The importance of homework

January 15, 2014

Last year in the same week a Bill passed its third reading in parliament and another didn’t make it to its first.

The Bill which did pass was the Conservation (Natural Heritage Protection) Bill, sponsored by Waitaki MP Jacqui Dean who had done all the homework necessary to get unanimous support for it.

The next day a Bill sponsored by Labour’s Jacinda Ardern was rejected by the House because she didn’t do enough  homework to get it past first base.

SCOTT SIMPSON (National—Coromandel) : The sponsor of this Care of Children Law Reform Bill, Jacinda Ardern, has nominated the Justice and Electoral Committee to scrutinise the bill should it pass this first reading. Therefore, as chairman of the committee it falls to me to have a first go at what can really be described only as a very sloppy and lazy member’s bill by this member. . .

This bill is a very light piece of work. Essentially, it requires the Minister to ask the Law Commission to review the law relating to the care of children and update its September 2000 report on adoption. It requires the Law Commission to report within 12 months with a report, recommendations, and, indeed, a draft piece of legislation, and, further, it requires the Minister of Justice to introduce that bill as drafted by the Law Commission without amendment within 7 days—without amendment within 7 days. So there are significant constitutional flaws in this member’s bill. There are absolutely shabby constitutional issues that the member clearly has not addressed or even thought about. . .

So the problem is that the member sponsoring this bill is essentially trying to use her member’s bill to get the Law Commission to write her bill for her. That is sloppy. That is lazy. It is a lazy approach. It is politically lazy—it is politically lazy—and it is intellectually lazy. . . .

You’d think that would be a very good lesson on the importance of doing homework, but she’s done, or more to the point, not done it, again.

This time over the issue of prisoners flying on commercial flights.

It was nothing more than union grandstanding and Cameron Slater did the homework that the journalists who broke the old news should have to expose that.

That didn’t stop Jacinda Ardern rushing to get in the news – but the Waikato Times knows a tempest in a prison teacup when it sees one and opines:

. . . The Corrections Association was not so reticent, accusing Corrections of putting public safety at risk with what it called “secret” flights. Association president Beven Hanlon said repeated inquiries among prison officers found no one who had been aware of the flights until late last year. In his 16 years as an officer and a decade as head of the union, he had never heard of a maximum security prisoner being put on a plane with the public. He was shocked.

Really? But he had commented publicly about a raft of recommendations in an Ombudsman’s report on an inquiry into the transportation of prisoners in 2007. The report said transporting prisoners by air was common and both charter flights and scheduled public flights were used. The numbers of escort officers were increased for maximum security prisoners. The report found no systemic problems with prisoner transport by air and made no recommendations about them. “Few incidents occur during air transport, and we were given no reason to believe that any systemic problems exist,” it said. Labour’s Jacinda Ardern, now demanding answers to the union’s claims, should first have taken time out to read the Ombudsman’s report (tabled in Parliament under a Labour government). Kicking up a fuss would be in order only after she was sure that Corrections practices, indeed, are endangering public safety.

It’s not uncommon in election year for unions to chase headlines in the hope of helping their Labour friends.

But MPs need to do their homework before joining them otherwise they just add to the picture of an opposition which hasn’t yet got its act together rather than the government in waiting it wants to be.


Is smoking a right?

June 29, 2010

When Labour was trying to sell legislation making bars smoke-free it made the mistake of promoting it as a measure to reduce smoking.

I agreed it would and had no argument with the policy. But it would have been much easier to sell, and been less likely to be criticised as a nanny-state measure if it had been promoted as protecting the health of staff.

That’s what Corrections Minister Judith Collins has done with the plan to ban smoking by prisoners.

While tobacco is legal, people have the right to smoke it but that right is trumped by other people’s right to breathe smoke-free air.

I’ve never been tempted to try smoking and can’t understand why anyone would, but I do understand that once you have and are addicted it is very difficult to stop.

But anyone addicted to alcohol or illegal drugs has to go cold-turkey if they go to prison. Would it be any harder for smokers than it is for other addicts?

There’s a wide range of opinions on the merits of this policy. At one end of the spectrum it’s been described as an abuse of human rights, at the other people are saying prison isn’t supposed to be fun and if a smoking ban makes it harder that’s a good thing.

Corrections Association president Beven Hanlon wasn’t opposed to the idea although he did raise concerns about safety if prisoners got angry.

The biggest selling point for me is that it might reduce the rate of imprisonment:

A smoking ban at a prison on Britain’s Isle of Man had become a deterrent for reforming criminals who couldn’t face prison terms without smoking, Mr Semenoff said.

The drop in crime has been reported by British media, including the Telegraph, which said the crime rate on the island had fallen by 14 per cent and burglary by 35 per cent.

“It’s a standing joke now that when we nick someone we remind them that if they get sent down they’ll have to come off the cigarettes – their faces are a picture,” a police source told the newspaper in December.

“It’s like they are more scared about giving up smoking than a criminal record and some time in the nick.”

If not being able to smoke in prison deterred people from committing crimes which would send them there  it’s worth a try because nothing else seems to be working.


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