The Government’s characterisation of an indecent assault on a female Corrections Officer by a male prisoner as a ‘pinch’ trivialises the offence and undermines the victim, National’s Women spokesperson Paula Bennett and Justice spokesperson Mark Mitchell say.
“The victim had her buttock grabbed hard and held by the offender and when she tried to get away, the offender followed her and grabbed a gate to stop her from leaving. In her own words, this left her feeling degraded, vulnerable and uneasy at work,” Ms Bennett says.
“Yet Justice Minister Andrew Little has repeatedly defined this serious assault as merely a ‘pinch on the bottom’, with Minister for Women Julie Anne Genter today defending Mr Little.
“Ms Genter first avoided questions about whether she agreed with characterising the grabbing of a woman’s bottom for a prolonged period as merely a ‘pinch’. When pushed, she acknowledged the offence was serious but failed to condemn Mr Little’s comments.
“Women are more likely to be victims of sexual violence and instead of downplaying and trivialising this assault, the Government should be advocating for women to ensure that they feel safe and supported to speak up and know that these offences will be taken seriously.”
Mr Mitchell says it’s unacceptable that Mr Little has repeatedly misrepresented this indecent assault case as a ‘pinch on the bottom’ and dismissed it as ‘not violent’ and ‘low level’.
“In the days since he first made these comments, many women who have been victims of similar assaults have told me they feel undermined and marginalised by the Government.
“He today admitted that he based his comments on stories in the media and hadn’t bothered to read the sentencing note that detailed the significant impact of the assault on the victim.
“When Mr Little was today offered the chance to apologise to the many women who have said they are hurt and offended by his comments, he refused.
“Indecent assault is never acceptable and suggesting otherwise sends completely the wrong message to victims and offenders. Mr Little and Ms Genter should be ashamed.”
In a remarkable admission today, Justice Minister Andrew Little has dismissed an indecent assault on a Corrections Officer as ‘not violent’, National’s Justice Spokesperson Mark Mitchell says.
“When asked to provide an example of a non-violent offence, Mr Little referenced an indecent assault case in 2016 where a prisoner with a long rap sheet grabbed a female Corrections Officer’s bottom.
“It was astonishing to hear him say that he does not consider this and other indecent assaults to be violent offences.
“The sentencing note on this particular case outlines the seriousness of the offending – ‘Standing behind the Corrections officer, you grabbed her right buttock, squeezed it quite hard, and held on for about one to two seconds.’
“It beggars belief that the Justice Minister could so callously dismiss this as non-violent.
“He even attempted to minimise the offence by describing it as ‘pinching’ and suggested that it shouldn’t have even been categorised as an indecent assault.
“It completely undermines the victim of this assault, who said she felt angry, frustrated and totally degraded by the offending, and had been left feeling vulnerable and uneasy when performing her work duties.
“For a Government that claims to pride itself on tackling issues of sexual violence, Mr Little has seriously dented its credentials. His Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Domestic and Sexual Violence Jan Logie must publicly condemn his comments.
“This is just another example of the Ardern-Peters Government going soft on crime and not protecting victims.”
Just a day after being hung out to dry by his Prime Minister, Justice Minister Andrew Little has returned the favour by failing to back up her false claims that New Zealand’s prisons are filled with low-level offenders, National’s Justice Spokesperson Mark Mitchell says.
“When asked today in Parliament to clarify exactly what the Prime Minister means by a ‘low-level offender’, Mr Little was unable to give a coherent explanation.
“The reality is 98 per cent of people in our prisons are there for Category 3 and Category 4 crimes. These are offences punishable by a prison sentence of two years or more, like murder, sexual violence and serious assault.
“What’s more, people in our prisons have an average of 46 convictions on their criminal record. This reflects a significant number of victims.
“Yet the Prime Minister has spent the last week making false claims that New Zealand has a ‘US-style’ justice system where prisons are being filled with low-level offenders – all to try and justify her Government’s reckless refusal to add the required number of prison beds.
“For a Government so focused on ‘justice reform’, it appears to know very little about the make-up of our prison population.
“This is seriously concerning because it means the Government has no idea what kind of people it will be letting out when it goes ahead with softening our bail, sentencing and parole laws.
“This incompetent and bumbling Government should spend less time lying to the public about the make-up of our prison population and more time on protecting New Zealanders.”
Incoming Prime Minister Winston Peters’ first act should be to keep his word to voters and veto Andrew Little’s proposed repeal of the three strikes law, National’s Justice Spokesperson Mark Mitchell says.
“For decades Winston Peters has been a champion for the three strikes policy requiring tougher sentences for violent offenders. He needs to reassure the country that under his leadership the three strikes law will not be repealed and our bail laws won’t be weakened,” Mr Mitchell says.
“This would be a deep betrayal of Mr Peters’ supporters and New Zealanders generally. Three strikes is a policy that is not only supported by New Zealand First voters, but also the wider public, because it’s a policy which actually works.
“Data from the Ministry of Justice shows that there has been a 4.9 per cent reduction in ‘first strikes’ warnings and that the number of second strike offenders has decreased by 34 per cent.
“Dangerous, violent, repeat offenders are being locked away for longer, keeping our communities safer.
“New Zealanders have a right to be worried about the Government’s secret plans. New Zealanders have more cause for concern today.
“National rejects softening of bail and sentencing laws which will make our communities less safe, won’t rehabilitate any more people, and won’t prevent further crime from happening.
“To safely reduce prison numbers, you need a plan to reduce crime which this Government clearly does not have. They just want to make it easier to get out of jail regardless of the consequences.
“In Government National will reverse the repeal of the three strikes regime and the changes to sentencing and bail laws which will see more serious, violent offenders on the street.
“This will be a serious first test for Winston Peters, will he remain committed to the safety of law abiding Kiwis or will he fold to the demands of Labour and the Greens and increase the number of violent and dangerous offenders being released back into our communities.”
The Government needs to think a lot smarter if it is serious about building on National’s strong record of tackling family violence, National’s Justice Spokesperson Mark Mitchell and Social Development Spokesperson Louise Upston say.
“Family violence is one of the most insidious and entrenched social issues in our country, and to break the cycle of offending we need to try new things,” Mr Mitchell says.
“That’s why in 2016 National introduced a $132 million package of reforms, which overhaul family violence laws and the way the system prevents and responds to family violence.
“On top of that, in last year’s Budget we invested $37.2 million into targeted family violence services, including the Integrated Safety Response pilot and the Gang Action Plan pilot.
“As a result of our changes, we’ve seen more people coming forward to report family violence incidents, and Police and courts taking the issue much more seriously. We don’t want to go back to the old days where people would turn a blind eye to family violence.”
Ms Upston says investing in initiatives to combat family violence has always been a priority for National but it was about ensuring that the services were targeted and had proven outcomes to ensure money was always well-spent and to maximum effectiveness.
“This was to ensure that the people who were most in need of our support got it.
“The Government’s Budget announcement today, while headline-grabbing, contains very little detail about where the money will go - other than to 150 service providers. But that’s where the lack of detail is worrying, because we can only assume that each will get a fair distribution – and on that assumption that equates to $140,000 each – so by that definition, the funding isn’t targeted and isn’t going to be spent where it’s needed the most.
“Family violence is a serious issue that we are focussed on resolving but it needs to be recognised that complex intergenerational hardship is often the cause of violence.
“That’s why it’s extremely concerning that Jacinda Ardern and her Government hasn’t committed to retaining either the Social Investment approach or the Better Public Services targets we implemented, including around reducing child harm.
“Our drive has been – and will always be – to root out the source of the problem through sophisticated data-driven risk analysis, followed up with solutions that work for the individual on a case-by-case basis. This is what changes lives and changes futures.”
Latest figures showing that the youth offending rate more than halved over National’s time in office prove that National was on the right track and the new Government’s softer policies will risk undoing the good work, National’s Justice Spokesperson Mark Mitchell says.
“In his first statement on youth justice today, Associate Justice Minister Aupito William Sio celebrated the significant drop in youth offending achieved under the National Government.
“Between 2009/10 and 2016/17, offending for children aged 10-13 years dropped by 59 per cent, while offending by young people aged 12-14 years fell by 63 per cent.
“That’s a result of National’s huge focus on tackling youth offending. Initiatives like the Youth Crime Action Plan, our social investment approach, and the roll out of the Rangatahi Courts have had a real impact.
“Early results have shown that young people who attend Rangatahi Courts committed 14 per cent fewer offences and were 11 per cent less likely to commit a new serious offence in the following year than comparable youth.
“National’s plan was working, so it’s concerning to hear statements from the Ardern-Peters Government indicating that it wants to go soft on crime.
“We know that there is still a small group of young offenders who are much harder to crack. That’s why we announced a policy during the campaign to introduce a new category of Young Serious Offenders and greater powers for courts to deal with those offenders.
“The challenge for the new Government will be to not only tackle offending by this very serious group of young criminals, but to ensure that the overall youth offending rate continues to trend down.”
An inquiry into the allegations raised in the book Hit and Run undermines our Defence Force, risks New Zealand’s relationship with its defence allies and is ultimately an expensive waste of tax-payer money, National’s Defence spokesperson Mark Mitchell says.
“The Government needs to be very clear about what has influenced it to launch an Inquiry.
“I was alarmed to hear the Attorney General say that ‘continuing controversy’ around the Operation has played a role in his decision. This suggests he has been swayed by a vocal lobby, instead of the facts,” Mr Mitchell says.
“Two of the National Government’s Defence Ministers and the former Prime Minister have already reviewed New Zealand Defence Force evidence of what led to, and occurred, during Operation Burnham in the Baghlan province in Afghanistan.
“Much of it was highly classified and some of it was provided by our international partners in a mark of respect to the NZDF and the New Zealand Government. There was no requirement for them to share this information.
“The evidence shows the basis for the operation met all legal requirements and that it was conducted with the highest level of professionalism.
“Based on the evidence we saw in Government, and the responses to our questions, this Inquiry is unwarranted.
“This was not a political position that we took. Rather, as Ministers of the Crown we acted on the basis of extensive advice and briefings from NZDF who made the same commitments to us as they did publicly.
“Assuming the NZDF has shown this Government the same information they shared with us, I cannot see a basis for an inquiry.
“It will only be a distraction to our Defence Forces at a time when the Government is asking them to engage in major deployments around the world in theaters that present the same risks and challenges that Afghanistan did,” Mr Mitchell says.
The Government needs to stop looking for excuses to go soft on crime and come up with a plan to reduce crime, National’s Justice Spokesperson Mark Mitchell says.
“No doubt the report today from the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor saying that being tough on crime is to blame for rising prison costs and inmate numbers is music to Andrew Little and Grant Robertson's ears.
“They've been looking for excuses to loosen up bail and sentencing laws so that the Government doesn’t have to go ahead with building the new Waikeria prison and can boast about reducing prison numbers.
“But the cost of prisons cannot be an excuse not to put people in prison, if that’s where they need to be. The priority must be to ensure that victims are kept safe from violent criminals.
“We know that the overall crime rate has been decreasing, but a lot of that is due to a reduction in lower-level offending.
“Violent crime has actually gone up four per cent since 2011 and this is largely the type of crime that people get sent to prison for. This is also the type of crime that has the most serious and long-lasting impact on victims’ lives.
“That’s why perpetrators of violent crime must be taken out of our communities and into a place where they can’t hurt others and where they can get rehabilitation.
“Tightening up bail laws was part of ensuring this because we know that a very large number of people go on to commit more crimes and rack up more victims while on bail.
“Part of the reason violent crime has gone up is because there’s been a stronger focus on family violence in the last few years, meaning more people are coming forward to report incidents of family violence and police and the courts are taking the issue more seriously.
“It’s worrying that the Government scrapped National’s target to reduce crime and instead introduced a target to reduce the prison population.
“Surely the measure of success must be to reduce the number of victims, not the number of prisoners, because if we can do the former we achieve the latter.
“It’s time the Government realised that and got on with developing a plan to reduce crime.”
Labour’s coalition partner NZ First has threatened to withhold regional development funding for an important economic development project in Rodney unless local National MP Mark Mitchell ends his advocacy for it and stops criticising NZ First ministers.
In an extraordinary request over the weekend, NZ First MP Jenny Marcroft - who said she was under instruction from a Minister - also requested that National pledge to not ask Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones questions about the project, should it go ahead.
“Ms Marcroft said she had been sent to tell me that the Mahurangi River Restoration Project would be considered for funding from the Government’s Provincial Growth Fund, but for that to happen I would have to end my involvement with it as a local MP.
“Ms Marcroft told me this was because the Government was unhappy with me revealing the illegitimate use of Defence Force aircraft by Defence Minister Ron Mark.
“She also said if I ended my involvement and the money was granted, that they did not want National’s Regional Economic Development spokesperson Paul Goldsmith asking Shane Jones questions about it in Parliament.
“Finally, she implied my work as an Opposition MP would be a factor in funding any projects in my electorate I was involved in.
“I immediately told Ms Marcroft this behaviour was unacceptable, and that she had been put in a very compromised position by her colleague. She refused to name them so I said she had two hours to have the Minister call me before I took the matter further.
“She sent a text message an hour later asking me to forget the conversation.
“But this is rotten politics. It goes to the core of our democratic processes and the National Party will not let such behaviour stand.
“This billion dollar Provincial Growth Fund is taxpayer money and should be used to benefit New Zealanders, not buy an easy ride for the Government nor to try and convince local MPs to stop supporting local projects, because they have annoyed the Government.
“The Prime Minister needs to find out which of her Ministers is attempting to use public money for political gain and she needs to quickly explain what she intends to do about it.”
National Party Justice Spokesperson Mark Mitchell welcomes news that Justice Minister Andrew Little is continuing the work of his predecessor Amy Adams to repeal the one year and one day law as part of the Crimes Amendment Bill.
“Mr Little’s announcement that Cabinet will today discuss a draft bill started in 2017 by then-Justice Minister Amy Adams is good news.
“Ms Adams asked officials in June 2017 to begin work on a number of potential amendments to the Crimes Act, including the repeal of Section 162 that states no one can be held criminally responsible for a death that occurs a year and a day after the cause of death.
“It’s good to see the Government picking up where National left off. The law as it stands doesn’t make sense, as demonstrated by the inability to prosecute anyone for the CTV building collapse. We also know that victims of serious assaults, for example, are able to survive longer because of advances in technology, meaning that perpetrators can avoid liability if their victims die outside the legislated period.
“Ms Adams also sought advice on including the repeal of blasphemous libel in the Crimes Amendment Bill, as well as amending self-defence laws to ensure that a person can claim self-defence even if that person is responding to a threat that is not imminent.
“The latter is particularly relevant to cases involving family violence, where a perpetrator’s behaviour can escalate to the point where victims may feel their life is in danger and the need to take drastic action. I hope that the Government will also continue our work on this.
“Thanks to the previous Government, Mr Little has plenty of opportunities to continue our work to make the justice system work better for New Zealanders.”