Observers responsible but not judges?

September 15, 2011

The Crimes Amendment Bill (No 2) which aims to protect vulnerable children from abuse and neglect passed its second reading on Tuesday.

It creates a new offence of failing to take reasonable steps to protect a child or vulnerable adult from the risk of death, grievous bodily harm, or sexual assault, with a maximum penalty of 10 years’ imprisonment.

Justice Minister Simon Power said:

“New Zealand has a shameful history of child abuse and this bill will make an example of adults who put their interests before those of the vulnerable children around them,” Mr Power said.

“This bill sends a very clear message that it’s no longer okay for people to turn a blind eye.”

Mr Power said a parent or person over 18 may be found liable if they have frequent contact with the victim, and:

  • They are a member of the same household as the victim.
  • Though they do not live in the same household, they are so closely connected with it that they are regarded as a member of it.
  • They are a staff member of a hospital or institution where the victim resides.

On top of that, the bill doubles the maximum penalty for cruelty to a child from five years to 10 years’ imprisonment and extends the offence to include vulnerable adults – those in care because of their age, detention, sickness, or mental impairment.

We do have a shameful record of abuse and neglect and that makes the case of the comedian whose name is suppressed who was discharged without conviction after pleading  guilty even more puzzling.

If I understand this correctly, had this bill been enacted, the mother of the child involved who laid the complaint would have committed an offense had she stayed silent.

If an adult who doesn’t act when they know a chid is being abused or neglected is wrong, how can a judge say the consequences of a conviction for someone who admits offending would outweigh the gravity of the offence?


Valedictory schedule

September 14, 2011

Acting Leader of the House Simon Power advises that Parliament’s Business Committee has agreed to the following schedule for MPs’ retiring from Parliament to present their valedictory statements:

Tuesday 27 September

5:45pm            Sue Kedgley

Wednesday 28 September

5:30pm            Hon. Mita Ririnui

5:45pm            Keith Locke

Thursday 29 September

5:00pm            Dr Ashraf Choudhary

5:15pm            Hon. Heather Roy

5:30pm            Hon. Sir Roger Douglas

5:45pm            Hon. George Hawkins

Tuesday 4 October

5:15pm            Lynne Pillay

5:30pm            Hon. Pete Hodgson

5:45pm            Hon. Jim Anderton

Wednesday 5 October

5:00pm            Sandra Goudie

5:15pm            Hon. Georgina te Heuheu

5:30pm            Hon. Dr Wayne Mapp

5:45pm            Hon. Simon Power


Offender levy helps crime victims

August 24, 2011

The $50 offender levy has provided 2,091 grants and service for crime victims in its first year:

Since July last year, the levy has been imposed on all convicted offenders at the time of sentencing, regardless of the crime they commit. The levy is collected after reparation but before fines, and is in addition to any sentence or court order.

The levy was originally used to fund eight new entitlements and services for victims of serious crime, but five were added after the levy collected nearly double its first-year target of $2 million.

Justice Minister Simon Power pointed out that victims of crime find themselves in the criminal justice system through no fault of their own and the offender levy helps them through a very difficult time.

In its first year the levy paid out $1.64 million in services and entitlements for victims of crime and their families, including:

Families affected by homicide

• 296 people affected by homicide received assistance from the Homicide Support Service, which provides practical and emotional support throughout the criminal justice process.
• 96 grants were given to families to help with the loss of income and costs incurred immediately after the homicide.
• 322 family members received the $124 per day High Court attendance grant to help cover the loss of income incurred during High Court trials.
• 33 families received assistance with funeral or memorial service costs.
• 319 family members received assistance for expenses (such as travel, childcare, and accommodation) to help them attend court proceedings and Parole Board hearings.

Victims of sexual violence

• 298 victims received a one-off discretionary grant to cover immediate costs following a sexual assault.
• 539 victims were assisted by the Sexual Violence Court Support Service, which gives victims of sexual violence access to a trained and experienced victim adviser during the criminal court process.

Victims of serious crime

• 188 victims received assistance for expenses (such as travel, childcare, and accommodation) to help them attend court proceedings and Parole Board hearings.

Mr Power said the Offender Levy is an important part of the Government’s ongoing drive to put victims at the heart of the criminal justice system.

It is sobering to think there are so many victims but good the justice system now offers them more help and that it I’d funded by those who commit the crimes.

 


MPs can agree when it matters

August 12, 2011

Our parliamentary system tends to be adversorial and we see a lot more of MPs at odds than in agreement.

However, yesterday there was unaninimity on two important pieces of legislation.

The first was the Electoral (Administration) Amendment Bill (No 2) 

The Bill, introduced by Justice Minister Simon Power,  establishes a new Electoral Commission, which will be a one-stop shop for electoral matters.

“I’m pleased that the Government’s electoral law reform programme, including the rewrite of controversial electoral finance laws, has attracted the wide support of Parliament,” Mr Power said.

“Such cross-party support will help to ensure New Zealand’s electoral laws are enduring.”

Unlike the Electoral Finance Act which was driven by ideology, caused division and was dumped when the government changed, this one is driven by common sense, has cross party support and so will endure.

The second piece of legislation which passed unanimously was the  Child and Family Protection Bill.

This was also introduced by the Justice Minister and is to protect child victims of family violence. It:

• Clarifies that when a protected person dies, their children will remain protected. This will avoid any legal confusion at a time when a grieving family is already under stress.
• Makes it clear that protecting children from all forms of violence – a principle of the Care of Children Act 2004 – includes protection from psychological abuse and direct and indirect abuse.
• Ensures that a child of a protection-order applicant will continue to be protected if they live at home past the age of 17.
• Ensures a focus on the best interests of the child by giving parents an opportunity to review care and contact arrangements soon after a temporary protection order is made.
• Avoids any opportunity for a lapse between a temporary order and a final protection order coming into effect which could have resulted in a victim having no protection.
• Makes it easier to obtain protection for children at risk of unlawful removal from New Zealand.
• Creates a new offence in the Adoption Act 1955 for improper inducement of consent to an adoption, punishable by up to seven years’ imprisonment. This enables New Zealand to ratify the Second Optional Protocol to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, and ensures New Zealand is meeting its international obligations to protect children from economic and sexual exploitation.

This is very different from electoral reform but it is also too important for political posturing.

If only there was similar agreement on what caused the  3,867 domestic violence cases in the Family Court which each involved at least one child in the 2009/10 year and how to solve them.


Te Heuheu to retire

May 10, 2011

National cabinet Minister Georgina te Heuheu has announced she will retire from parliament at the end of this term.

“Now is a good time to go. The National Party is in good heart. It has strong leadership. The National Government has outlined a credible programme for New Zealand’s future, and it’s now time for family and friends.

“I came in under MMP at a time when the National Government had embarked on an ambitious programme to settle Treaty injustices and to work to lift Māori participation in the economy and society. I’m proud to have been part of this key policy direction as I strongly believe it has set the course for a strong and enduring future for all New Zealanders.

“I have had 15 great years as a Member of the National Party Caucus. I have served under three Prime Ministers. Jim Bolger was Prime Minister when I came in and I have had the privilege to serve twice in Cabinet, first under Jenny Shipley and now under John Key.

“During that time I have had the opportunity of contributing to some very challenging issues that go to the heart of who we are as New Zealanders, including promoting the reconciliation of the interests of Māori and their fellow New Zealanders.

“I’ve endeavoured to do this by promoting reasoned debate and hopefully, exercising a degree of calm, and quiet determination.

“I am very proud to have served in the current Cabinet in this term. John Key has a very keen sense of what it takes to build a dynamic, inclusive society and I’ll be working hard up to the election to ensure he gets the chance to carry that leadership on for our country.

“I also hope New Zealanders give him a good mandate to pursue a vision for New Zealand that recognises that every New Zealander has an important role to play in building a strong nation.

“Politics is a brutal game at times. I have tried to focus on the issues rather than personalities. Politics can be all-encompassing and often you forget there are other things in life.

“I know there are other challenges out there, but for now I’m looking forward to going home and enjoying my family. I only hope they’re looking forward to the same thing.”

Mrs te Heuheu entered parliament as a list MP in the first MMP election in 1996.

She was the first Maori woman to gain a law degree from Victoria University and  and be admitted to the High Court as Barrister and Solicitor.

She practised law in Wellington and Rotorua before becoming an MP.

Her career in politics saw her become the first Maori woman to gain election as an MP for the National Party; the first Maori woman to chair the Maori Affairs Select Committee, and only the second Maori woman to be appointed to a New Zealand Cabinet.

Her ministerial portfolios from 1998 to 1999 were Minister of Women’s Affairs, Associate Minister for Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations and Associate Minister of Health.

She is now Minister for Courts, Pacific Island Affairs, Disarmament and Arms Control and Associate Minister of Maori Affairs.

Prime Minister John Key said:

“I want to thank Georgina for the contribution she has made in her career in national politics over the last 15 years, and also for her public service in a myriad of other roles.

“In particular I want to record my appreciation for the role Mrs te Heuheu has played over the years in helping to grow the relationship between iwi and the National Party,” says Mr Key.

Two other ministers, Simon Power and Wayne Mapp, have announced they are retiring at the end of this term; Richard Worth and Pansy Wong have already stood down and Coromandel MP Sandra Goudie has announced she will retire in November too.

Having a turn over of Ministers and MPs is good for the health of the party. It makes it much easier to refresh caucus and cabinet without putting any noses out of joint.


Leaders don’t win or lose alone

March 30, 2011

Election campaigns have become more and more presidential with most attention on party leaders.

That focus on the leaders continues between elections too but a leader doesn’t win or lose alone.

The seeds of National’s defeat in 1999 were sown before the 1990 election when Jim Bolger made stupid promises which were then not kept. Those seeds were fertilised before the 1996 election when too many MPs whose seats disappeared with the reduction in the number of electorates stayed on as list MPs.

Having failed to jump before the 1999 election many of those MPs were pushed in the 2002 one. Not only were many of them the tired face of National which the electorate had rejected three years before, many weren’t united behind the leader. The involuntary clean-out in the election provided the foundation for rebuilding which enabled the party to win in 2008.

Labour is following a similar path. It has had some refreshment but not enough.  Parties need a balance between experience and freshness and it hasn’t got it.

It’s led by one of the longest-serving MPs in parliament and too many of his caucus are associated with the people and policies which lost voters’ support over successive terms. Further more they have done too little to persuade the public they have new and better ideas for running the country again.

MPs will have many reasons for clinging to their seats, the good of the party isn’t usually one of them.

The influx of new MPs in 2005 and 2008 refreshed the National caucus. Involuntary resignations by Richard Worth and Pansy Wong and decisions not to stand again by John Carter, Wayne Mapp, Simon Power and Sandra Goudie has provided the opportunity for several new faces in the next term.

All the blame for Labour’s dysfunction is being laid at Phil Goff’s door. He’s made mistakes but his caucus members need to look at themselves too. Sticking with him because there is no viable alternative isn’t a resounding vote of confidence in him which the electorate shares. But a lack of unity and refusal to stand aside by some of the longer-serving or more ineffectual MPs is also part of the problem.

Ranking the list is never an easy job and the number of tired old faces among the sitting MPs will make it even harder for Labour this time. However, if its MPs and the party don’t make some hard choices about who stays and who goes themselves, voters will do it for them as they did for National in 2002.


Power Trans Tasman’s politician of year

November 29, 2010

Simon Power tops Trans Tasman’s 2010 roll call of politicians and is named their politician of the year.

Power gets the top ranking thanks to his towering performance in Parliament and the sheer volume of the legislative work he has done. He has taken more Bills through Parliament than any other Minister, accounting for one third of the Government’s legislation in 2010. He is the lock to Key’s flashier winger’s performance. Trans Tasman says of Power “An outstanding Minister. Huge workload includes reforming the Justice system and market regulation as well as law reform. He is looking more and more like a leader in waiting.”

He gets 9 out of 10 in the roll call as does John Key who also scored 9 last year.

Bill English, who has just celebrated the 20th anniversary of entering parliament, went up from 8 to 8.5 and was commended for the work he has done on tax reform and steering the country through the worst recession since the 1930s.

Honourable mention must also be made of Gerry Brownlee who has had another strong year in trying circumstances. “Brownlee gives the impression he is growing into the job, his media management has improved and so has his running of Parliament as leader of the House.” He stays on a rating of 8 out 10.

Other Ministers to go up in the ratings are Tony Ryall, to 8.5, Nick Smith, to 8, Judith Collins to 7.5, Chris Finlayson to 7.5, David Carter to 7, Murray McCully to 8, Tim Groser to 7.5 (no love lost between that pair), Wayne Mapp to 6 and Kate Wilkinson to 5.

Among MPs whose score improved this year was Eric Roy who was described as: 

An Associate Speaker who handles the House with patience and good grace, and this often isn’t easy. His experience is respected, his demeanour is appreciated.

On the whole National scored better than Labour.

For the Record, 30 National MPs managed to boost their scores this year, 13 stayed on the same score and 15 went down.

For Labour a much better performance – last year not one MP improved on their 2008 score. This year 26 of the 42 boosted their scores, 10 stayed the same and 5 went down.

National managed to get 32 of its 58 MPs over the 5 mark this year, improving on the 20 who made it last year – 26 of them were under the 5 mark. For Labour another relatively low scoring year, with just 15 MPs over 5 out of the Party’s complement of 42 – 26 rated below 5.

Some MPs will feel undervalued by their ranking and assessment. The judgement is made by Trans Tasman’s Editors on the basis of MPs’ performance in Caucus, Cabinet, Committee, The House and Electorate and the influence they bring to bear in their various forums. Roll Call is compiled by Trans Tasman’s team of writers and Parliamentary insiders, with a final decision on each ranking arrived at after much discussion.

I don’t know these people but I have no doubt about their knowledge and impartiality. However, as my previous post pointed out good electorate MPs do a lot of hard work which may be appreciated by those they help but largely goes unnoticed by anyone else.

Some of those not particularly well ranked have very good majorities which shows their constituents value them more highly than the pundits do.


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