First Responder Driving Ambulance
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National focused on fixing First Responders Bill

Opinion 29/07/2020


This oped is written by Simeon Brown, National's Corrections spokesperson, in response to Darroch Ball’s column this week.

OPINION: Darroch Ball’s Magic Talk op-ed from 27 July shows a reliance on bluster in the absence of substance is not restricted to Winston Peters or Shane Jones, but is a New Zealand First caucus-wide trait.

Let me be clear, no Party backs our first-responders more than National. Our front line staff deserve every protection we can provide them, and when we were in Government, National amended the Sentencing Act so that assaults on first responders were considered an aggravating factor at the time of sentencing.

But getting the detail right for the protection of first responders and corrections officers is crucial to protect front line workers, something Ball’s Bill frankly fails to do.

The Justice Select Committee never got to do its job properly on this Bill, due to the Covid-19 emergency and the Government giving priority to the Prisoner Voting Bill (a Bill New Zealand First supported through every stage). That is why we have voted to send it back to Select Committee, a vital part of the Parliamentary process where legislation is carefully scrutinised.

Contrary to Ball’s claim that National is playing politics with this issue, we actually believe this issue is too important to play politics, which is the very reason why we want a Bill that works. 

My simple message to him is this: there is no doubt about the fact that National is the Party of Law and Order. There is no chance of us going soft on crime. Unlike New Zealand First, National hasn’t been part of the Government which over the past two-and-a-half years has seen gang numbers increase by a third, victimisations increase by 10 per cent, or which remitted thousands of offenders sentences over lockdown and gave prisoners the right to vote.

Yet, not only is Ball confused by which Parties must answer for this astonishing record and failure when it comes to Law and Order, he is also confused by the difference between minimum and maximum sentences. One thing I can agree with him on is that, as he points out, that the three strikes legislation requires the courts to impose the maximum sentence. We seem to differ on whether there are meaningful differences between mandatory minimum sentences and mandatory maximum sentences.

To me, it seems rather straight forward that we agree with maximum mandatory sentences imposed under the three strike legislation where someone has continued to reoffend. However, we disagree over whether a mandatory minimum sentence should be put in place.

As the Bill stands it includes a mandatory minimum sentence of six months in jail if someone assaults a first responder or corrections officer. Whilst there should be a punishment for this offence, a mandatory minimum sentence means Judges will have little room to move where there are mitigating circumstances.

I understand that Ball is frustrated by the fact that his Bill will now not be passed during this Parliament, however, the right way forward is for the Bill and the eight extensive amendments is to go back to the Justice Select Committee so we have legislation that properly protects our first responders.

National will fix this Bill and ensure our first responders and corrections officers get the protections they deserve.