This oped is written by Darroch Ball MP, New Zealand First spokesperson on Law and Order.
OPINION: The National party has been talking a big game on being ‘tough on crime’ but when it really mattered they went straight past ‘soft’ and ended up elbow-deep in ‘sopping-wet’.
Currently there is a New Zealand First Bill being debated in the House that would ensure a minimum mandatory six month prison sentence for anyone that assaults our first responders.
Surely a ‘tough on crime’ National Party would back a minimum mandatory sentence of six months in prison for anyone who assaults our St John paramedics, our police officers, our corrections officers, or even our nurses in emergency departments
However, National through Simeon Brown astonishingly put in an amendment to take away the minimum mandatory sentence clause from the bill. It wasn’t the Labour or Green Parties that wanted it removed, it was National that wanted to take away the harsher mandatory sentence. The reason why this is so astonishing is two-fold.
Firstly, Brown’s colleague Mark Mitchell made it quite clear that National actually backed the mandatory sentence, speaking firmly in favour of it during the first reading of the bill
…you will face a minimum of six months in prison…fundamentally, if someone assaults or attacks a first responder, then they'll now be sent a very clear message that you'll be going to jail for six months. That's a good thing.
Second, Brown seems to be oblivious to the fact that his own party’s support for the ‘tough on crime’ three-strikes legislation, is based solely around a mandatory sentence and taking discretion away from the courts. Brown made comments against the First Responders Bill, which quite literally could’ve come out of a Green Party speech, saying that “mandatory minimum sentences would lead to unjust circumstances and outcomes.” If that is the case, then National has now just announced they can no longer be in favour of the ‘three-strikes’ legislation.
The ‘three-strikes’ legislation ultimately means that if an offender commits a serious crime for the third time they must be sentenced with a mandatory maximum sentence - with no discretion or independence from the courts.
Ironically, however, when talking on this Bill to protect our first responders, Brown has gone on to say “the independence of the courts from Parliament is of vital constitutional importance, and the Parliament should exercise with considerable restraint any power to compel the courts to impose minimum sentences.” That is quite literally the exact opposite of what the National-supported ‘three-strikes’ legislation dictates.
So, if the National Party now no longer backs mandatory sentencing, not only should they let the sleepy media know, but they should also let them know that they no longer support the mandatory sentencing in the ‘three-strikes’ legislation.
The new leader of the National Party Judith Collins was ironically the Minister who brought in the ‘three-strikes’ legislation. In that bill’s third reading she made her support of the mandatory sentence clear “…at stage three police will be referring all charges that qualify for the mandatory maximum penalty to the Crown…it sends a clear message…their behaviour will no longer be tolerated…they can look forward to being locked up for a long time.” For the benefit of Simeon Brown, that is called a mandatory sentence - no court independence or discretion. In fact both Labour and the Greens railed against the ‘three-strikes’ legislation precisely because of the mandatory sentencing. Perhaps Brown should read through the Hansard and try to figure out which party he actually belongs to.
The most important questions that now need to be asked are actually to Judith Collins. Does National still support mandatory sentences? Does National still support the ‘three strikes’ legislation? Based on what Mark Mitchell and Simeon Brown have been saying, it might be time to hit the start button on the ‘contradict-o-meter’.