Is the Labour Government Soft on Crime?

The recent escalation of violent crime in New Zealand has been well publicised and is mainly associated with gang violence and youth ram raids in Auckland. This article discusses whether the Labour government has effectively dealt with this issue.

You may recall my article criticising Simon Bridges for calling the Police Commissioner, Andrew Coster, a woke. However, I do not believe the problem lies with Coster, rather with the government. Since 2018, there have been eleven instances where Labour has voted down bills relating to amendments to issues including:

  • firearms prohibition orders
  • voting down a bill allowing maximum penalty of 20 years for “coward punches” causing death
  • voting not to proceed with a bill that increases the maximum penalty for assaults on first responders or prison officers to 10 years
  • voting down a bill that clarified carjacking is robbery
  • voting down a bill to increase the power of police to seize assets gained through significant criminal activity

The government is also looking to remove the three strikes rule or to water it down. “They’re about to change the law so the worst of the worst get shorter sentences and/or eligibility for parole. The average second striker has 42 adult convictions and third striker 74, and they want to let them out early” (David Farrar, 21 June 2022, NZ Herald). Thus, many offences are committed by the same people who have committed multiple crimes. However, “the number of people going on to do a second-strike offence after the law passed (Three Strikes Law) was significantly down from the same time period before the law passed” (David Farrar, 21 June 2022, NZ Herald). The reoffending rate dropped, thus many criminals were weary of committing another serious crime that could lead to being detained in prison for a significant period. Now, that deterrent has been removed. Further, where the coward punch bill has been applied in Australia, coward punches have declined markedly.

The Greens want to weaken the justice system even further.

Whilst the National Party often have a knee jerk reaction to the current crime problem, they have raised some valid points. The gang problem, for example, is worrying and needs to be addressed. In Australia, Queensland has successfully reduced their gang problem through strong legislation. The most serious offenders have moved to Victoria, where the law is weaker. However, it could be argued that much of the gang problem in Queensland has been driven underground. In an The Age article, this issue has been raised for Victoria too, after a serious gang shooting and the high jacking of a car off a woman and her son, after the shooting. The article calls it a trigger put for Victoria to act. However, they will not act, because they believe the current law is appropriate (Victoria is a Labour stronghold). As the article highlights, “In Victoria, anti-criminal association laws were introduced in 2016, but they did not count if criminals were family members or seeking legal advice or involved in religious, study or work interests. No one has been prosecuted under these laws” (The Age, 27 June 2022).

There has been plenty of commentary by liberal analysts that prisons do not work. This may or may not be the case, but it depends on several factors. Some criminals are hard to rehabilitate and as such prison is a sensible place to accommodate them. Because of this view that prisons do not work, we are seeing an escalation of youth crime as young offenders know full well there is a strong possibility they will not be punished or sent to prison. They know there will be little or no repercussion or consequence to their actions. It is an unfortunate scenario unfolding before our eyes in the belief prisons do not work.

However, putting criminals in prison and leaving them there is not good enough. I know programmes exist in prisons to help or attempt to rehabilitate criminals. We need to expand these programmes to rehabilitate and provide people with skills and support structures for when they leave prison so they can successfully reintegrate into society. These programmes must be linked to their sentences. I agree with Act spokesperson Brooke van Velden when she wrote, “We want people who have committed crimes to be able to turn their lives around, so we also have a policy that would allow prisoners who complete rehabilitation to be eligible for early release. But it goes both ways, if they don’t do rehab, they don’t get parole. This would break down barriers that convicted New Zealanders face post-release from prison, so they have another option rather than returning to a gang and criminal activity” (NZ Herald, 27 June 2022).

Therefore, we do need stronger laws and for criminals to understand there are serious consequences to their actions, not weaker laws or laws that do not adequately address the crime. We also need a system where criminals understand that rehabilitation will both provide early release from prison and a chance to reintegrate into society. Until this happens, not much will change and matters may get worse.