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General Debate; Dr Pita Sharples, 7/11/07

General Debate; Dr Pita Sharples

Wednesday 7 November 2007

Seven years ago, in November 2000, former Justice Minister Phil Goff issued a dramatic statement, saying it was in the interests of all New Zealanders to bring down Maori offending and in particular Maori youth offending.

He said, and I quote:

"The social statistics are pretty appalling. We cannot be relaxed about the fact that 51 percent of people in our prisons are Maori when Maori only make up 14 per cent of the community.

Seven years later, the Honourable Eddie Taihakurei Durei told the New Zealand parole board conference that although Maori are only fourteen percent of the population, they account for 51% of those in prison, being over-represented in prison by 3.5 times.

So what has happened in the last seven years for absolutely no progress to be made in achieving a more equitable justice system?

Mr Goff was absolutely right – Maori rates of apprehension, incarceration, and re-imprisonment are appalling. We cannot relax.

Justice Durie laid the challenge of establishing a school for the study of Maori offending. It is an inspired suggestion which seeks to find solutions other than what he describes as pandering to ‘our national preference for imprisonment’.

Such a school may give us all an opportunity to ask the hard questions about whether the present system of justice is actually impartial to all?

How can it be that when you tap into the Police website, one finds a statement that“identifying organised crime by ethnicity” remains a useful way for the Police to deal with organised crime?

What is meant by that? That we target Scottish fraudsters, Indian criminals involved in money-laundering; Pakeha people committing wildlife smuggling?

Is this not classic racial or ethnic profiling – an exercise the New Zealand police have typically denied they are doing? Is this ethnic profiling based on the type of thinking that former policeman and National Party MP, Ross Meurant refers to in his most revealing essay ‘Deep in the Forest’.

The type of thinking which Meurant claims has resulted from bias and subjectivity. The type of thinking which produces the "facts" to suit the bias in the thinking.

An inconsistent application of the law is an act of injustice.

For Maori, the pursuit of justice, te whainga i te tika, has always been fundamental to our world views.

We recognise that kaupapa and tikanga are the first law of this land and that justice in its broadest sense, covers the wrongs people may do to one another to the rules that determine how the land should be cared for.

And so we welcomed the wisdom of Judge Durie, motivated by his concern, and I quote:

“that harsher penalties mean harsher criminals, the more inmates the more there are to be infected by an experienced core, and denunciation can lead to defiance not reform”.

We need to draw on the best advice available to achieve effective rehabilitation of offenders, to curb our dramatically spiralling costs that flow from the hobby of building new prisons, while also aiming for a declining prison population muster.

I have spoken before about the value of restorative justice – and the experience that we lead at Hoani Waititi marae in encouraging local community control of adverse behaviour. A programme that was drawn upon extensively for the Family Group Conference that was introduced into the Courts of this country, and the world.

I have seen even the most formidable crims crumple under the confrontation of their elders; I have observed the shifts in community compassion that emerge out of blossoming Maori pride and autonomy.

Valmaine Toki, of Ngapuhi, Ngati Wai and Ngati Rehua, has pioneered research into ‘therapeutic jurisprudence’ as a means of reducing the disproportionate number of Maori offenders. She envisages a specialist court embracing Maori customs, ethics, values and norms.

This House, Mr Speaker, must take seriously this growing body of evidence that examines possibilities for preventing criminal offending by the restoration of mana as a central concept in Maori tradition.

The essential strength of our value system, our kaupapa, and our collective commitment to justice, must be drawn upon to reinvigorate Maori communities in taking control of the situation before it is too late.

The Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous people – which New Zealand voted against – expressed the right of indigenous people to promote, develop and maintain their distinctive juridical customs, traditions, procedures and practices in accordance with internationally recognised human rights standards.

The international community understands the crucial relationship between restoring and rebuilding dignity and reducing the numbers of indigenous people who are arrested, convicted and imprisoned through the operations of the formal criminal justice system.

The Maori Party challenges this Government and any others to come after it – that we must not wait another seven years for zero progress to be made.

(italics denotes not delivered due to time restraints).


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