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Harawira: Tagging and Graffiti Vandalism Bill

Summary Offences (Tagging and Graffiti Vandalism) Amendment Bill

Hone Harawira, MP for Te Tai Tokerau

Tuesday 20 May 2008

Madam Speaker, I don’t mind saying right up front that I ain’t a fan of tagging. Not today, not yesterday, and not tomorrow.

Tagging is ugly, it’s offensive, it makes your town look like shit, and people don’t want to stop there because they see the existence of tagging as a clear mark of the existence of crime. I don’t mind some of that cool looking stuff, like they did for Sir Edmund Hillary, but I don’t like tagging.

Up my way, some places really attract the taggers, like the skateboard bowl in Kaitaia and some of the parks in Whangarei, and some of the taggers come back again and again and again, but there are also a number of local initiatives to get rid of tagging, and keep our towns looking clean. Most of those schemes involve the police, local businesses, probation, corrections, local councils, and youth groups working together to keep our walls free of the filthy scribble.

And I know that Tai Tokerau is pretty much the same as everywhere else in the country as far as tagging goes, although the Maori Party Member of the House of Tai Tonga, Mr Monte Ohia, tells me they’ve got a pretty good initiative run by the Kahurangi Trust to keep Nelson tag-free and litter-free, by helping the taggers move on from their nasty ways.

Tagging is the reaction of the poor to alienation, anger, boredom, frustration, and low self-esteem. You reduce tagging by reducing the factors that lead to it – poverty, poverty, and poverty.

But what have we got – a Bill to fine kids up to $2,000, and to fine people $1,500 for selling spraycans to under-18s.

How progressive is that folks? How intelligent is that? How innovative is that?

And guess what? The Select Committee wanted to take it even further, to make the penalties even tougher; but I repeat, if the jails are already full before you finish building them, where do you put the taggers … ?

But you got to ask yourself the question – does getting tough really work? I mean does it really?

Last night I saw a programme on drugs in New Zealand, and if I learned one thing from it, it’s that trying to bash something out of existence just don’t work. And it’s the same all over the world.

Look at the mess George W Bush has gotten the whole world into with his “make my day” brand of gunboat diplomacy. Is Afghanistan a better place for the presence of the Yankee War Machine? Is Iraq? If the US invades Iran, will that solve anything? Will that stop people hating the US? Of course it won’t.

We in the Maori Party favour the Barack Obama approach - of negotiation, building relationships, and dealing with reality rather than dealing out of fear, because we know that punishment and tougher sentences simply don’t work.

Take this government’s current prison construction programme. They’ve been building prisons all over the place, and yet we already know from projections, that by the time the last one is built, every bed in it will be filled.

So what happens with the next prisoner? And the next prisoner? And the next prisoner? Why, you build another prison of course, to keep them in.

And that’s the lunacy of tougher sentencing – it’s a pathway to nowhere.

Where are the programmes to change behaviour to reduce crime?

Where are the programmes to reduce the causes of crime?

Nowhere. And why?

Because this government is committed to the knee-jerk policymaking that is taking us all to hell in a hand-basket.

We need to stop thinking that stiffer penalties, jail for twelve-year olds, more prisons and more police powers to chase kids who ‘might be graffiti artists’, will actually succeed, when all the evidence tells us that it won’t.

I mean look at that dickhead of a judge who sent that kid to jail for tagging, because he said it was culturally offensive.

Culturally offensive! Is that part of the law now is it?

Because it sure wasn’t when a bunch of us from Ponsonby and Otara went up the Auckland University and gave those racist fools from the Engineering Society a bit of a tune-up for offending Maori and Pacific Island culture for decades.

Hell, it was us that nearly got sent to jail, when it should have been those boorish drunken cowards from the mean streets of Remuera.

Culturally offensive … what a bloody joke.

And that’s where this whole thing has gone haywire, because here we are, about to criminalise taggers for environmental pollution, while allowing the real polluters of society, to bypass paying the cost of their carbon emissions.

How come we let big industry, in the form of the agricultural and transport sectors get away with not paying for the costs of their pollution, but we’ll slap our kids down, without even blinking?

How come the kids have to pay, but big business doesn’t?

How come the Tagging Bill gets shunted up to Number 1 on the Order Paper, while the Bill to disestablish the Serious Fraud Office gets dropped down to Number 3, and the climate change carbon killers get another 5 years holiday?

Yes – tagging is ugly, it’s offensive, and it’s soul-destroying. But with a bit of paint and a bit of effort, you can clean it up.

But backsliding on our commitment to climate change like Labour is doing by giving the big polluters a longer holiday, or like National wants to do by getting Australia to take the lead, can’t be just brushed over.

If we get climate change wrong, there will be no tomorrow. We won’t get a chance to paint over the problem, because we’ll be toast.

This Bill is an over-reaction to a minor problem in our society. It’s punitive. It’s pointless. It’s unproductive, and it represents a paucity of intelligent thought.

This Bill lacks vision. It lacks courage. It lacks consideration for the consequences of the penalties. It lacks any sense of hope. It lacks wisdom, and the Maori Party will not be supporting it.


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