Two separate shootings in Auckland over the last three days that have left two people dead and one critically injured are the second and third serious gun incidents in the city in just over two weeks. They follow the shooting rampage of Matu Reid, who killed two co-workers and injured ten others, before taking his own life.
These events are indicative of the rise in crime that has become such a major problem for our society.
Broadcaster Peter Williams has some numbers: “In the three months to the end of April, there were 45,046 retail crimes reported. Police attended 1 in 10 of them and made 1041 arrests. If you run a shop and get burgled, you have just a one in ten chance of the police coming and only a 2.3 percent chance that an alleged offender will be arrested.”
These damning figures are contributing to the growing sense of lawlessness that’s now enveloping New Zealand. This anxiety was picked up in a May survey of 1,000 people published by the Herald. It shows two-thirds of Kiwis are more concerned they may become a victim of crime today than they were five years ago.
The most revealing statistic is the diverging trend between reported crimes which increased 33 percent between 2017 and 2022, and the 26 percent decline in Police arrests, the 25 percent drop in convictions, and the 38 percent fall in prison sentences.
These are very significant numbers. Quite simply, Labour’s soft on crime policy is failing to keep New Zealanders safe.
Furthermore, the system is full of paradoxes. Here’s one.
In 2021, a farmer, found guilty of breaching Regional Council Resource Management Act consents, received a three-month prison sentence.
Meanwhile in 2023, 24-year-old Matu Reid, who attacked his girlfriend so brutally that she needed hospitalisation, ended up with a community sentence – in spite of already being under supervision for a previous violence offence and being assessed by his probation officer as being at high risk of causing harm to others.
How is it that our justice system could deliver such inconsistency: A man who was no risk at all to the safety of others was thrown in jail, while a violent offender was released into the community, where he was able to access a pump-action shotgun and kill his workmates after being sacked from his job?
To address this, let’s first look into some of Labour’s changes to the justice system – starting with Corrections.
According to briefing papers to the incoming Labour Government in 2017, on any given day the Department of Corrections managed around 10,400 offenders in prison and 30,000 in the community.
Offenders receiving a Court sentence of two years or less are eligible to serve their time in the community doing between 40 and 400 hours of unpaid community work. Those whose offending is at the more serious end of the scale are subjected to more intensive supervision, including electronic monitoring, curfews, and home detention.
When it came to the ethnicity of prisoners, the Corrections’ report stated, “Maori have made up approximately half of our prison population for at least the last 30 years.”
Prison statistics show that in September 2017, Maori comprised 50.7 percent of inmates, Europeans were 31.6 percent, and Pacific Islanders were 11.1 percent.
By late 2019, when prison numbers had fallen slightly to 10,040 and the proportion of Maori had increased to 51.9 percent, the Minister of Corrections Kelvin Davis announced an ambitious new strategy, Hokai Rangi, to reduce the number of Maori in prison: “The ultimate objective is to lower the proportion of Maori in Corrections’ care to a level that matches the Maori share of the general population.”
In other words, he wanted to reduce the number of Maori in prison from 52 percent down to 16 percent!
When questioned by Q+A’s Jack Tame, Kelvin Davis claimed racism is the reason there are so many Maori in prison: “I believe there are parts of the system that are extremely racist.”
When asked what parts of the system are the most racist, the Minister said you just need to look at the numbers: “Why is it that Maori are over-represented? They’re prosecuted for similar crimes that other people aren’t.”
But when Jack Tame said that’s because Maori are committing these crimes, Kelvin Davis responded, “We can go back and talk about how history has impacted on outcomes for Maori… but Hokai Rangi is about looking at the Corrections system and making sure it works and is effective for our people.”
Hokai Rangi, which was co-designed by iwi, adopted a “Maori world view” and promoted co-governance. It transformed Corrections “from a system based on Western schools of thought in its operating approach to one that prioritises and elevates matauranga Maori.”
According to the Minister, the strategy, to be implemented over the five years from 2019 to 2024, would focus on accountability: “Action-planning and measurement, so that we can track our progress, is fundamental to this strategy, as is a commitment to weave accountability for outcomes throughout the Department at all levels.”
While progress reports remain virtually impossible to find, the latest April 2023 Corrections statistics show a dramatic 18 percent fall in the prison population to 8,513, but a rise in the proportion of Maori to 52.7 percent!
This rapid reduction in prison numbers has fuelled concerns that Labour’s ‘soft on crime’ changes are responsible for the increase in crime. Not only that, but the fingerprints of iwi and Labour’s Maori Caucus are not just over Corrections, but the Police as well.
Broadcaster Kate Hawkesby highlights this in her outline of what happened to a tourist who was the victim of a serious unprovoked assault by a nightclub bouncer:
“The Police turned up, were shown video footage, CCTV footage, they spoke to everyone concerned, they had everything there right in front of them including the culprit. Did they make an arrest? They did not.
“The Police at the time were unsure what to do; they said they needed to ‘think about it’. The next day, many questions were asked, including why no charges had been laid. They’d be ‘following it up in due course’ they said.
“Witness statements were made, reports filed – and then silence…
“Then, seven whole months after the event, a police spokesperson got in touch with an update. The bouncer had been offered… an ‘Iwi Community Panel – where the participant is given the choice of attending a panel hearing or going to Court. Panels are made up of three community people. They are not judges or lawyers. Their job is to decide what should happen as a result of the offence.’
“The offender had to ‘meet some outcomes’ the police spokesperson said. What outcomes? Who knows. Who’s checking he meets them? As far as the police were concerned, it’d been ‘dealt with’. They’d handed it over to the community panel. Case closed.”
As Kate says, a violent attack that sent a tourist to hospital resulted in no arrests, no charges, no court, no sentence – only a chat with a community panel of iwi.
Given the lack of consequences, will this offender be deterred from reoffending? Unlikely.
Will this tourist come back to New Zealand? Definitely not.
Labour’s soft on crime approach is clearly harming our country!
The Police panel that ‘dealt’ with this criminal was a ‘Te Pae Oranga Iwi Community Panel’, which operates in ‘partnership’ with iwi.
According to the Police website, “Te Pae Oranga means to talk, listen and become well. It uses tikanga and kaupapa Maori and restorative justice practices…”
They say, “It can be more effective than prosecuting someone, as more serious options can do more harm than good: having a criminal conviction can have long-lasting consequences. A criminal conviction makes it harder for an offender to get their lives back on track.”
They maintain “Te Pae Oranga is not a soft option”.
Kate Hawkesby’s tourist would disagree!
It seems the Police have now become “an inclusive partner for Iwi Maori”.
The Police Commissioner has established a 21-member Maori Focus Forum that not only co-designs policing strategy for dealing with Maori offenders, but also plays a “governance role”.
The end result of this partnership with iwi is that Police “live up to the joint expectations of those partners, to improve long term wellbeing for Maori who come to Police attention.”
In other words, Maori justice is all about the offender – ensuring they have a positive outcome. There is little regard for the victim.
As a result, offenders who are Maori now have a different pathway – one that looks past the victim to embrace the culture of the offender.
This is dangerous.
The paradox that led to Matu Reid being released into the community points to other failings in the criminal justice system.
In his sentencing notes the District Court’s Judge Bonnar explained the process: “[W]hen I decide on the final sentence for you, Mr Reid, I am going to set a starting point for the strangulation charge. I am then going to take account of the other charges, and then consider what credits I can apply because of things in your favour.”
The Judge determined the appropriate sentence for Matu Reid’s assault on his partner was two years and three months’ imprisonment. Given the violence, the vulnerability of the victim, and the fact that he was under supervision at the time of the offending, the sentence was lifted to three years.
The credits applied were a nine-month discount for pleading guilty, and a seven-month discount for having a ‘troubled background’ – as set out in a cultural report prepared under section 27 of the Sentencing Act 2002. That brought the sentence down to 20 months – under the two-year limit for a custodial sentence.
The Department of Corrections’ Prison Operations Manual provides guidance to Judges for the length of sentences: an offender is eligible for parole after serving one-third of a sentence of more than two-years, and is eligible for release after serving half of a sentence of two years or less.
In the Judge’s words, “A 20 month sentence of imprisonment would… equate to a 10 month sentence of home detention. However, I also take into account the time that you spent remanded in custody on these charges… five and a half months or so. Therefore, I am going to apply a further five-month credit on the home detention sentence. That reduces the total sentence, Mr Reid, to one of five months’ home detention.”
If Matu Reid had not been given a seven-month discount for his troubled background, he would have ended up in jail, and he and his two victims would still be alive.
Cultural reports have now become a multi-million-dollar industry. In just five years the number has exploded from eight a year to almost 2,500 last year, costing taxpayers over $6.5 million!
There are now calls for taxpayer funding for these reports to be removed and for the discounts that can be applied by Judges to be limited to exceptional circumstances only.
‘Maori law’ is not only in Corrections and Policing. An expectation is now emanating from our highest court that tikanga, or Maori custom, can be regarded as law. This week’s NZCPR Guest Commentator, King’s Counsel Gary Judd, disagrees:
“In the Ellis case, a majority of the New Zealand Supreme Court stated that tikanga was ‘the first law’ of New Zealand… [but] ‘tikanga’ cannot be the ‘first’ law because it is not ‘law’ at all…
The ‘tikanga’ the judgment endorses as ‘first law’ is a set of beliefs, principles of a spiritual nature, a way of life… Beliefs and principles of a spiritual nature are not law. The way of life of some is not part of the law of the land.”
Labour has fundamentally undermined New Zealand’s criminal justice system since coming to power in 2017. The consequences are plain for all to see. Its fixation with making the Maori incarceration statistics more ‘equitable’ is dangerous. New Zealanders have a right to feel safe, and they must demand better from whoever becomes the government on October 14.
This article was published at the New Zealand Centre for Political Research. Dr Muriel Newman established NZCPR as a public policy think tank in 2005 after nine years as a Member of Parliament. A former Chamber of Commerce President, her background is in business and education.