Law and order issues traditionally score medium to low in public polling on the most significant issues facing New Zealanders. For police, we live in this space, so we are often surprised by a lack of interest or concern with everyday crime.
However, this has clearly changed, which is no surprise given the recent daily news diet of the overt presence of patched gang members, intergang and other shootings and youth ram raids.
In just one year of Ipsos polling of Kiwis on the most significant issues they face, crime, law and order has doubled to 24 per cent. With such a massive increase it is little wonder this topic is so ripe for politicking, especially with a general election just over a year away.
Hence, the former police minister was constantly under fire and finally replaced. I have no intention of bagging her, but it was obvious she was a target, and this was preventing any real traction on the many positive initiatives the Government has introduced – 1800 extra police officers (slow though progress is), significant and long overdue improvements to firearms legislation, increased funding for frontline officer skills training and the hugely important commitment to a firearms registry.
National’s response to the various crime problems – especially gangs – seems to be to look across the “ditch” and suggest importing tough Australian legislation. There may be merit in this, but Australian laws are not necessarily transferable. They would require finessing for our environment and require some certainty of success. We need legislation that the majority of New Zealanders believe to be fair, and which won’t be thrown out of court based on our Bill of Rights Act.
We are not Australia, and we don’t want to be. Their politically popular 501 laws are a case in point. I’d say New Zealand is better than that sort of legislation.
The fact that Australians can’t see the irony of deporting people who have lived most of their lives in Australia to a country they have virtually no links with, when this is what the British did to many of their forebears and is condemned by history, says something about their culture that we don’t want to import.
Careful consideration of what will and won’t work in New Zealand is required.
The quickest impact on gangs would be to pass the proposed amendments to our asset seizure laws (promised by the Government before last Christmas) to require gangs to prove the legitimacy of their assets. It gives police greater opportunity to seize ill-gotten gains and hence remove the incentives to join gangs. We don’t want a watered-down version of this sort of law, particularly when giving some young people a cellphone these days is enough to get them to sign up.
Banning gang patches is worthy of consideration given the highly visible presence of gangs across many communities. While I accept that such a move won’t necessarily, or immediately, reduce their numbers or their crimes, it would take away their key intimidatory tactic, which would make the public feel safer – a core element of policing.
Given that we know what the problems are, and we know there are no quick fixes, it seems to me that the politicking needs to be put aside in favour of the doing. All Kiwis would be better off if the recent tendency to “out-tough” each other took a back seat in the House of Representatives.