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Harawira Speech: Succession (Homicide) Bill

Succession (Homicide) Bill

Hone Harawira, Maori Party Member of Parliament for Tai Tokerau

Tuesday 10 October 2006

Mr Speaker, I’d like to begin my speech on this Bill by referring to comments made by speakers from both Labour and National; comments to the effect that “it is a settled principle, indeed it is an established and accepted practice, that people should not be able to profit from their own wrongdoing”.

Mr Speaker, if that were the case, how on earth is it that governments in the 21st century in this country, can continue to profit from decades upon decades of theft of the resources of the Maori people, right through to the theft of our Foreshore and Seabed, and in the near future, the theft of our water as well?

Mr Speaker, might I suggest that if members want to use such lofty phrases, they consider bringing them into reality in this House as well.

Mr Speaker, this Bill brings with it a heavy burden for the Maori Party, because of the huge and gut-wrenching impact that homicide, that murder, has on Maori.

Murder breaks the sanctity of whakapapa, one of the foundation blocks of a healthy Maori society.

Everything has a mauri, a life-essence, and every human life is a precious and revered gift, so homicide, the severing of whakapapa, is more than the destruction of an individual; it also about the shattering of whanau, of hapu and of iwi.

And I regret to add that recent studies confirm that those adults most at risk from homicide are Maori men aged 20-24, and that even more alarmingly is the fact that those most at risk from child homicide are Maori baby boys.

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Mr Speaker, this Bill is supposed to stop people who kill somebody, from benefiting from their victim’s death, whether through insurance, inheritance, or other means.

And in general terms, I can say that the Maori Party supports the intention of this Bill:

 to clarify the law preventing murderers from benefiting from their victim’s death;

 to reduce the number of disputes referred to the courts, which is often costly, complex and lengthy.

 to clarify the principle that nobody should profit from the murder of another.

But, as we debate this issue, I note that there are still many other major questions about the trends in homicide which warrant further inquiry.

One of the most obvious is that while most of the other rich nations have reduced their child homicide rate over the last twenty years, New Zealand’s has actually increased.

Mr Speaker, I’m not trying to score points here; this is too serious for that. But in the whole of the OECD, New Zealand is the third worst for child homicide, and within that, Maori children are twice as likely to be killed as any other.

It seems that for all our good intentions, we are failing ourselves, and even more importantly, we are failing our future generations.

There are heaps of theories about why homicide is on the rise in Aotearoa.

Professor Eru Pomare, in his 1995 report, Hauora: Maori Standards of Health said that increasing homicide amongst Maori “indicate a classic pattern of a population undergoing an upturn in unemployment and hardship”, and his statement is backed up by the US experience which shows that a 1% rise in unemployment leads to a 6% rise in homicide rates.

Another explanation for rising homicide trends is the impact of alcohol. In Australia homicide rates have gone up in line with higher per capita alcohol consumption. In New Zealand, alcohol abuse has also been identified as one of the major risk factors in our annual average of 71 homicides.

And again, drawing on international experience and our own statistics, we see that domestic violence and homicides are increasingly associated with problem gambling, and studies show that many gamblers are becoming even more reliant on loan sharks, and more desperate to keep their heads above water, and indeed, on their own shoulders.

And in this week, Mental Health Awareness Week, I’d just like to point out that contrary to popular misconception, only a small number of homicides are committed by people with severe mental illnesses.

Mr Speaker, I don’t mention these arguments to detract in any way from the brutality of murder, or to try to lessen the numbing sense of loss for those families who have suffered a loss by homicide. I raise them because they highlight a number of areas where we as a nation, can and should be taking concrete steps to reduce our murder statistics.

Mr Speaker, most murders in Aotearoa are committed by people who are closely related to the victim, but perhaps the most chilling analysis applies to child homicide, which shows that nearly every child killed, is killed by someone within their immediate family circle.

Our kids are being killed by parents, step-parents, grandparents, defacto partners, brothers, sisters or other relatives. Our kids are being killed by us, and for me, the most chilling aspect of that analysis is that nearly 50% of those children killed are Maori.

Mr Speaker, I said earlier that the Maori Party was apprehensive about this Bill, because Maori live every day with the profile of those who die from homicide; indeed, we also live with the profile of those who commit homicide as well, for both the perpetrators and the victims are dis-proportionately Maori.

And it is because of that, and because of our knowledge of the impact that this Bill will have on future generations, that I signal here a number of concerns about the effect this Bill may have:

 denying a person’s whakapapa because of an act they will regret for the rest of their life;

the possibility of denying a person’s descendants from their inheritance; and

 the ready acceptance of a Maori profile when homicides are committed, but the denial of tikanga Maori as a way of dealing with many of the factors which lead to homicide.

Mr Speaker, the Maori Party will be watching carefully to ensure that convicting someone of homicide does not dis-enfranchise their mokopuna from their rights to their whakapapa, their whanau, and their whenua.

Mr Speaker, we also notice that there are still some critical issues that need to be defined in this Bill, in terms of how we deal with people who - whether intentionally or recklessly - unlawfully kill another person.

Questions like:

 If the person who kills is prevented from receiving property, who should receive it?

 What if all parties affected by a homicide feel that denial of inheritance should not apply?

 What about the succession to and disposal of Maori land, which is dealt with under the Ture Whenua Maori Act 1993, if the Bill only details the relationship of the Land Transfer Act?

What about provisions regarding Mäori freehold land, or Maori land interests which are not properly covered by this Bill, but which have huge implications for Maori?

Mr Speaker, I return again to some of the key issues I have raised during this korero, because there is already a huge body of research about many of `the factors critical to understanding homicide - alcohol consumption, the availability of weapons, gambling, poverty, stress, unemployment and hardship, and we know that most of these factors can be positively addressed through well-understood and clearly targeted policy intervention.

That they are not, suggests a massive and abysmal failure in government’s ability to manage the transition between hard data, positive policymaking, and effective intervention.

Mr Speaker, this Bill may be specific to one aspect of homicide, but any time is a good time to speak to the factors contributing to this problem, and to ask what the value is that we truly place on the right to life, liberty and security?

Mr Speaker, in closing, I wish to mention something my co-leader is noted for having said about the death of the Kahui twins, when asked whether they looked peaceful. He said, “No. They looked dead.”

We need to restore hope and pride in the people of this nation, and just as we as a Maori people, need to look beyond the beauty, the traditions, and the highlights of our own history and take up the challenge of dealing with the unacceptable levels of murder within our own whanau, hapu and iwi, so too do we as a nation, need to look beyond the romanticism of death, and deal with the reality of homicide, and the factors that contribute to this blight on our society.


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