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Q+A: Paul Holmes interviews Judith Collins

Sunday 1st November, 2009

Q+A’s Paul Holmes interviews Police Minister, Judith Collins.

Points of interest:
- New Zealanders will be “very surprised” by the names of criminal bosses exposed by new anti-organised crime unit
- Proceeds of assets seized under new law will “go towards rehabilitation for addicts who have been the victims of these people”
- Police will “lose all credibility” if they misuse powers under the Criminal Proceeds Act
- New DNA laws will mean fewer false arrests
- New enforcement powers subject to controls, such as free media, judicial oversight and MMP
- Holmes: …You’re no longer innocent until you’re proven guilty. Collins: It’s fantastic, isn’t it? It’s the only thing we can do to deal with these people…
- Under the government’s search and surveillance bill, a wide range of enforcement officers would have the power to bug, detain and use reasonable force against New Zealanders… Collins: “That sounds terrible, doesn’t it?”
- Police Minister: “I’m like any other New Zealander, I want to know why would the Pork Industry inspector have those sorts of powers?”


The interview has been transcribed below. The full length video interviews and panel discussions from this morning’s Q+A can be seen on tvnz.co.nz at,
http://tvnz.co.nz/q-and-a-news

JUDITH COLLINS interviewed by PAUL HOLMES


PAUL The Police Minister Judith Collins is with us, good morning Minister, welcome again to Q+A. This new Police unit, 22 senior investigators to tackle organised crime, what's it going to do, when do you expect to see results?

JUDITH COLLINS – Police Minister
Oh well from the 1st of December they’ll be able to, under the Criminal Recovery Proceeds Act, they’ll be able to go after the assets of criminals, and actually I want them to strip those criminals of the assets that they’ve built up from the proceeds of crime.

PAUL Do we know who they are?

JUDITH Oh the Police have a very good idea who they are.

PAUL How much do the cops know about organised gangs, the sophistication of their wiring for money laundering and so forth, how much do the Police actually know about them?

JUDITH They know quite a bit, quite a lot more than they go out and tell the public that they know, for obvious reasons, but also we shouldn’t fool ourselves, there's been a lot of money that’s gone off overseas that’s been money laundered, that’s gone into legitimate looking businesses, and people I think will be very surprised when the Police actually start operating under this new law.

PAUL At some of the names?

JUDITH I think they’ll be very surprised.

PAUL Are these people New Zealanders, or are there international connections?

JUDITH Well we shouldn’t kid ourselves, methamphetamine in particular has brought in overseas organised crime, but they have linked with our own home grown organised crime, so that some is overseas, some is here.

PAUL Who are they the gangs, who are they these people?

JUDITH Well obviously there are people like the Headhunters, the Mongrel Mob, but there are others involved in businesses, people involved in all sorts of activities that many New Zealanders would never have heard of, they don’t wander around with patches on their backs, they are unfortunately some of them, somewhat respected business people.

PAUL How powerful are they do you think?

JUDITH They're very powerful, and they’ve got very very powerful from the money that they’ve been able to get, particularly in the last decade or so.

PAUL You were saying I think, or was it Howard Broad saying that the Police know who these criminal bosses are, yeah?

JUDITH Yes they do.

PAUL So why don’t they go and round them up with the powers they’ve got, why do they let them sit out there?

JUDITH Well obviously the Police, they have to be able to work within the law, and these criminal bosses don’t get to be criminal bosses because they do all the dirty work themselves of course, they have plenty of foot soldiers to do that for them. However, what we're doing with this particular unit is we're going after the assets and the money that actually drives the activity.

PAUL Which may pay for some of our super?

JUDITH Well I'm very keen on it to certainly go towards rehabilitation for addicts who have been the victims of these people.

PAUL Are drugs absolutely central to this, I mean what is the main source of revenue for the gangs?

JUDITH Oh well it's P, methamphetamine and cannabis, but yeah drugs are central.

PAUL There is public appetite for getting tough on the gangs, there's no doubt about that, but the worry people have about some of the legislation you're proposing, for example – now the worry people have about the Criminal Proceeds Act, the Search and Surveillance Bill which has come into the Select Committee, and the Bodily Samples Act, that they encroach too drastically on liberty Minister.

JUDITH Well people should be always concerned about our freedoms because we are a free country. However having said that DNA is the modern version of fingerprints and the Police will not be keeping samples if people are not actually convicted.

PAUL Well let's come on to DNA a bit later on, but let's talk about the Criminal Proceeds Act first of all, and what this says is instead of the Police having to prove that your wealth is criminally obtained, the citizen will have to prove it is not, so you are no longer innocent till you're proven guilty.

JUDITH It's fantastic isn't it? It's the only thing we can do to deal with these people. Actually what it does is it gives the Police similar powers to what the Inland Revenue Department already has now, and I can tell you Paul if you suddenly fronted up with $500,000 in your bank account and the IRD knew about it, they'd be after you straight away, they'd be saying where's my tax – well we're going to do the same for the Police, we're going to say where is it, how did you get it, where did it come from, and except the tax rate's going to be 100%.

PAUL Yeah but take the man on I think the front page of the New Zealand Herald yesterday. Now this is a fellow with tattoos on his shoulders, he wears a black singlet and he drives flash cars and the Police keep pulling him over. He won the Lotto. He won a million bucks in the Lotto but because the cops decide he doesn’t look like the kinda guy who should be driving these cars they keep pulling him over. Is that the kind of persecution we can start to get? If the Police don’t like the cut of your jib you're gonna get persecuted.

JUDITH Well that’s actually under the current law. What we're looking at with the Assets Recovery Unit is that they're going after big crime and big criminals.

PAUL Take my point, he doesn’t look right.

JUDITH I also noticed that the Police said there was another side to the story, but look Paul you're always going to get instances like that, but frankly the Police have got far better things to do than worry about people who are Lotto winners.

PAUL Yeah but the truth is, under the Criminal Proceeds Act, the Police can take your property if they suspect you're dodgy.

JUDITH But you’ve got the right to get it back, you’ve got the right to claim it, and the Police ….

PAUL Yeah but then you’ve got a whole matter of procedure to go through because the cops have decided they suspect you got the property criminally.

JUDITH Well actually Police would lose all credibility if they went round doing that unnecessarily. They’ve got a lot of leads, they know exactly who they're after, and they will be after them.

PAUL Search and Surveillance Bill – new powers for all enforcement officers, like Meat Board Inspectors, like the Overseas Investment Office, like the Civil Aviation Inspector, like the Pork Industry Board Inspector, like the Reserve Bank Inspector, the Dog Control Officer. When it comes to surveillance all of those people have the same powers now as the Police?

JUDITH It really is a terrible sounding list isn't it Paul, and what is even more terrible is to know that those powers are already in legislation but they're interested in a whole lot of different legislation, this bill has come in because of the work of the Law Commission looking at all the various powers and trying to put some rules around them.

PAUL The powers are extended. Look there's two and a bit pages, I'll read you a few. Agricultural Compounds and Veterinary Medicines Inspector – Animal Products Inspector – Animal Welfare Inspector – Antarctic Marine Living Resources Inspector – Children Young Persons and their Families Inspector – the Extradition Act Inspector – Marine Mammals Protection Inspector. All of these people have the power to come into your premises, to command your IT provider to provide them with all their computer records, to detain you, to use reasonable force, to rub you down, pat you, search you – the Pork Industry Board Inspector.

JUDITH That sounds terrible doesn’t it? That’s one of the reasons why the Select Committee has actually said they're not reporting back until May, they want to go through the whole bill and make sure they’ve got everything sorted out, but the Law Commission is very firm that these are existing powers but they often don’t have proper regulations around them. Look I'm like any other New Zealander, I want to know why would the Port Industry Inspector have those sorts of powers just like everyone else, and that’s why we're certainly looking at them.

PAUL But at the moment what's proposed in the bill, is that any of those people can break in premises, and to search everything, detain, use reasonable force, conduct a rub down search and command your IT provider to surrender your computer records, that’s what's been proposed in the bill.

JUDITH Well that’s what's all being looked at now, and I think that’s one of the reasons the Select Committee is taking extra time to look at it, is to make sure that there's nothing in there that shouldn’t be there, and also to deal with any concerns people have.

PAUL Right, can I just clarify that. You're a bit disturbed as well that so many people should have these powers? Are you backing away?

JUDITH No no no, what we're actually is these powers are already there, but the Law Commission has suggested that they have proper regulations around them, we're supporting that but let's take it one step further, is that all these other people like the Human Rights Commissioner, Privacy Commissioner, they have expressed concerns, we're taking them very seriously, and there's no way we're rushing legislation that’s been up for the last five years….

PAUL No, but what has been proposed in this is an extension of powers for those people and I wonder how can you possibly think that these people should have the same powers as the Police, to detain you, to use reasonable force, to rub you down, have a search?

JUDITH Well you might well think that the Child Youth and Family Inspectors might want to.

PAUL Yeah, but can you see that some of these should…

JUDITH Oh I think that’s why we're leaving it to the Select Committee. Look we can't prejudge what they're going to say, but obviously they're going to take a lot of time to make sure that we don’t end up with laws that are onerous over good New Zealanders.

PAUL Yeah, even the Police though don’t think all of these people having these powers is a good idea.

JUDITH Isn't it a great thing that we're in a country where you can say that and we'll listen to it.

PAUL You're also proposing an end to the right to silence from groups of three or more people thought to be involved in a single criminal activity. Now obviously that’s aimed at gangs, get them all in a room and make them talk, but the right to silence goes back hundreds of years.

JUDITH Yes, and obviously we've got to constantly be looking at the tension between the individual's rights and those of the State in terms of trying to keep people safe, and that’s what all our law and order policies are about Paul. There's on theme, it's about trying to actually deal with crime and keep New Zealanders safe, and I think people all remember that we used to have laws about conspiracies and we still do, and well why wouldn’t you want to know about that.

PAUL DNA samples – I don’t understand this. What you're proposing, no in fact it's passed.

JUDITH It's the law.

PAUL It's the law. The Police are now able to take a sample of DNA from people they intend to arrest for an imprisonable offence.

JUDITH Yes.

PAUL Why not make them wait till after they’ve arrested you, anyone can say I intend to arrest you for an imprisonable offence.

JUDITH Well obviously they need to have the evidence before they arrest people, and this is one of the things we're trying to do is to make sure they’ve got the right person, so that you have fewer false arrests but also under our legislation if Police arrest someone, if that person is not convicted that sample will be destroyed, and that’s quite different from many other countries.

PAUL These acts and these bills you're proposing, you know you want to get tough on organised crime, on the gangs, you want to get rid of P.

JUDITH Yes we do.

PAUL Is it inevitable that we're gonna have to move towards becoming something almost of a Police state if we want to crack these?

JUDITH I don’t think we need to do that at all.

PAUL But when you're giving the Police and these other groups powers like this?

JUDITH All these powers of the Police and other groups, they're all subject to all sorts of controls around the judicial oversight, they're also obviously subject to the Independent Police Complaints Authority. It's very important though too to remember we have a free media in this country, it's part of our democracy, so we don’t live in a country where the media can't say what they think, in fact often do all sorts of things that some of us would rather they didn’t, but the fact is that we do and that is part of our democracy. We have an MMP system, which is also part of the democracy. We don’t live in a Police state, thank God.

PAUL Thank you Minister very much for coming on Q+A, Police Minister, Judith Collins.

ENDS

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