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Speech: Ardern - Justice Summit Opening

Rt Hon Jacinda Ardern
Prime Minister
MP for Mt Albert

20 August 2018 SPEECH NOTES

Embargoed to 6pm Mon 20 August

Justice Summit Opening Speech

Te whare e tu nei
Te marae e takoto ana
Tena korua
E nga mate maha
Haere, haere, haere
Nga tangata whenua o tenei rohe, Te Atiawa tena koutou
Tatou nga kanohi ora e hui mai ana
Tena koutou, tena koutou, tena tatou katoa

The meeting house that stands here
The marae that lies here
I greet you both
They many bereaved, farewell
To the people of this area, I greet you
To all of us gathered at this meeting

Welcome also to our international guests, our Chief Justice Sian Elias, Ministerial Colleagues, Members of Parliament and all of you who do such an important job in the justice sector.

Tonight, I don’t want to start by talking about justice sector reform. I don’t want to start with the Crimes Act, the Parole Act, with our prison system or our courts. I want to start at the beginning. The place that exists in everyone’s lives before the justice system appears. And why? Because that’s where all of the potential truly exists for us to make substantial and lasting change, and I know that is what we are all united in our quest for.

When I first came into Parliament, I was Labour’s Spokesperson for Youth Justice. I remember specifically asking Phil Goff, the then leader of the party, for that job. I asked for that specific role for many reasons, but one was because I had always had an interest in criminal justice.

My father was a policeman and for a long time, that was what I thought I would do with my life too. And while that wasn’t to be, probably as much because of the physical entrance exam as much as because of my love for politics, I have always maintained that interest.

But it was as Youth Justice Spokesperson that I started to think more deeply about all of the precursors to criminality.

It was in that role that I first heard Judge Andrew Beecroft speak. Forgive me Andrew if I butcher the content of one of your speeches, but the sentiment you shared in one struck me, and led me to make some significant calls about the way I have spent my time in office. You said that if you take a group of young offenders and put them in a room, and you would likely find a set of common themes. Disengagement with work or education, family or gang violence, drug and alcohol use of learning disabilities – these would all be present many times over.

And there it was - a shopping list of issues to solve for any politician who wanted to listen. And we still have that shopping list, in many different forms.

I know you all will know almost by heart some staggering statistics. But here they are again.

We know that for those people in prisons in New Zealand:
• 70% have difficulty with literacy
• 62% have experienced mental health issue in previous 12 months
• 47% have an addiction problem
• 40% of men, 52% women have a lifetime diagnosis of PTSD from abuse and violence
• 53% of women and 15% of men have experienced a sexual assault
• 77% have been victims of violence.
• And 92% of the young people in youth facilities have learning difficulties.

So if we want to talk about an effective justice system, we shouldn’t start with a discussion about prisons, but a discussion about New Zealand.

I am often asked what kind of goals I have for this wonderful place we call home. Mine are quite simple – I want us to simply be the country we already believe we are. We love our environment – the beauty of our land, its open spaces, the mountains, our valleys. And we like to believe we take good care of it

We think we’re innovative, and use our kiwi ingenuity to solve problems on our own terms.

We believe in a ‘fair go’. We are fair minded and like to give people a chance. Ensuring everyone is treated fairly is part of the fabric of our culture.

And equally, we are defined by what we don’t believe ourselves to be – and we certainly don’t feel like the kind of place that would have one of the highest incarceration rates in the western world, and yet we do.

We are seeing today that we haven’t been looking after our land as well as we could have, there are stories of homelessness and poverty that just don’t square with the way we see ourselves.

We have moved from strong communities that looked after one another to an individual approach to solving our problems. I know I don’t have to tell you the impact of this – many of you will see the impact of communities made up of individuals with little support, little connection, and worst of all - the absence of hope.

The values of this government

I wouldn’t be in politics unless I believed things could be different. And they can, even within the complexities of a coalition government.

As a government, we have already determined our priorities and they’re ones that I know will have an impact in the areas you work in. They include making sure we have connected, and healthy communities. It’s why we have such a focus on mental health and making primary health more accessible. And when it comes to safety, it’s why our investment in police is so squarely focused on preventative, community based policing.

We’ve said we want everyone to live in a warm dry home, and have invested in the housing first philosophy, stopped selling state houses, and have embarked on a huge building programme, rights for renters, and standards to make homes warm and dry.

We’ve said we want New Zealand to be the best place in the world to be a child, and focused squarely on reducing child poverty, which of course means reducing whanau poverty.

That’s why we are providing more support for families with our Families Package, which is aimed squarely at reducing child poverty, and why we are helping our low income families stay warm in winter with our Winter Energy Package.

And finally, we want to be a place where everyone who is able is either earning, learning, caring or volunteering. And if you’re not, that tells us that you’re either isolated, or that we’re not making the most of your potential. That’s why we have started programmes like Mana in Mahi, which gives our young people, especially those who have not been in work or education or training for over 6 months, the opportunity to get an apprenticeship qualification while earning a living.

It’s also why we are making it easier for people to train after leaving school with our free fees policy – because continuing education needs to be free from barriers. It is after all, our great leveller.

There is a lot of work to do and we need to plan and budget for it carefully, to take steady steps, and ensure we make a real difference to more and more people’s lives.

But we also need to have an eye to the long term issues. The systemic problems. For years it’s been easy, too easy, to say “let’s invest in education instead of prisons.”

But few have been willing to demonstrate or at least follow through on that early investment while maintaining the infrastructure, decent infrastructure, to ensure we are still keeping people safe.

I don’t see too much point in placing blame anywhere on this issue. No one set out to have a criminal justice system that has us ranking so highly when it comes to incarceration. I think we all realise that prisons are a moral and fiscal failure, and that staying on a trajectory which would see us building a new prison every two to three years is even more so.

The question we now face then, is what to do about it. And not just what to do about it, but how to bring everyone with us as we seek solutions?

We have some starting points of course, and they include those I’ve talked about which provide foundations so that everyone has opportunities to live a healthy, safe life that allows them to thrive in their communities.

There’s the work being done to make sure we prioritise looking after victims of crime – and we have made some progress recently supporting victims of domestic violence to take time off work if they choose to find a safe place to stay; and just last week investing further in the Ghandi Nivas project that provides wrap around early intervention services to families. We have also boosted victim support services, the National Home Safety Service, and support for victims of family and sexual violence.

Early intervention is our next support area – and I want to acknowledge the work of youth workers, social workers, police aid officers and the people who work in our rangatahi courts.

There is good work being done out there – I have seen it first-hand. The young people at the rangatahi courts who stood up and recited their pepeha for the first time, who talked about restoration, and finding whanau members to support them. The recidivist offenders who, at the drug and alcohol courts received their medals for remaining drug and alcohol free for hundreds of days. There is good work being done out there, we just need more of it.

And then of course there is our prison system. We have already put a line in the sand. We said no to a mega American style prison.

We may be replacing an aged Waikeria, but we are also building a mental health unit. And even then, that is far too late in our system.

Perhaps nothing is more emblematic of that than the story I heard recently on visiting one of our Corrections facilities. I was told of a man who had been on watch because he was assessed as being a potential threat to himself. When he was considered to no longer pose that risk, he was giving a writing implement that he had requested, which he then used to stab himself. He survived, but was transferred to a mental health facility. I asked what he was on remand for in the first place. Theft under $500. He had shoplifted. There are so many issues wrapped up in that one story, it’s difficult to know where to start.

So we are starting here. With you, and with your experience. In your own corners of the justice system, you will have hundreds of these stories. Stories of success, but also stories where we have failed a victim, a family, a would-be offender.

So my request today is this. Let’s tip the balance to stories we can be proud of.

Please lend us your experience, your expertise. You understand the issues to hand from your own perspectives, along with technical experts and academics who have studied all elements of criminal justice, and those of you who work in our criminal justice system.

Your views and ideas are essential to contribute as we take our next steps in building on this programme of work to solve one of the toughest problems we have on our agenda. One that will not be solved with a bigger prison. Or that will be solved arbitrarily by government without the support of the people it governs.

Thank you for the work that you do to keep us on track. And thank you in advance for the work you are about to do.

Everyone in NZ deserves to feel safe, to be safe, and to be free to experience a future full of opportunity. That is after all, the New Zealand we probably think we already are – now let’s try and make it a reality.

Ngā mihi nui

Thank you.

© Scoop Media

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