Make addressing violent crime a priority

So, another dairy has been robbed. An occurrence happening all too frequently the length and breadth of New Zealand with the perpetrators getting away just as frequently.

But the worst part of this horror show is the courts. Soft as butter judges playing namby pamby games with peoples lives and livelihoods. The conservative parts of society might call for a return to the gravel pits for such offenders, but this fails to address the core societal issues that are leading to these horrendous crimes in the first place. By this I am talking about the lack of role models in their lives and the presence of drugs; their failure in the school system and a lack of a job.

But at the same time the courts have a job to do and they are failing at it in an abject way. It is almost like in some cases the judges do not care any more. I find it hard to believe that human rights laws for children have advanced to the degree that some say they have and that as a result the judges somehow have their hands tied.

I wonder if part of the justice process, a judge has ever asked an offender what their ambitions in life are. I am certainly not suggesting showing sympathy, but almost none of these offenders have probably thought about where they want to go in life. Maybe – I could be totally wrong, but just assume for a moment I am not – they simply need someone in a position of authority to show them right from wrong. If they don’t care, then that is a different story.

So, what are some of the steps that need to be taken? Several steps:

  • For starters I think Civics/Legal Studies needs to be compulsory in Year 12. Students need to know how the law works because at some point they are going to have to deal with it, so they better learn.
  • A youth policing section needs to be established so that young people learn to work with the police and see that they will only be in their lives if they commit crime or are the victims of crime
  • Synthetic cannabis needs to be banned immediately and all shops given one weeks grace to hand over their stock – all in possession of it should be given an equally short grace period to hand over their private stock
  • Small amounts of cannabis should be decriminalized – police are wasting their time and resources dealing with anything under say 5 grams
  • Importers/dealers and manufacturers of illegal substances should have a 10 year starting jail sentence plus anything purchased using the profits of their criminal activity should be seized and sold – money raised goes to funding drug treatment; non New Zealanders should be deported and permanently barred from reentering

But none of this will work if there is not a co-ordinated approach involving the co-operation of the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Social Welfare and the Ministry of Education.

If a rise in tax is necessary to fund this, do it. Done properly, it will pay for itself in time.

Addressing banking sector concerns in N.Z.

I remember the onset of the 2008 Global Financial Crisis all too clearly. In the space of about two years 31 separate New Zealand finance companies crashed and burned, taking about N.Z.$3 billion worth of savings with them. The crash of so many companies and the resulting fallout cost numerous jobs, led to criminal trials for fraudulent activity and caused a loss of trust in banks. Nine years later, not having learnt much from the previous crash New Zealand, like the world at large is at risk of another, possibly bigger, crash.

The causes of the 2008 Global Financial Crisis are well documented. In the United States lax banking regulations led to the failure of Fannie Mae’s, Freddie Mac’s, Lehman Brothers amongst others . Hundreds of billions of dollars was wiped from the value of the U.S. economy when Lehman Brothers collapsed. The bailout plan authorized by U.S. President George W. Bush cost about U.S.$700 billion to enact. Following these collapses President Barak Obama passed legislation called Dodd Frank Act which enabled large scale reform of the banking sector, in terms of transparency, tightening up reporting requirements and protecting whistle blowers.

In New Zealand the following are just some of the financial institutions that failed in 2006-2010 (N.Z.$)¹:

  • Capital Merchant Finance ($190 million)
  • South Canterbury Finance ($1.6 billion)
  • Provincial Finance ($296 million with $273 million recovered)
  • Bridgecorp ($467 million)

¹67 went into liquidation or receivership, or entered moratoria all up between 2006 and 2012

I believe that legislation needs to be passed in two respects to bring accountability to the banking sector, but also institute a better code of practice than the one that exists. Elsewhere I have mentioned the need for better whistle blower protection. This is to ensure that the fate of whistle blowers at the Ministry of Transport who exposed fraudster Joanne Harrison and lost their jobs for doing so, is not repeated.

But perhaps the biggest reforms that I think need to be made are to how individuals enter and exit the financial industry, and the range of tools that can be used in dealing with significant breaches. We have the Financial Markets Authority investigating significant breaches, which is well and fine. But, given the size of some of the aforementioned collapses and the fact that individuals who had leading roles in precipitating said collapses were handed what I think were very light sentences, I think the law needs an overhaul.

For small fraud (less than N.Z.$250,000), claims can be dealt with in the District Court and the High Court deals with larger claims. We saw out of the court trials arising from the collapses of companies like Bridgecorp that in many cases the sentences were too light. The sentences did not appear to take into account ill gotten assets such expensive cars. Nor did they appear to stop the defendants from working in the industry again. The sentences should be proportionate to the size of the losses incurred by the investors. Such a scale could look like this:

  • Category E (dealt with in District Court) up to $250,000 = suspension of trading license + fine (up to $250,000) or jail sentence (up to 2 years)
  • Category D – $250,000 to $10 million = loss of financial trading licence + confiscation of luxury assets or fine (up to $500,000) or jail sentence (up to 5 years)
  • Category C – $10 million to $100 million = loss of financial trading licence + confiscation of luxury assets + fine (up to $1 million) or jail sentence (up to 15 years)
  • Category B – $100 million to $250 million = loss of financial trading licence + plus fine (up to $2 million) + jail (up to 25 years)
  • Category A – $250 million+ = loss of licence + fine (up to $4 million) + jail (up to 40 years) + confiscation of luxury assets + loss of passport

Sound harsh?

Not as harsh as thousands of investors having their retirement plans and anything that they might have been relying on their investments to fund now having nothing to show for their efforts. Not as harsh as hundreds of people working for these forms in good faith finding themselves without a job because of the collapse. Nor as harsh as any community finding that sponsorship of community events and projects have just gone up in smoke.

National not serious about crime

When one thinks of a conservative party, they think of a party that is normally strong on law and order. It will be a party that spends more on the police, normally has a harder line on sentencing and talks about rights of the victims.

It all sounds well and good, if in the case of National, it were actually true. If National were serious about crime, then why is there this long litany of armed hold ups that have all been carried out in Auckland since 01 January 2017?

In January:

In February:

In March:

In April:

In May:

In June

It seems that not a single week goes past without a new armed hold up happening somewhere in Auckland. It might be Mangere or Manukau. It might be somewhere on the North Shore or out west in Waitakere. The target might be a family run dairy. It might be a superette or a bar – the targeting seems indiscriminate.

The victims are understandably fearful for their lives. It is quite a violating thought to know that you, in the course of your every day work life were subject to an attack on your premises by thugs. They might have been looking for cash or cigarettes to sell on the black market. Whatever the case the outcome is the same – another one for the crime stats, a legitimate business violated and the owner/operator scared to death.

So, this is what has happened in Auckland alone since June. It does not include any offences reported in Hamilton, Dunedin, Wellington, Christchurch, or anywhere else.

The causes can be debated, though one can fairly conclusively suggest that increased taxes on tobacco products are at least in part to blame. The black market is thriving.

So, just stop and think about this when you decide who to vote for in September. Who do you think will try to address the causes of these offences – National? Labour? New Zealand First? Greens?

And more importantly, WHY?

Between a constitutional rock and a dam(n) hard place

National is in an unenviable position largely of its own making. Resistance has been growing against Ruataniwha Dam, throwing the whole project, which is growing increasingly controversial because of its likely environmental impact into significant doubt. But now a court ruling has left National in a bind. Does it accept the ruling against the dam and cancel the project – costing jobs and potentially votes – or does it violate what is considered to be constitutional law and proceed with something the Court of Appeal has said no to?

But am I sympathetic to National’s hard choice? No. It did not have to come down to this, and there are many reasons other than the environmental impact as to why the Ruataniwha dam should not proceed:

  1. The lake that would be impounded by it would cross some large fault lines – any rupture event on one of them involving vertical displacement would send millions of litres of water rushing down the lake to possibly over top the dam
  2. It was a misguided use of Hawkes Bay Regional Council’s mandate and ratepayer money that was questionable from the get go
  3. Climate change will impact on how water takes are issued because the known amount available in a catchment will decrease, thus affecting availability
  4. Hawkes Bay Regional Councillors themselves have admitted the dam project is dead

The ruling (ruling starts on page 68)was in response to a proposed land swap involving Department of Conservation land. The ruling had said that Department of Conservation land cannot be grabbed by developers. At the crux of the matter was whether or not the Minister can revoke protected status on conservation land. The answer is yes the Minister can, but only if the lands conservation values no longer warrant such protection. The land at the heart of the planned swap did warrant such protection, and thus moves to revoke it would have been in breach of the Conservation Act (Section 18(7)).

This is a tough place to be for National. It wants the project to go ahead because it would create jobs and the party would be able to say it is addressing water storage issues in the region by blocking the Makaroro River.

The ruling also has legal consequences that cannot be ignored. The Government has said it is prepared to overturn the law as a result of this ruling, which in some respects would leave it in contempt of the court. That in itself is an offence. But if it happened, who would hold National to account?

But you got yourself into that spot National. Now you can get out of it.

A dreadful failure of the mental health system

Recently there was a story about a woman who killed her severely autistic daughter. The mother was convicted on a count of murder and sentenced to 4 years in jail, in a case that is as damning on the mental health system in New Zealand as it is tragic.

There is no doubt that killing Ruby Knox was wrong. There is also no doubt that it involved premeditation. But the motive for Donella Knox killing her is completely different. This was not done for monetary benefit or similar. This was in respect a sort of mercy killing.

Yes, Ruby was killed by her mother. In a conventional sense, one would call it murder. But this is not a conventional case. Ruby’s mother clearly loved her daughter dearly and based on the evidence, the decision to kill her daughter would have been a harrowing decision for her to make. And it is quite possibly given the immense stress that having a child requiring 24 hour care, with no assistant caregiver to relieve the workload, she herself was mentally unwell – on the point of complete breakdown; driven to desperation in a sense only she would understand.

Thus I do not think this could be called murder. Ultimately Donella did commit murder, but when the facts are considered, it was more of a mercy killing/self defence, knowing further harm to herself was inevitable, and that Ruby was going to continue to suffer. And the possibility of Donella Knox committing murder in the future is zero. She poses no threat to society. And in some respects, caring for Ms Knox was a life sentence in itself – no holidays, no relief care givers or care other than that offered by her friends who by their own admission are not qualified care givers.

Ruby had additional medical issues that made Ms Knox’s job even harder. A severely autistic person is quite unpredictable. When backed into a corner or in a situation they do not know how to handle, they can quickly turn violent and need to be restrained. Ruby also had spina bifida, could not speak, had a severe intellectual disability and could not comprehend what she was doing, as well as complications from surgery, among other issues.

It is quite the blight on the New Zealand health system that 24/7 care givers are only paid $1.50/hr more than the minimum wage. These are people are trying to look after a person incapable of looking after themselves, who need to be fed, toileted, showered, bedded, but who also protect them and anyone in their presence. There is little incentive to want to work in a crucial sector where you are responsible for the well being of someone who can go from peaceful to violent in a flash, not because they have. A care giver also has significant trouble having their own lives, as they are on round the clock call, yet need just like everyone else occasional holidays and time out.

Thus, the move by friends of Donella Knox to raise awareness of the issue and prevent such a sad case ever happening again, is commendable.