The Law and Order Referendum
and other related issues in New Zealand
Reactions from the Press
Plus Statements to the Press
Editorial from the Dominion Friday 18th February 2000. Entered in manually as the fax was not very legible!
Vote message was clear
"Justice Secretary Colin Keating and his ministry run true to form in serving up a platter of weasel words on Norman Withers's referendum on violent offending. They find the question so confusing that they cannot draw any firm conclusions about what the public really wants. They say there were so many options they could not tell which ones the public supported. They think the poor dazed voters might not have known themselves what they had voted for.
"It is hard to see how Mr Keating and his officials could fail to discern the message the public sent them."
That is patronising arrogance. It is hard to see how Mr Keating and his officials could fail to discern the message the public sent them. To spell it out, the referendum asked whether there should be a reform of the justice system: 91 per cent of voters said yes. Whether there should be greater emphasis on the needs of victims, including restitution and compensation: 91 per cent said yes. Whether voters favoured minimum sentences for people who committed serious violent offenders: 91 per cent said yes. And whether they favoured requiring them to do hard labour: 91 per cent said yes.
That was all contained in a single question. Clerk of the House David McGee had vetted and approved it, overruling ministry quibbles that it would be difficult to be sure just what people were voting for. The elements it covered of reform, a better deal for victims and tougher penalties for thugs and bashers are not mutually exclusive, but complement each other. The resounding endorsement of the total package could not have sent a clearer signal of the public's disillusionment with officialdom's overtly tender approach to violent criminals and it's relative indifference to the fate of their victims.
The only thing Mr Keating could resonably have been in doubt about was the attitude of those who voted no. Many would have been sympathetic to the plea for victims for example, but sceptical about the fairness? (this word unclear in text) of minimum sentences or unclear about what is meant by "hard labour". But they were the minority, and a nine-to-one yes vote should not have led to a rearguard action by the justice and prison systems to wriggle out of the referendum's implications.
Mr Keating is not alone in this extraordinary task. Within weeks of the vote, Corrections Minister Matt Robson made clear he did not intend to take much notice of it. He said he would put the emphasis on education, skills and rehabilitation training.
The fact remains that the referendum sent the clearest possible message of public disquiet over the kid gloves approach to violent offending. For example, Parliament has passed one law authorising heavier maximum sentences for violence, and another requiring prisoners to be released after serving two thirds of them. In between, the appeals Court has set its own sentencing benchmarks for judges to follow, always well below the statutory maximums.
The referendum result demands more than the Justice Minister's "serious attention". It requires a positive political response. Justice Minister Phil Goff should ensure that he and his novice colleague in Corrections provide it - and that the public servants in their departments serve the public instead of thwarting it."
Links to further media comments;
A brilliant piece in the Listener of January 27th 2001 by ACT MP Steve Franks here. He also contributed this brilliant piece for The Herald late last year.
In a piece here the Herald Political Staff accurately assessed Ministerial performance to date. Their opinions of Ministers in this area were as follows
Not all comment in the media has been as intelligent. Take this remarkably silly piece that turned up in the Herald a while ago for example. It speaks for itself. Perhaps not in a language widely spoken on this planet, though.... :-)
A speech/statement from Norm is here