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Flavell: Urgent Debate - Death of Debbie Ashton

Urgent Debate: 22 July 2008
Te Ururoa Flavell: MP for Waiariki
Ministerial Inquiry into the death of Debbie Ashton

Kia ora tatou.

Me tuku mihi ki te whanau i a ratou e tangi nei ki ta ratou kotiro. Ka nui te aroha kia a koutou kua rongo nei i te mamae i nga tau kua hipa.

A note of sadness to the family in their sympathy, and we pay our respects to the family in their mourning.

We in the Maori Party, rise to offer our sincere sympathies to the whanau of Debbie Marie Ashton, who tragically lost her life on 5 December 2006.

Can I say that these debates are the times to challenge and confront the law-makers and law-breakers, that enabled a 26 year old male, drunk, dis-qualified driver, to deprive this young woman of the life that she had before her.

But we want to also think about the family who have been denied a daughter, a sister, the grand-children that should have been, and the mother that could have been.

I want to share some words I read today, from Judy Ashton; ironically from a place called Hope in Nelson. It goes like this.

Debbie died at 2:25am, four hours after the crash.

Less than an hour later I gazed down at the lifeless body of my daughter now lying on a cold stainless steel operating table. I had to sign a paper declaring that Debbie was Debbie, the hardest things I have ever had to sign in my life.

I just wanted to stay with her, but needed to go home and ring her sister living in Christchurch. There is no kind way to tell your other daughter that her much loved younger sister had been killed.

To hear the wailing on the end of the phone with so many miles between us was yet another heart-break. As was, less than an hour later waking up my elderly parents and having to tell them that their granddaughter had been killed.

Madam Speaker, these are words that shatter the heart. Right around the House I think we feel them as words that remind us of the dreams and aspirations held by the mother, Judy for her child; words that convey the sense of shock that runs through the Ashton family.

Too many families throughout Aotearoa have been in similar situations. Families that will never be the same again, because of human error and failures of systems.

Madam Speaker, the report from the Minister of Corrections got it right I thought. "Human error was found to be a key factor".

How does one hold on to hope, when the state's form of comfort to the family is to say "human error" is the reason your daughter died?

While QC Kristy McDonald, who conducted the inquiry, pointed out that human error is inevitable when Corrections manages around 38,000 people on community sentences. I do not believe and the Maori Party do not believe that we should accept that as a matter of course.

We cannot be complacent when the public become casualties of such errors.

As others have said, this is a tragedy that must not be repeated.

And yet we know that there have been other situations - situations where offenders have reoffended in fatal ways.

Situations in which some prisoners have been released into the community and tragedies have occurred one way or another.

Murders, manslaughter, loss of life.

We are pleased to see in the statement from the honourable Phil Goff, that while protection of identities under the Witness Protection Programme is important, the paramount obligation of Corrections and Police is to the safety of the community.

But we want to just raise some words of caution on this debate.

Seeking more punishment and retribution is not the answer.

Compassion for victims must be a high priority.

We must do all that we can to ensure that the society that we are helping to create is one of compassion, and taking responsibility.

But Madam Speaker, justice is not about revenge and retribution.

The pursuit of justice, te whainga i te tika, was and is fundamental to the Maori world view and embraces all areas of life from the wrongs people may do to one another to the rules that determine how the land should be cared for.

The Maori Party acknowledges that justice is best achieved not merely by changing the content of existing laws, but also by reconsidering, in good faith, the processes through which laws are made and the principles which underpin them.

The safety of the community must be an essential value that we can all believe in; a value that we can all work to restore.

Madam Speaker, while the Corrections and Police departments must, as a matter of urgency, remedy the deficiencies that existed in the area of dealing with offenders who were witnesses and under the Witness Protection Programme; there are of course other issues outstanding.

I was pleased to hear that the Law Society will be taking up the issue of the particular lawyer involved, who was a key party in knowing the identities of the offender involved.

The history of convictions of this offender showed that he had no regard for the law. Within two months of arriving in Nelson he was charged with reckless driving. The sentencing Judge disqualified him from driving for 18 months and marked his file "last chance".

What we in the Maori Party suggest, is that someone had to know about this man. Someone had to know. Someone else other than the lawyer. Others had a responsibility to care - and we must ask why he was still out there, convicted of driving with excess breath alcohol, and primed for another last drive.

It was a last chance that Debbie Ashton never got.

We must also never forget to think about the power of the wider community, to take responsibility for each other, to ensure that offenders such as the one in this case, are properly managed, and that never, ever will such tragedies occur again.

Kia ora tatou.


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