further law and order policies designed to reduce crime in this country. 

These will include new sentencing policies for the worst offenders, new policies for rehabilitating offenders, and new policies for improving the management of our courts and prisons.

All will demonstrate National’s dedication to making Kiwis feel safer in their homes, streets, and neighbourhoods.


Before I leave you to enjoy the rest of your conference, I want to say just one more thing: Over the next few months I’m sure you’ll hear all kinds of promises about what the Labour Government plans to do to make our country safer.  And some of them may well be good ideas. 


But when you hear those ideas you should always ask yourselves this:  why has it taken until now – election year – for them to act?

The truth is that, after an initial flourish, Labour took its foot off the pedal when it came to improving victims’ rights and public safety.  Only a National Government can be trusted to give those things the priority they deserve.

I wish you luck for the rest of your conference and I look forward to working alongside you in the future.




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