The Law and Order Referendum
and other related issues in New Zealand
A Speech from Norm
Let me start by giving you all a brief background as to my reasons for initiating the referendum pertaining to violent crime and the Justice System that results. I have been moved for many years by the effects that violent crimes have had on the victims and their families.
On that fateful day of 2nd July 1997 when my dear mother who was helping me in my menswear store whilst I was in town on a short business mission, was horrifically beaten with an iron bar. The contents of the till were taken and she was left for dead behind the counter. Her injuries were horrendous and ghastly - she was rushed to hospital and underwent a long life saving operation. This was the final catalyst for me, and I vowed nationally that day, that I was going to do something about all this unacceptable violence - I'm proud to say that I have done just that.
After eighteen months of very hard, tireless work, with the help of many wonderful New Zealanders from all walks of life, I presented to Parliament 380,000 signatures which were more more than the required number of registered electors to force a referendum on the issues regarding violent crime penalties, victim consideration and the justice system reform. The Oxford dictionary defines justice as fairness, the exercise of authority in maintenance of right.
The question for my referendum is;
"53% of all violent offenders released on parole in New Zealand reoffend within three years."
With the reform of the justice system I am calling for a general overhaul, particularly in regard to bail laws, concurrent sentences and parole. Parole in New Zealand does not work. 53% of all violent offenders released on parole in New Zealand reoffend within three years.
In 1994 between 1200 and 1300 violent offences were perpetrated by persons on bail. The perpetrator who attacked my mother had 56 previous convictions, was paroled having served half the given sentence for an aggravated robbery conviction and within approximately four weeks mutilated my dear mother as I have already described.
Incidentally, two years later, mum has little or virtually no sense of taste, is struggling with her teeth, mumbles her speech badly at times, and walks quite awkwardly - her pension has even recently been reduced by $20:00 a fortnight.
Still under the reform banner, I want to see concurrent sentencing replaced with cumulative sentencing. Is this fair justice? A violent offender three days after release from custody goes on a violent rampage committing despicable atrocities against four of our citizens (three of them very elderly) all in one day.
He committed aggravated assault, wounding with intent causing grevious bodily harm and attempted rape of a 79 year old pensioner who required hospitalisation for three and a half months, and was in a coma for a month. The dear lady, when finally released from hospital, had no quality of life, impaired vision, inability to get about, notwithstanding the mental trauma.
The perpetrator pleaded guilty to six serious charges for which a total of 41 years sentencing was available at the judiciary's discretion. However, with our wondrous concurrent system the actual sentence required to be served was four years - that being the longest term given for any one of those six convictions. The irony of this system is that the offender served two months less than two years, and was released.
Accountability is my theme word, from the criminals to the parole boards (who are the parole boards?). They make decisions for early releases with no recourse and the judiciary often against police recommendations grant bail too readily even when they have satisfactory penalties available for violent offending, but impose token sentences.
Now to the victims. Our courts seem more concerned about the mental state of offenders than the short and long term effects on the victims. It seems customary to talk of offenders self esteem and how criminals must be prepared to continue their lives rather than address the anguish of the bereaved or talk of the lives they have destroyed. Sadly, a lot of the victims, unlike the criminals, don't get a second chance. The surviving victims have already had a life sentence imposed on them.
I have in my possession a document from the United Kingdom outlining the differences in care for the victims of crime and care for the perpetrators, that is the criminals. The statistical score is victim support organisations (1) and criminal support organisations (28). Perhaps the balance is not much different in New Zealand.
"Take the dear 79 year old grandmother who was brutally raped in her home by a perpetrator who was bailed for an earlier similar offence. She was forced to sell her home to pay for her ongoing hospital care."
Take the dear 79 year old grandmother who was brutally raped in her home by a perpetrator who was bailed for an earlier similar offence. She was forced to sell her home to pay for her ongoing hospital care. The state let this dear lady down on two counts. Firstly despite police opposition the offender was let out on bail and secondly she was forced to sell her assets to pay for her hospital care.
My idea is a form of supervised work by violent offenders for which they can receive a wage. Part of that wage goes towards compensating the victim and part towards the criminals upkeep in prison, which would in some way place a lesser burden on we the taxpayer. I would also keep the prisoners occupied and better prepare them for their re-entry into society. Ideally there are four main reasons for the existence of prisons, in no particular order;
Some of our criminals are being looked after and experience a better standard of living than many of their victims who are law abiding and have never offended. Good food, clothing, medical and dental services and gymnasiums all provided free.
For some violent crimes I suggest a minimum sentence should be considered. Take our "new termed" crime of "home invasion" (it has been going on for years). What is wrong with say a minimum sentence of six years, whereas a very, very serious case may result in a ten year sentence (home invasion in Arizona incidentally has a 35 year sentence). Judges now have the discretion to add up to an extra 3-5 years onto the sentence - but what was the original sentence going to be before the extra time was added.
We recently had in Christchurch a case of rape under the home invasion criteria which now carries a maximum sentence of 25 years - despite the judge admitting to the distressing traumatic victims report, the perpetrator is given a ten year sentence, and then of course is likely to be subject to parole after two thirds - I rest my case.
Another recent Christchurch case under the home invasion criteria involved a perpetrator who committed aggravated robbery (maximum 19 years) and assault with a weapon (maximum 8 years) - the sentence given was 5 years but this perpetrator had 14 previous convictions for violence related offending and was only just released having been given a 21 month jail sentence for assault in November 1998.
Why should a conviction for murder with a life sentence imposed be converted to parole consideration after ten years? A life sentence means nothing of the kind. What it means is that a murderer may serve as much time behind bars as a serious drug dealer.
Take the incidence of rape - pause and think how humiliating and degrading for the poor victim, In 1993 Parliament increased the maximum penalty for rape from fourteen to twenty years, an increase of six years. However since 1990 the avearge increased penalty is just two years adding up to an average total jail term in 1997 of seven years five months.
There was a case of a man who raped two very young girls for which he was given a jail sentence of nine years. My question has been what does a raping offender have to commit before he is considered for closer to the maximum of twenty years? I've yet to get a satisfactory answer even having put the question to, amongst others, the then Minister of Justice, Mr Tony Ryall. The criminal justice law reform bill stated that the primary duty of government is to protect it's citizens.
I know that there are no easy solutions to a lot of our social problems and we have to look at the grass root contributing cause of this unacceptable criminal behaviour, such as the need for more employment, better drug and alcohol abuse control, more family upbringing education. We need to increase police numbers, not decrease them, re-establish our health system to it's former high standard, including better administration and awareness of at risk mental patients.
Why do our clinicians decide for example that sufferers of schizophrenia should be out in the community when their family and loved ones have pleaded for their constant supervision and care. It's too late when one of these time bombs goes off resulting in needless loss of lives.
We need to look at issues such as the Childrens and Young Persons Act where police are prevented from taking any action against young folk who transgress. All that happens is a family conference with parents and welfare people and while this does work in some cases, to a lot of these youngsters the lesson is clear - if I break the law, nothing will happen to me. It is these youngsters who are the cause of the burgeoning crime element. the delinquents today are the fathers and mothers of tommorrow.
"We also need to get respect back into the New Zealand way of life."
We also need to get respect back into the New Zealand way of life. I'm afraid it is disappearing fast. Moral education should be a compulsory core subject at schools. It seems that if an individual commits a crime, society is asked to share the blame. There is no demand for individual accountability.
We are supposed to be living in a democratic society. There needs to be more input from we the people. A referendum result should be binding - the election results are. Virtually all other countries in the world are bound by referendum results. Why cant issues such as lowering the drinking age be decided by the majority of people, not by a very small margin of 20 MP's who aren't all necessarily acting in the interests of the wishes of their constituents.
In summary, with this referendum I am seeking a tightening up of the existing justice system with more accountability from all parties because under the current system the victim can never expect justice, only a legal conclusion, which is not real justice.
The changes that I am seeking is a wake up call to all New Zealanders, particularly our politicians. It is important that some of these changes come into effect before too long in order that New Zealand will be a safer place for us all and before it is too late.
Well the elction has been and gone and we achieved an amazing result with the referendum question. 1,88,459 said "yes" to changes in the justice system and 169,086 said "no", which gave us an overwhelming result of 91.75% in favour of the referendum. (Incidentally, 22,507 votes were informal).
This achievement represented more than three times the total votes recorded by any one party. If that is not a clear mandate, what is? It means that people have voted for the right to support victims of crime, for appropriate sentences to be given and to have safety in their homes and workplaces.
"It is false and misleading for people to state that imprisonment doesn't work."
It is false and misleading for people to state that imprisonment doesn't work. From the criminal's viewpoint maybe it doesn't - but from the viewpoint of society it does. Protection of innocent members of the community is a prerequisite and one of the main reasons for prison.
Justice Secretary, Mr Keating, suggested that the referendum question was confusing and contradictory. This is a subjective statement as at least 91.75% of people had no problem with it - so where is our democracy? Perhaps the MMP Party election results should be put aside and declared null and void until the ignorance of the majority of New Zealanders can be rectified. Until we come up with better or magical solutions, everyone's right of freedom from violent predators must be protected.
I have had a long meeting at my home with the Minister of Corrections, Mr Matt Robson, who agrees with the victim issue but basically wants all criminals rehabilitated (great in principle I might say) - he doesn't really believe prison works. I was quick to point out with video evidence, some of the reasons why it doesn't work in it's present form. Now we have to contend with suggestions of conjugal rights in prison plus the possibility of pre-schoolers staying in jail with their mother - can we believe it?
Mr Robson recently opened the Kowhai Unit at Christchurch Prison and at the opening stated that 89.4% of sexual violation crimes and violent crimes were committed by persons under the influence of drugs or alcohol. It is interesting that Mr Robson's government is lobbying to consider decriminalising marijuana and some of his parliamentary colleagues with a conscience vote lowered the legal drinking age - rather ironical I would suggest.
I have now had the opportunity to meet privately with the Minister of Justice, Mr Phil Goff, who in recent times has publicly lambasted the judiciary for not imposing appropriate sentence that fit many of our serious crimes. I have assured Mr Goff and everybody that I'm not going away on this very important issue - the public has had enough.
I challenge the Green MP Nandor Tzancos to give up his work for 18 months (no pay) to campaign around New Zealand to obtain 385,000 signatures seeking support for the decriminalisation of marijuana, force a referendum which results in a 92% positive result and then wait for the action that government would take. It would be an interesting comparison.
Some recent statistics for you - aggravated robbery has increased 102% since 1988. The maximum sentence available is 14 years, but the average sentence imposed is 4 years, and that can be parolled. Also, figures released by the President of the New Zealand Police Association show that in 1988 there were 21,000 violent offences, while in 1998 there were 40,000 violent offences. The best statistics are when there is no crime.
It is time to stop talking and take action to confront the issues facing our society -sure, rehabilitate those who can be reformed and deal to others appropriately, but we must stop the cycle.
Words mean so little - they don't even move the leaves on the trees.