Home > The Body Politic > National, on Law and Order

National, on Law and Order

 

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National hoarding staying strong on crime

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Back in 2008 and 2011, National was very, very BIG on the usual “law and order”, thrashing the issue in a way that only right-wing/conservative political parties can, when in high-gear, election-mode. One of their 2011 election billboards (see above) specifically pointed to National’s “strong on crime” stance.

On 27 May 2007, John Key said,

“I want to make one thing clear. I don’t make excuses for criminal behaviour because I believe every individual is responsible for their actions and must be held accountable for them.”

Key added,

“Don’t just think, though, that the responsibility for rejecting criminal behaviour falls solely on the police. Ordinary New Zealanders, politicians and government agencies have an important role to play…

Unfortunately, most of National’s media-driven focus appears to be on the more visible forms of crime involving violence, or ‘populist’ issues such as “boy racers“, car-crushing, and welfare fraud.

You are more likely to be on National’s ‘hit list’ for demonstrating “tough on crime” if you commit “crimes against a person“, rather than  law-breaking by business; the financially successful;  or coalition-partner politicians.  An example is National’s pre-occupation with welfare fraud;

“Welfare fraud of any kind is unacceptable.  It takes money away from the people who need it and undermines confidence in our welfare system.” –  John Key

Welfare “fraud” is worth an estimated $23 million – but pales in  comparison against tax fraud of $7.4 billion;

Dr Lisa Marriott, a Senior Lecturer in the School of Accounting and Commercial Law, is investigating the differences in prosecution outcomes for the two offences, both of which, she says, involve money, are premeditated and have the same victims—the Government and society.

“One is not giving what you should and the other is taking what you shouldn’t.”

Her analysis of court data on the most serious offending from 2008–2011 shows that 22 percent of people found guilty of tax offences received a custodial sentence while 60 percent of benefit fraudsters were imprisoned.

National’s rhetoric and track  record appears to be less enthusiastic to up-hold the law when it come to the Well Off, rather than Working-class Offenders.

Recent examples further highlight National’s soft-on-crime approach to commercial and politically-motivated offences.

Strike 1. John Banks

Perhaps the most notorious and public of National’s selective approach to enforcing law and order – their refusal to prosecute then-ACT-leader, John Banks, for allegedly making false electoral returns after the 2010 mayoral election in Auckland.

The revelations that followed Grant Robertson’s accusations in Parliament led to a media-storm and police investigation where John  Banks was formally questioned by Police in a three-hour long interview.

In July 2012, Police decided not to prosecute John Banks citing “lack of evidence”, and a strange reference to a “stature of limitations”, to lay charges.

John Key’s response?

In refusing to read the police report, Key said,

“I haven’t read that police report and I’m not going to because I don’t need to … It’s not my job to do a forensic analysis. What I can tell you is, the law doesn’t work.”

In a further feat of sophistry and mental gymnastics, Key added,

“The test is whether they enjoy my confidence, and if a minister tells me, ‘This is my position and this is what I’ve done’, I accept their word in good faith unless it’s proven otherwise.”

On 16 October 2013,  retired accountant, Graham McCready, launched a private prosecution against  John Banks   and  the matter headed to Court. Subsequently, Crown Law took over the prosecution case.

After prevarications and failings by the Police, the Prime Minister, Crown Law, and the “establishment” in general, it took one lone citizen to start the wheels of justice rolling.

Evidently allegations of corruption by a senior politician did not merit this government’s attention. Especially when the Prime Minister “accepts their word in good faith”.

Strike 2. Easter Trading

Despite the law being quite explicit, each year various retail outlets flout the law by trading on Good Friday and Easter Sunday. Gardening centres seem to be one of the worst recidivist offenders, despite the fact that out of four days in Easter they need only be closed on one: Good Friday.

With repeat, pre-planned, determined offending, the fine of $1,000 appears to be a “business cost” that retailers will wear, in their pursuit for profit.

Imagine if a burglar or car-converter not only planned repeat offending, but advertised it on nationwide media, and expected only a small fine if caught?!

This year, it appears that in some areas the risk of a fine was not even present;

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NZ Herald - Wanaka Easter traders knew inspectors would be absent

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Southland Times - Wanaka Easter traders escape prosecution

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TV3 - PM favours Easter trading law change

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NewstalkZB - Wanaka businesses escape Easter trading laws action

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Dear Leader’s response? Does John Key demand to know why labour inspectors were not doing their job? Does he demand to know who “tipped” off Wanaka traders? Does he reassert that the law will be upheld until such time as it is changed in Parliament?

No, he does not say any of those things.

Key demonstrates his “tough on crime” response by blaming the law itself;

“The problem you’ve got is it’s always been a conscience vote and it’s been a combination of the unions asserting its influence on probably the left of politics and joined by those who have strong religious beliefs. In my view, the law doesn’t work very well and it should be overhauled.”

On MSN News, Key stated;

“There’s only one way to resolve it and that’s not to encourage people to break the law but build a parliamentary majority for change.”

That is indeed correct. Turning a blind eye on illegal activity not only throws the law into disrepute – but makes Parliament itself irrelevant. It suggests that the governing Party can determine what the law is, without proper Parliamentary oversight. In some parts of the world, this is known as a One Party state.

A previous National Party Prime Minister – Robert Muldoon – did precisely this, after winning the 1975 General Election. He advised employers to cease making deductions for the compulsory superannuation fund before Parliament had had the chance to repeal the law.

If National wants to repeal or amend the Holidays Act, it should do so honestly and present it’s case to Parliament.  Let there be open public debate so that the public can present it’s submissions to Parliament.

But it is too gutless to do so, and has taken the easier option; ignoring the law altogether.

Who was responsible for directing labour inspectors not to visit Wanaka?

Did it have ministerial approval?

And why isn’t the government investigating who issued the directive?

By ignoring this issue, National is law-making by law-breaking.

Strike 3. Worksafe

Without doubt, according to Worksafe NZ, the three deadliest occupations in this country are agriculture (112 fatalities, 2008-13) , construction (61), and forestry (35). Manufacturing and Transport/Postal/Warehousing came fourth-equal at 25 fatalities from 2008 to 2013. (If it hadn’t been for the Pike River disaster in 2010, which killed 29 men, mining would be one of the safest occupations.)

Added to the grim death toll are the hundreds of work-related injuries in the forestry sector.

Worksafe NZ has been tasked with improving our appalling safety record when it comes to deaths and injuries.  As outlined on the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment website;

The Government has established WorkSafe New Zealand (WorkSafe NZ), a stand-alone Crown agent with its own governance board, as part of its reform of the New Zealand workplace health and safety system.

WorkSafe NZ began on 16 December 2013 when the health and safety functions of the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment transferred to the new agency.

The creation of a stand-alone health and safety regulatory agency was a key recommendation of both the Royal Commission on the Pike River Coal Mine Tragedy and the Independent Taskforce on Workplace Health and Safety.

WorkSafe NZ signals a new era. With a single-minded focus on workplace health and safety issues, the agency provides a single point of accountability and seeks to play a leadership role in improving New Zealand’s health and safety performance.

Worksafe NZ’s role ranges from “providing guidance and information on workplace health and safety to duty holders and to the community” to  “monitoring and enforcing compliance with the primary workplace health and safety legislation“.  A full description of their functions is given on their website.

As Worksafe NZ’s own website chart clearly shows, the number of workplace deaths in the forestry industry has been steadily increasing since 2007;

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Worksafe NZ - Summary of fatalities 2007-2013

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So even as forestry deaths and injuries have been steadily rising, OSH/Worksafe NZ prosecutions have not kept pace, as the data shows;

Number of Initiated Prosecutions in Forestry

(2009 to 2013)

 

Year* Forestry
2009 4
2010 3
2011 2
2012 4
2013 4
Total 17

Source: WorkSafe NZ (emailed)

*Based on the prosecution initiated date. (No figures readily available for 2008).

A Radio NZ, Nine to Noon  interview on 24 April, which included   forestry-worker widow, Maryanne Butler-Finlay; CTU President, Helen Kelly; and  Worksafe NZ General Manager of Health and Safety Operations, Ona de Rooy yielded some interesting insights.

Helen Kelly accused Minister of Labour, Simon Bridges of slowing progress of the passing of the Health and Safety Bill, and actively interfering and restricting the terms of a Worksafe NZ review of safety practices in the forestry industry. She said,

“We know the minister has restricted right down what they’re allowed to look at. They’re not looking at fatigue. They’re not looking at weather. They’re not looking at hours of work. Simon Bridges has said, ‘no, wait for the review’.”

Bridges response on Radio NZ’s Morning Report, on 28 April, did nothing to allay fears that he was  taking the side of forestry operators and doing everything within his power to stymie reform of the industry, and resist implementation of a stricter safety regime.

When Morning Report’s Susie Ferguson pressed Bridges on  when the Health and Safety Reform Bill would be passed into law, his response was derisory and dismissive,

“We can’t simply, ah,  because Helen Kelly sez so, do something in two days.

...  But I don’t think it’s a position where we can simply snap our fingers and change  systemic, ah, ah, deep  problems overnight. Indeed it would be entirely wrong for us to do that.”

Yet, National was quite capable of changing industrial laws in precisely two days when it came to the so-called “Hobbit Law”. That’s when Warner Bros snapped their corporate fingers.

The Employment Relations (Film Production Work) Amendment Bill/Act ( aka “The Hobbit Law”) was introduced, passed, and enacted by National  on 29 October 2010. It was passed in just 48 hours.

There is no reason on Earth why this government could not re-regulate the forestry industry and pass the Health and Safety Reform Bill within a week, if it chose to do so. National simply chooses not to do so, and the lack of prosecutions – despite rising number of deaths – indicates that this government has other interests in mind than workplace safety and the lives of New Zealand workers.

There is big money to be made from forestry. On 13 January 2013, Statistics NZ reported;

In 2012 we exported $4.5 billion of forestry products, compared with $1.9 billion in 1992. They continue to be our third-largest goods export, after dairy and meat.

More specifically germane to the issue of safety in the forestry industry, as Statistics NZ reported;

The value of log exports more than tripled between 1992 and 2012 – from $443 million to $1.6 billion. Since 2008, the value has grown sharply – increasing 22 percent a year on average.

“This rise was due mainly to the volume of log exports tripling. Prices have increased by a smaller 16 percent,” Mr Pike said.

The increased export of logs to China has been a major contributor to the greater value of our log exports. In 1992 we sold only $59 million worth of logs to China. This was up to slightly more than $1 billion by 2012, making China our top market for logs – surpassing both Korea and Japan.

“New Zealand is now the third-largest exporter of logs in the world, after Russia and the United States. In 2012 we supplied 8 percent of the total value of the world’s export logs,” Mr Pike said.

It could be argued that this government is desperate for economic growth of any kind, at any cost.   The growing  export of a raw commodity such as unprocessed, non-value-added, logs is better than no growth at all.

By refusing to regulate the industry – or at least insist on prosecuting malfeasant employers – shows a willingness by this government to tolerate some casualties along the way. Thirtyfive deaths is “collateral damage” in National’s obsessive determination to beat the recession; create economic growth; and balance the books by 2014/15.

There is much at stake if National fails.  The National Party’s (unearned)  reputation for  “sound economic management” would be seriously damaged if the economy failed to ‘fire’ at a time when the global economy  appears to be emerging from the recent global financial crisis recession.

Which is why, it seems, that Simon Bridges is luke-warm at re-regulating the forestry industry or even passing a piece of safety legislation that would probably prevent many more deaths.

So why is Worksafe NZ  not prosecuting employers whose staff are being killed in our forests?

As with the secret instructions issued to labour inspectors not to visit law-breaking Wanaka retailers over Easter – has someone from a Minister’s office quietly whispered into the ears of Worksafe NZ to adopt and maintain a “softly, softly” approach to forestry contractors?

On 22 April, General manager of health and safety operations at Worksafe NZ, Ona De Rooy, said,

“WorkSafe NZ is focused on trying to prevent harm occurring by working with the industry and workers to improve safety and reduce the rate of serious incidents,”

Which is fine. But Worksafe NZ is also tasked with prosecuting employers who break basic safety rules. Once prevention has failed, prosecution must follow – or else where is the sanction for those who willfully break the law?

Has the word been issued from On High, not to apply the law to employers in the timber industry?

The reason would be abundantly simple: prosecuting  would be bad for business.

Out.

It has been said that in matters of business (subsidies, tax-breaks, or special “deals” for Rio Tinto, Warner Bros, China Southern Airlines, SkyCity, charter schools, etc), National adopts a “flexible” and pragmatic approach.

The same, it seems, can be said of their approach to law and order issues. When it comes to enforcing the law, this government can be… flexible.


“I want to make one thing clear. I don’t make excuses for criminal behaviour because I believe every individual is responsible for their actions and must be held accountable for them.” – John Key, 27 May 2007

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References

John Key:  National – Tough on Crime

NZ Herald: National, Act to get tough on violent crime

NZ Herald: Editorial – Car crushing an undignified stunt

National Party: Law and Order – Building a safer New Zealand

Fairfax media: Another welfare shake-up likely, Bennett says

National Party: Making Welfare Work

Victoria University: Courts more lenient on white collar criminals

TV3: Banks accused of failing to declare donation

Fairfax media: PM refuses to sack John Banks

TV3: PM won’t read John Banks police report

NZ Herald: PM reaffirms support for John Banks

Radio NZ:  John Banks resigns as minister

NZ Herald: Crown Law to take over John Banks prosecution

MoBIE/Dept of Labour: Shop opening hours

NZ Herald: Wanaka Easter traders knew inspectors would be absent

Southland Times: Wanaka Easter traders escape prosecution

TV3: PM favours Easter trading law change

Newstalk ZB: Wanaka businesses escape Easter trading laws action

Radio NZ: PM favours Easter trading change

MSN News: Easter trading laws should go: Key

Worksafe NZ: Summary of fatalities 2007-2013

Worksafe NZ: Forestry statistics 2008-2013

Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment: Establishment of WorkSafe New Zealand

Radio NZ: High rate of deaths in the forestry industry (audio)

Radio NZ: Minister of Labour responds to criticism (audio)

Parliament: Health and Safety Reform Bill

Fairfax media: Controversial Hobbit law passes

Statistics NZ: Logs to China drive our forestry export growth

NZCity: CTU takes forestry companies to court

Previous related blogposts

Nats ‘Get Tough on Crime’ – NZ First alleges theft of favourite policy!

The law as a plaything

John Banks – escaping justice

John Banks – escaping justice (Part Rua)

Easter Trading – A “victimless crime”?

Why Garden Centres LOVE public holidays!

Purchasing “justice” on the New Zealand open market

John Key’s track record on raising wages – 1. The “Hobbit Law”


 

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National dance to corporate interests

Above image acknowledgment: Francis Owen/Lurch Left Memes

This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 29 April 2014.

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