Hon JUDITH COLLINS (Minister of Justice)
: I move,
That the Sentencing (Aggravating Factors) Amendment Bill be now read a third time. The bill signals the Government’s support for police officers and corrections officers, who are the community’s first line of defence against dangerous offenders. It will ensure that the courts regard an offence against these law enforcement officers as an aggravating factor at sentencing. Although the current law includes a number of offences specific to police and corrections officers, the most serious assaults are dealt with as generic offences, such as attempted murder or wounding with intent to injure. There is no requirement on the court to take special notice of the fact that the victim was a law enforcement officer. This bill will mean that every judge must consider the fact that an offence has been committed against a police or corrections officer as an aggravating factor when sentencing the offender.
As I confirmed at the Committee of the whole House stage, the Government is supporting Charles
Chauvel’s Supplementary Order Paper 14, providing an additional aggravating factor for emergency services providers. This will include doctors, nurses, paramedics, ambulance officers, and firefighters attending emergencies. The Government recognises that front-line emergency workers attending emergency situations deserve special protection in a similar way to police and corrections officers acting in the course of their duties.
All of these front-line staff have to work in highly dangerous situations in the course of their everyday duties. Police officers and corrections officers are exposed to danger, because they deal with the most dangerous people in our society. When we as ordinary people encounter dangerous situations, we call the police to deal with them. When offenders are removed from our community to prison, corrections officers have the responsibility for the safe custody of these individuals. When our friends, relatives, or community members are in an accident or their house catches fire, it is the other first responders whom we expect to save them. These front-line officers and emergency workers cannot leave when a situation gets too dangerous or risky, because their jobs
require them to protect and to save the lives of others. These workers are the first and last port of call, and for that reason we are making sure that the law recognises the importance of the contribution they make to society. I commend this bill to the House.
CHARLES CHAUVEL (Labour)
: I would like to acknowledge the tribute that the Minister of Justice just paid to front-line emergency workers. I think it is certainly one that I would want to associate myself with. The Sentencing (Aggravating Factors) Amendment Bill as originally drafted, as she noted, would have expressly provided that an assault on a police officer or corrections officer would have to be taken into account as an expressly aggravating factor by a sentencing judge in the act of sentencing.
I proposed a Supplementary Order Paper that recognised that just as police and corrections officers do a job where they have no choice about putting themselves on to the front line and into positions of danger, and do that job admirably and in a way that society ought to always remember with gratitude, emergency front-line responders in the health system are required to go to accidents, and firefighters have a similar duty. They are not given the option of saying “Well, no, I’m not going to go to that call out; I’m not going to attend that fire.” They also serve without choice under the terms of their engagement in difficult situations and they ought to have the same recognition for that as others who in their professional circumstances are in the same position. So I am pleased that the Government is supporting Supplementary Order Paper 14 in my name, which will extend that recognition to emergency front-line medical responders and to those in the Fire Service, be they volunteers or otherwise.
This legislation expands on an existing provision in the Sentencing Act. The legislation already provides that the judge is to take into account any aggravating or mitigating factor that the judge thinks fit in addition to the specific factors listed in section 9 already. I see no harm in making express that one of those aggravating factors ought to be an assault on a person whose job gives them no choice as to whether they put themselves into harm’s way. That is the basis upon which the Labour Opposition associates itself with and supports this legislation. In doing so, we accept that the evidence is mixed on whether sentencing actually has much of deterrent effect. The jury, as it were, is still out on that question. But it seems to us that there is no harm associated with a measure that confers the recognition that this legislation does, and so I am pleased to commend this bill to the House on its third reading.
JACQUI DEAN (National—Waitaki)
: Thank you for the opportunity to speak on the third reading of the Sentencing (Aggravating Factors) Amendment Bill. I want to acknowledge and thank the members of the Law and Order Committee, who worked in a collegial fashion on this bill, which was a relatively simple bill to consider, with a relatively narrow scope. The committee received 11 submissions on this bill from interested groups, and we heard, I think, something like four submitters.
I am pleased also to endorse the comments of the Minister of Justice, Judith Collins, who said that it is this Government’s intention to recognise the work of the police and corrections staff, and also doctors, nurses, Fire Service, and emergency services people, whose job it is—and this was expressed to us quite clearly through one of the submissions—to walk towards trouble.
The rest of us have the luxury of seeing an event happening and being able to stand aside. Most of us would not, of course—we would do what we could to help—but we do have the option of stepping away and leaving the way clear for the emergency services to step in and deal with whatever it is that they have to deal with. Of course, those police, corrections, and emergency services people do not have that option. They do not have that option because they do not want that option. They do not want that option because that is why they are in there, doing the jobs that they do.
Charles Chauvel mentioned whether or not this bill provided a deterrent to assaults upon those people who are named in this bill. I hope that the provisions of this bill will provide a deterrent, but, more important than that, it sends the signal that the New Zealand Parliament supports the work, values the work, and recognises the work that these people do on all our behalf in New Zealand.
I am very pleased to support this bill. Once again, I want to thank the officials, who worked well with the select committee. Once again, I want to thank the New Zealand Parliament and the parliamentarians on the Law and Order Committee who supported this bill, and I commend it to the House.
Hon LIANNE DALZIEL (Labour—Christchurch East)
: I too rise to support the final reading of the Sentencing (Aggravating Factors) Amendment Bill. I am pleased that the Government has moved to add to the aggravating factors to be taken into account by a sentencing judge the fact that the victim was a constable or prison officer acting in the course of his or her duty, and also for adopting Supplementary Order Paper 14 in the name of my colleague Charles Chauvel, which includes as an aggravating factor the fact that the victim was an emergency health or a Fire Service provider acting in the course of his or her duty at the scene of an emergency. The reason I am pleased that these matters have been attended to is that they do place on the record, really, of the House the importance of the front-line activities that these hard-working members of our community undertake, and the risks that are posed when they do put themselves in harm’s way when they are actually trying to help people.
When I discussed the issue of the emergency health and fire service providers with my colleague Charles Chauvel we were both very much aware of individual firefighters and people who worked in the emergency health area, particularly ambulance officers, who had found themselves in a situation where they were trying to assist people and, in fact, were not able to provide that assistance because of the resistance that they met from the individual concerned. Can I say to this House that in every single one of those cases, alcohol was involved. Serious quantities of alcohol had been consumed before either an accident ensued, or a crash, or indeed a major assault. To that occasion would be brought the first responders of the emergency health sector, and in these instances they would be our ambulance officers.
To hear ambulance officers talk about being assaulted as they attempted to resolve difficult situations as a result of the amount of alcohol that had been consumed was kind of a double whammy. Here we are talking about what a judge has to take into account when sentencing somebody after that assault has taken place and the consequences have been carried by that individual and their family, instead of actually at the front end talking about the alcohol-related issues that this country has failed to face up to year after year after year after year.
I know that we are going to be debating in this House the Alcohol Reform Bill, and I have to say to this House that it does not go far enough. It will not resolve this problem here that we are having to confront with the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff, shall I say, literally in this case, rather than the fence at the top of the cliff, which would have much more control over the amount of alcohol that is in our communities and is causing so much violence, so many injuries, and hardship right across the board, not only from those who have consumed too much but also obviously for those who are the victims of their actions as a result.
I would actually call upon the Government to think very seriously about some of the amendments that we are proposing to the Alcohol Reform Bill, and we have taken it on as individual members of Parliament—and I will keep to the point, which is that if people are going to end up having to go to the scenes of emergencies, as we are talking
about in this bill here, we have to seriously think about maybe some of the aggravating factors that are involved in bringing people to that particular situation.
Leaving the front end of it aside, can I say also that I have spoken also to a number of volunteer firefighters who have found themselves in exactly the same situation, where they have turned up on the front line in order to assist and found themselves in the situation where they are confronted by people who do not want them to assist for whatever reason. There may be circumstances relating to a particular occasion that has caused the fire to occur, and so they find themselves in this incredibly difficult situation. I really do support the fact that these aggravating factors are to be taken into account.
I would like to make a comment to the member who just spoke, Jacqui Dean. She said that she hoped that this law around sentencing would have a deterrent effect. I can say, from all of the experience that I have and certainly with all of the literature that I have read on the subject, that sentencing has almost no deterrent impact, unfortunately. I actually remember—
Sabin: We won’t bother having any sentencing then. We won’t bother having any sentences if that’s the case.
Hon LIANNE DALZIEL: The member might want to listen to this. I remember a very interesting speech that David Lange once made in this House. He said that if you really wanted to have a deterrent sentence that actually resulted in 100 percent compliance with that particular law, then you would introduce the death penalty for parking offences. I think the point that he was making was that deterrents operate on the basis of the knowledge of the behaviour and the consequences, the risk of getting caught, and the consequences of getting caught. The higher the risk of getting caught and the more outrageous, really, the consequences of getting caught are, as he proposed in that particular scenario, the much more likely it is that there would be compliance.
He was simply making a point, which I think is a valid point, and it is that most of the sorts of crimes that we are talking about here are carried out in the heat of the moment. Nobody stops and thinks for a minute: “I am going to get caught for this particular illegal act and, as a result of that, I think that the judge is going to add some aggravating factors to my sentence.” Because that is not what happens, very few of these kinds of sentences actually have a deterrent impact.
So I do not support this legislation for its deterrent impact; I actually support this legislation for what it says about our police and our emergency workers as they work on the front line for us. I just want to quote something that a judge said about them, and this is why I think we should support the legislation. It was a comment from the High Court, where they were describing the attack on a police officer. This is the quote: “as ‘equivalent to an attack on the community, because our police are the representatives of the community in the matter of law and order in society. They are society’s frontline.’” I think that is the strongest argument for this law that you could possibly have.
So it is not that the law provides a deterrent effect; it does not. The truth is that people do not take the sentence into account when they commit a crime. What I am saying is that we should support the law, not for deterrents but because it says that society believes in what they are doing, recognises that they are our representatives in the matter of law and order in society, and, therefore, it is actually a statement by society to those who offend against these people while they are acting in the course of their duty of how offensive that is to us as a society. So that is why I think we should support this legislation, but do not think for one minute that it will prevent an offence from taking place. What it will do is state very clearly what we as a society think is highly worthwhile work that requires our House to make a very strong statement about it.
We support this bill. I am very pleased that my colleague Charles Chauvel was able to bring the wider context to this House, and that the Government was gracious enough to accept that the bill was improved by the addition of our front-line health workers. On that basis, I certainly support the passage of this bill.
JULIE ANNE GENTER (Green)
:Tēnā koe, Mr Speaker. I am very pleased to rise to speak on the Sentencing (Aggravating Factors) Amendment Bill. The Green Party will be supporting this bill. It is a short bill, with a perfectly reasonable aim. As we have heard, it seeks to ensure that an offence committed against a police officer or a prison officer acting in the course of their duties can be taken into account as an aggravating factor at sentencing, and, of course, it was decided by this House to include emergency health professionals and fire services providers, as suggested in Charles
Chauvel’s Supplementary Order Paper 14. We supported that move as well, and believe it did add to the bill considerably.
That said, I would like to take this opportunity to raise some issues regarding this bill. First of all, there is actually little practical justification for it. Essentially what this bill provides for already occurs. My colleague David Clendon specifically noted what the Crown Law Office had opined in its review of the bill, which I think is worth repeating. It said that “New Zealand sentencing decisions take into account the fact that a victim of an offence was a police officer or prison officer, acting in the course of his or her duty, as a matter of established practice. The Bill confirms the common law position.”
So although we find it to be a slightly unnecessary piece of legislation to pass through this House, we have opted to support what is the judicial practice of the day, because not to support the bill would effectively be a vote of no confidence—it would be a vote against what is currently happening.
Rethinking Crime and Punishment observed in its submission on this bill that there has been no evidence put forward that showed a significant increase in the number of assaults on prison officers or police officers—although had there been an increase in the number of assaults on prison officers or police officers, that would have been cause for immense concern. But the lack of evidence does call into question the practical justification for bringing this bill at this point in time. Why is this the priority? Are there not other, more effective things that the Government could be doing with its time?
Seeing as this bill is here, however, we would have also liked to see a couple of additions to it in order to increase its scope and, potentially, its fairness. So as my colleague David Clendon has said, although the bill does no harm in its current form, it could do some good if these things had been more fully considered.
Firstly, although we agree and commend the intention to recognise the worth of police officers and prison officers and denounce offending against them—and I really have to acknowledge here the excellent comments made by the Hon Lianne Dalziel just previously—in fact it would be erroneous to believe that the aggravating factors in sentencing would result in any deterrence. There is simply not the evidence to suggest that, and so we would not want to conflate that reason—deterrence—with the reason of denouncing offending against the important work that is done by prison officers and by police officers. So we simply do not see that the bill actually enhances their protection.
Greater resources and more legislative emphasis on crime reduction has a much greater proven capacity to increase the security of society as a whole, and we would be better served, I think, to focus on these measures, rather than the very narrow scope of this particular bill. This would require, of course, a much more concerted effort, however, and I accept that this bill could not possibly deal with it on its own. But for all that, it could make some effort in that direction.
In terms of fairness, the bill essentially enshrines the interpretation that offences against specific public servants in the line of their duty ought to be treated more severely by the courts. There is certainly an argument to be made, given all we do in this House to acknowledge the importance and worth of police officers and prison officers. However, we should note that with the protection of those in a position of authority, there should be a similar and equal responsibility. We call this reciprocity.
Police officers and prison officers most certainly fulfil an important function, and serve in a position of authority. They are often placed in harm’s way, and they deserve protection against that harm. In turn, if they are found to have committed an offence, we might consider it only fair that their actions also be considered an aggravating factor in their sentencing, should it reach that point, on the basis that their position of authority bears that very significant level of responsibility. If their rights are enshrined within the law, so too should be their responsibilities.
I also mentioned earlier a matter of scope, and I would like to turn to that now. The
New Zealand Public Service Association
made the point in its submission that there are a wide range of hugely important public sector roles that will not enjoy the protection or recognition that this bill contains for police officers and prison officers. So we are pleased that the bill has been extended to include emergency, health, and fire services providers, but there are still plenty of public service providers who are left out: mental health workers, social workers, noise control officers, paramedics, ambulance drivers—I think actually ambulance drivers might be included—animal control officers, and fisheries officers, to name just a few of those who are not going to be included. They all perform a vital public service, and they run the risk of harm to their person during the performance of their duties.
The submission said that “PSA workers in a range of front-line occupations, including ACC, customs and social workers, are regularly subject to assault.” Although this bill does not necessarily diminish their worth, it certainly does nothing to advance it. We would have liked to see a much broader brush applied with this legislation, always keeping in mind, of course, the principle of reciprocity.
Despite the issues I have raised, I would like to emphasise again that the Green Party will be supporting the bill. It does no harm, in that it simply enshrines in law what was already happening in practice. But it also represents a lost opportunity. There is a lot of time and effort that goes into preparing, considering, and progressing a bill, however short it is. We firmly believe that time could have been better spent genuinely advancing the protection of police officers and prison officers, or broadening the scope of aggravating factors to include the vocation of a wide range of public service providers who similarly encounter the threat of violence in the performance of their duties. We owe a duty of thanks and care to them, just as we do to prison officers and police officers. I hope that in the future we do not leave them out. Thank you.
JAMI-LEE ROSS (National—Botany)
: This bill, the Sentencing (Aggravating Factors) Amendment Bill, makes some very welcome changes to the Sentencing Act. I note that it has got pretty much cross-party support amongst the members of this House, and it will be good to see this bill passed into legislation.
Police officers play an important role in the community; so do prison officers in keeping those behind bars still there. Emergency services and Fire Service officers play an important public role in helping us in times of need. It is important that the sentencing factors taken into account by the judiciary recognise their public role and recognise the important nature of their jobs, and if offences are committed against them, then it certainly should be an aggravating factor.
I was not intending on saying very much on this bill, but I do wish to pick up on some of the comments of the last speaker, Julie Anne Genter. I find myself following
her again and wishing to disagree with some of her comments. I do not think this bill is unnecessary. She asked whether or not there was evidence that this was necessary. I have not had a long time to pull out a huge number of statistics in the few minutes I have had, but let me give the House just a few. In the 5 years to the end of the last decade, total assaults on police increased by a third, from 1,869 to 2,481, while serious assaults increased by 38 percent, from 298 to 412. Also, attacks on corrections officers have increased. In the same period the number of assaults increased from 151 to 304—that is a doubling of attacks on corrections officers.
Certainly there will be a number of judges out there who already quietly take these points into account and treat them as an aggravating factor, but I think it is important, in order to do justice to the police officers, the prison officers, and the emergency services personnel, that we do enshrine this in legislation and do put in the Sentencing Act the fact that assaults against these people, and any crimes against these individuals who are there to serve and protect us, are wrong. Certainly I look forward to this House, hopefully unanimously, passing the bill.
DENIS O’ROURKE (NZ First)
: New Zealand First has always put the safety of our police and prison officers as a high priority, so we will of course support the Sentencing (Aggravating Factors) Amendment Bill, and with some enthusiasm. With an increase in the severity of assaults on police and prison officers in recent years, we do acknowledge the need for a strong deterrent. In this I would have to disagree somewhat with my friend Lianne Dalziel, because I think that in the case of inmates in prisons who assault prison officers, they may well—in fact, I think they will—be deterred if they know that the sentence is likely to be significantly more severe than for an assault on any other member of the public. In addition to that, of course, Parliament itself needs to reinforce the fact that the community will not tolerate assaults on police officers, or on prison officers either. That is just as important.
We do support the bill, although we are disappointed at the Law and Order Committee’s refusal to extend the scope of the coverage for the bill. We note that the aggravating factors to be considered for other people working with prisoners have not been taken into account. They need protection just as much as prison officers do. Other employees of the Department of Corrections will not be covered by the bill, even though they may well be subjected to an assault or harmed by an inmate in a similar way. They will be excluded simply because they do not come within the title “prison officer”, even though they still have duties to carry out—for example, rehabilitation work with inmates in prisons—and that means they are in daily contact with the inmates.
I am told that the ratio of corrections staff to prisoners is one prison officer to 20 prisoners. Asenati Lole-Taylor was one such person. She tells me that most times she was on her own when working with up to 30 and sometimes 44 prisoners, without a prison officer being present, and often was called upon to defuse situations amongst some of the prisoners where prison officers could not resolve the situation or settle the prisoners down. You can see that people such as those who were in the position that Asenati Lole-Taylor was in would be just as much at risk of an assault as a warranted prison officer, yet for some reason they are not covered by this bill. In her job she was doing exactly the same as, if not more than, prison officers were, yet that work is not taken into account in the bill. It could, in fact, be perceived by some as a discrimination against those other staff who do not hold warrants as prison officers.
Although I applaud the Minister of Justice’s decision to extend the scope of the bill to cover emergency services workers, I certainly do not applaud the decision not to cover people who work in prisons but are not warranted prison officers. You see, the rationale seems to be that the aggravating factors should cover, in addition to police,
warranted prison officers because they are in contact with prisoners and, therefore, may be assaulted. Well, that is the case with those other people working in prisons too, yet they are not covered by the bill. So it just does not make sense in that way, and that is the source of our disappointment with it. The only reason that I can see as having been given for not extending the scope of the bill in that way is simply that it was not intended to do that in the first place. That is a totally inadequate reason. If it is appropriate to extend it now, at this late stage, to emergency workers, then I would have thought that it should be extended to other people working in prisons who have contact with prisoners but who are not covered because they are not warranted prison officers.
Although New Zealand First supports the idea behind the bill, we think that we need to pay attention to the issue that I have raised. We also ask, in addition to that, whether the training programmes with police and the prison officers are adequate to assist in avoiding assaults on police officers and prison officers. We think that it would be wise to invest in resources to improve this, and that that should be a high priority as well. We believe in a no-nonsense approach for those who lack respect for persons who uphold and enforce the law—in particular, those who work in prisons; not just warranted prison officers and police—but we do not think that this bill by itself will be likely to change anything unless additional training and resources, for prison officers especially, are given. We feel that that is an area that is lacking.
However, with those reservations that I have mentioned, especially the lack of coverage for people who work in prisons who are not warranted prison officers, New Zealand First does believe that it is a necessary piece of legislation and that it will make a contribution to the safety of the police and people who are warranted prison officers working for the community in prisons. For those reasons, New Zealand First will certainly vote in favour of the bill.
: Throughout my time in public life the No. 1 priority for our communities has been law and order and the public safety and security of our communities. So I guess finding myself on the Law and Order Committee when I came to Parliament has become a new challenge for me. I think it is something that is well worth looking after and doing as much work as we can to improve the lot of people working in the sector.
The Sentencing (Aggravating Factors) Amendment Bill certainly does that. For those men and women working in our emergency services, our law enforcement services, in the rural sector, it is quite an intimidating place to be out on a dark night on a lonely road, attending road accidents and whatever else. So I think that although this bill aims to give added protection to all of those people, it, hopefully, gives new confidence to those people who serve in rural New Zealand, because they certainly have a lonely time and an intimidating time at times.
I have no problem supporting the Sentencing (Aggravating Factors) Amendment Bill at its third reading. I think it is a good piece of legislation. I think it is, hopefully, going to give new confidence to those people who serve in the sector, and it is, hopefully, going to act as some form of deterrent. I know we have had that discussion tonight. With those few words I have great pleasure in supporting this bill.
Hon PHIL GOFF (Labour—Mt Roskill)
: I have a copy of the Sentencing (Aggravating Factors) Amendment Bill in my hand, and as the House will see it is paper-thin. It is one page—two-sided, but one page. And I have to say that Supplementary Order Paper 14 is the same length but it actually has more substance, and will make more change than the bill itself.
Jacqui Dean: Oh, harsh.
Hon PHIL GOFF: No, I want the member to listen to this, and then the National Party can reply—if it has any reply, but I guarantee that it does not.
The Minister of Justice’s speech at each stage of this bill has barely gone 3 minutes, and that is an indication that there is not actually anything in the Minister’s bill itself that will make a material difference in practice. It will not make a difference in practice. What actually makes this bill worthwhile is Supplementary Order Paper 14, introduced by Charles Chauvel, my colleague, because it does extend the sort of attitude that an assault on a police officer or a prison officer is regarded by the courts as an aggravating factor to other front-line personnel, to emergency workers such as fire staff and medical staff.
I have to say that I am strongly in favour of that. When I spent a night—into the early hours of the morning, or late into the morning, actually—at Auckland City Hospital, I was told by the doctors there that every Friday and every Saturday night their medical staff are subject to assault by drunken people. That is maybe something this House should consider when we are looking at another piece of legislation, the Alcohol Reform Bill. So it is important to extend the sort of recognition to other people at the front line doing their job that Charles
Chauvel’s Supplementary Order Paper actually does.
But I want to come back to the regulatory impact statement. This statement, as you are aware, is produced by the Government’s advisers, the Ministry of Justice. And what does that regulatory impact statement say? Well, first of all it says that in certain circumstances legislation explicitly sets out that an attack on police officers or prison officers is an aggravating factor. For the worst offence, for example, the murder of a prison officer or a police officer, there is not any fuzzy statement that the court “should take into account”. It directs the court. It makes it mandatory that the life sentence for murder must begin with at least 17 years. We put that legislation in, and it is justifiable. If anybody kills a police officer or a prison officer in the course of their duty, of course it is an aggravating factor, and it should be treated as such. Further, the Crimes Act makes specific reference to the use of firearms against an officer, or an aggravated attack.
But in the Sentencing Act we did not explicitly include that an attack on police officers or prison officers should be regarded as an aggravating factor. Section 9(1) of the Sentencing Act 2002 does run a list of factors that the court must take into account, but it is not exhaustive. It does not specifically include an attack on police or prison officers. But section 9(4) of the Sentencing Act covers that. It says that the court may take any other aggravating factor that it thinks fit into account. That is what it says in section 9(4) of the Sentencing Act. And the Ministry of Justice in its regulatory impact statement says that because a factor is listed under section 9(1) does not imply that it should be given any extra weight by the court. In fact, it says “there is no impediment to the court regarding the fact that an offence is committed against a police officer or prison officer is an aggravating factor under the current law.” It says it explicitly: the court can regard that now as an aggravating factor.
Not only can the court regard it as that but also common law shows that the court is doing that. It is doing it right now. In 1985 there was the case of
Tua. The judgment of the High Court set out something that I agree with completely. It described an attack on a police officer as “equivalent to an attack on the community because our police are the representatives of the community in the matter of law and order in society. They are society’s front line …”. So there you have in a case 27 years ago explicit recognition by the High Court that any attack on a police officer or a prison officer should be regarded as an aggravating factor, and is regarded as an aggravating factor. So this bill does not change current practice.
One has to ask why the Minister brought a bill into the House that does not change what is already happening. The Court of Appeal has backed up the High Court in this. It
has emphasised the gravity of using serious violence against the police, and it has upheld sentences that could be regarded as deterrent sentences. I worry about the use of that term “deterrent sentences”, because as much as I have read of how sentences impact on criminal behaviour, I have not seen any evidence that the sentence acts as a deterrent. Time will prove that this piece of legislation brought in by the Minister will not change the gravity of the sanctions imposed against offenders who attack police and prison officers, because that is already an aggravating factor. They are already doing it.
There is a whole lot more in the regulatory impact statement that makes the point time and again—time and again—that this bill will not change the practice. One wonders about a Minister who brings in a bill complete with a regulatory impact statement from her own department that says that it will make no difference. It talks about the “limited nature of the proposal”. It says that “Offending against law enforcement officers has long been taken into account as an aggravating factor in sentencing at common law.” It says that this bill does not and cannot direct the court to take any specific action. So my challenge to the National Government is that, in bringing in this legislation, where is there a skerrick of evidence in its own ministry’s regulatory impact statement that says that this bill will make any difference in practice?
I come back to the statement that I began with: the thing that will make a difference is actually the Supplementary Order Paper that was moved by my colleague. It is not a practice in common law to take into account that an attack on an emergency officer, a fire officer, or a medical officer should be regarded as an aggravating factor. So that will actually make a difference. I congratulate my colleague on that, and I acknowledge the good sense of the Minister in adopting that Supplementary Order Paper into her bill. I think she knows that the bill was empty of any substance, and she grasped with great enthusiasm a Supplementary Order Paper moved by a Labour MP that actually added a little bit of substance into the bill.
I have to say that whatever legislation we pass, we have to ask how much difference it will make. Is there a problem? Yes, there is a problem. The level of attacks on police and prison officers has been increasing in recent times, and that is something that should be of concern to every member of this House. But I have to say that if you are looking to make a difference, the fact that the Labour Government in its last term of office increased the police numbers by over 1,000 actually made a difference. How many extra police officers did the National Government bring in
in its last 3 years, not including those who were funded in the 2008 budget? I will tell you: it is a handful—just a handful.
So if you are looking at a Government that actually makes a difference in protecting the police and increasing their numbers, it is a Labour Government that has done it. If you look at a Government that respects the role of police officers and prison officers by giving them reasonable wage increases, it is a Labour Government that has done it. What this Government has just introduced by way of police salary increases does not even meet the level of inflation. What the Labour Government did was bring in real legislation—the Sentencing Act, the Parole Act, the proceeds of crime Act—not superficial, frivolous, politically oriented legislation, which is what this Government is about.
I congratulate Charles Chauvel. I say we will support this bill, but there is not a member in the National Government who can point to any evidence at all that what they have proposed will make a skerrick of difference in sentencing practice.
MARK MITCHELL (National—Rodney)
: Under Labour, serious assaults against police officers increased from 216 in 1999 to 412 in 2009. Labour had 9 long years to introduce changes to help keep our law enforcement officers safe, but it chose not to. Under Labour, violent crime increased by 47 percent. Mr Goff, this actually was not
part of my speech, but I have to say that I acknowledge your service and I acknowledge you as a member of our Law and Order Committee, but I feel your comments have been very ungracious towards your Minister, who has brought an excellent bill, the Sentencing (Aggravating Factors) Amendment Bill, to the House.
I also congratulate Charles Chauvel, because it is an excellent Supplementary Order Paper. I just want to say that last week I did actually attend the Rodney volunteer firefighters awards. What strikes me about this, and why I feel this Supplementary Order Paper is so good, is that I highlight the fact that they are volunteers. They are first responders, and when they are responding they are dealing with motor vehicle accidents, they are dealing with fires, they are dealing with incidents where there are intoxicated people, and they deserve to have the same protection wrapped round them as our police officers and corrections officers, and also, of course, Supplementary Order Paper 14 includes front-line health service providers as well. So I do congratulate Mr Chauvel on his Supplementary Order Paper.
I would just like to speak about the fact that one of the points Mr Chauvel raised was that he does not feel that this bill is actually going to make any difference in terms of sentencing.
Charles Chauvel: I said the jury is out on that.
MARK MITCHELL: OK, he said the jury is out on that. Well, I would just like to talk about something a little bit personal to me. I did spend several years as a first responder. I had a very good partner—probably the most loyal partner I have ever had. He was stabbed twice, he lost an eye and he had to have surgery to have it put back in, he was beaten up, kicked, and punched, and they tried to drown him once, and he was not protected by any form of legislation. The only protection he had was under the laws in relation to the SPCA. There was actually a law brought in that made it an offence to assault or kill a police dog. This immediately did wrap some protections round him. All of a sudden he did have some protection, and this did make a difference. This made a difference to me, it made a difference to my family, and it made a difference to members of the public.
I just wanted to use that as an example of the fact that he was not a dog that sat at home. He was not a family pet. He was actually a dog that went out, night after night, and put himself in danger chasing offenders, pursuing gang members, and pursuing the most violent people in our society, actually. He was probably a first
first responder, so he deserved to have more respect and more protection wrapped round him than those dogs that we have sitting at home as our companions. I think exactly the same can be applied to this bill here. Our first responders, the people who are going out there who are serving us and who are protecting us, deserve to have a bit more protection wrapped round them, and this is what this bill does. I commend Minister Collins for bringing this bill to the House. Thank you.
ANDREW LITTLE (Labour)
: It is a pleasure to stand and take a call on the Sentencing (Aggravating Factors) Amendment Bill. Like my colleagues, I simply make the point that of course it is great to have an opportunity to support those who take on the very hazardous, very difficult roles in our community of providing security and safety to the people in our community, which is something that Minister Finlayson finds enormously humorous, obviously. These are the people who take on a trusted role and a difficult role and they are entitled, at least from the lawmakers of this country, to have a signal of support and confidence.
The problem is that until Charles
Chauvel’s Supplementary Order Paper 14, this legislation did not have that. This legislation, as my colleague Phil Goff has talked about, did not add anything to the fabric of our criminal law. We have laws already that deal specifically with crimes against, certainly, police officers and also prison officers—for example, section 10 of the Summary Offences Act, which is a specific crime of assault against a police officer, and also section 23 of the Summary Offences Act, which relates to resisting either a police officer or a prison officer. We also have, in addition to the provisions that Phil Goff talked about, section 98E of the Crimes Act, which provides for a broad range of aggravating factors as escalating or elevating a particular crime. So that is already there, including those provisions that the regulatory impact statement refers to, and it is entirely appropriate.
The courts should take cognisance of the fact that a victim is a serving officer, who is dealing with those who would commit crime and who would undermine the fabric of our society and our communities, and they should be dealt with and treated accordingly. Those who are there to uphold and enforce our laws must be given proper protection in the law, by the judiciary and indeed by this House. But that was already there. Until this piece of legislation was changed in the Committee stage in this House to incorporate protections for other front-line emergency staff, it added nothing. It is important that when we utilise the important institution that is this House and its time, and the time of the people in it, we actually do something that is meaningful, rather than the gesture politics that we have become so used to over the last few years. So it is good that that amendment was put forward, and it is good that the Minister of Justice accepted it in good grace, saw the wisdom of it, adopted the change, and incorporated it into the legislation.
For those who are dealing with people in the community who—whether they are drunk at the time, whether they are unwell at the time, or for whatever other reason—become violent and difficult and commit crimes against the person, and whatever other crimes against those who are there to assist those in need in the community, there must be a signal that those sorts of actions will not be tolerated by the community. There must be a community sanction, and this piece of legislation now does that. Those who are charged with those important responsibilities of preserving community safety and providing help and assistance—first response—must be afforded that protection.
Those who are working in our prisons—and let us face it, serious assaults in prisons have been escalating rapidly over the last few years. I know that
Jami-Lee Ross and, indeed, Mark Mitchell talked about the rise in assaults on police officers, but in fact the figures that relate to assaults on prison officers over the same period have been much more dramatic, with a 100 percent increase in assaults on prison officers over that same 5-year period, and a 120 percent increase in serious assaults on prison officers over that time.
Although it is good that this legislation acknowledges that, and will acknowledge and take into account in sentencing now the fact that the victim is a prison officer, let us not get complacent about the real demand and the real need of prison officers—that is, for good, proper protective equipment, and enough prison officers, I might add too. It has been the claim of prison officers for some time that they need to be properly equipped, with proper protective equipment and other gear that can assist them to restrain and manage the extraordinarily violent criminals who are entering the prison system and are increasingly becoming a problem. We need to be cognisant of that. This legislation will send a signal that when it comes to sentencing people who behave in that way in the custody of Her Majesty, at least that might make a difference. But, as we know, an ounce of prevention is worth a ton of cure, and it might help our prison officer population if we actually focused on a bit of prevention as opposed to cure through the sentencing process. So it is good that the legislation as it appears now before the House has taken that into account.
It has also offered greater protection for those who are sent out to preserve life, to pick people up, and to scrape them up off the roads. It is important to protect them
through the signals through sentencing from being assaulted and obstructed and harassed, as they sometimes are, and that there is proper recognition given to the important role that they play and the protection that they are entitled to have when they are going about their difficult jobs. It was only in today’s tabloid
New Zealand Herald—with the big, giant “H” on the front of it—that a report ran about the ambulance officers in Auckland. A lone ambulance officer was assaulted and confronted and she had to push her assailant out of the ambulance and drive to the nearest police station to get protection. She, as a lone ambulance officer, simply should not be in that position. So this bill, as the members opposite have said, hopefully, will help. I would like to think that we bank less on hope and more on certainty—planned certainty; good, evidence-based legislation—but this is not a bad piece of legislation in the state that it is in thanks to the extensions that have now been added into it.
I simply reiterate the point that in sentencing, with regard to those important officials in our community who are victims of crime, sending a signal through the sentencing laws to afford them greater protection is one thing. Putting in place proper measures to provide protection against, and to provide prevention of, assaults and harassment and violence would be a much more effective approach. Perhaps that might be the next project of this Minister and her colleague the Attorney-General when they come to review the laws and the resourcing of our front-line emergency personnel, because that must be more important than—dare I use the pun—the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff that sometimes sentencing laws provide in these sorts of circumstances.
On that basis, as we have said, this legislation in its form now before the House will afford a signal—a strong signal—to the courts that this conduct against these important people in our community is not to be tolerated. The legislation will be supported on that basis.
MIKE SABIN (National—Northland)
: I will take a short call just to round off this particular debate on the Sentencing (Aggravating Factors) Amendment Bill, and I want to touch on these points.
I reject the notion that this provision is already provided for in legislation. This bill explicitly provides in legislation an aggravating factor for these particular people, and I think that is a good thing. In terms of the deterrent, which I will come back to, I also think it will have a deterrent effect. I can certainly regale members with a situation that involved me that would allude to that. I joined the police in the mid-1990s, the same day my brother joined the New Zealand Fire Service. He is still a serving firefighter and I resigned from the police in 2008. I spent time, obviously, as a front-line police officer, as all sworn officers will do, then became a detective and worked particularly in the drug area. I saw the growth of methamphetamine and with that saw an amazing increase in violent crimes and, indeed, assaults against police.
Drivers of crime have been touched on. This bill is not necessarily going to do anything about those, but it is another tool in the armoury, if you like, in terms of the many approaches that are required. As a serving police officer, I was—to name a few—punched, kicked, spat at, bitten, assaulted with weapons, and cut with a knife, and I had a gun pointed at me. I was hit on a couple of occasions with full bottles over the head when I was working in team policing. Unfortunately, I got to a point where it just became something I accepted as a police officer, that I would be assaulted and that the impact of this was just something you had to suck up. I also worked with other serving police officers who had their arms broken and had their jaw broken, and were beaten unconscious, stabbed, shot, and run down, and one was run over. On numerous occasions there were other incidents for which charges would not even be laid.
The thing that I noticed as an individual police officer when I was assaulted was that, the times that the charges were actually laid, I cannot remember a single time when
there was an additional penalty applied in the sentencing process. In fact, on one occasion, I recall an incident where a violent man with a knife would not leave his car. Dogs, batons, and sprays did not do that. I effected an entry through a window with a baton. He was wielding a knife, I held his knife hand off, and I was bitten in the arm. The charges were dismissed, and at sentencing the judge made the comment that that is the sort of thing that goes with the territory of being a police officer, and that it is just what a police officer needs to get used to. I reject that. I believe that swiftness and certainty play a huge role in deterrence and that the quicker an apprehension can be made and the more certain it is a consequence will be applied, the more significant the effect is of deterrence.
I would also like to add that, with regard to the role of this bill sending a message to the community, sending a message to police that we back them, and sending a message to offenders, they are not all at the hardest scale and end of offences, but certainly there are many who will stop short and think: “Well, if I clock this guy, then that is going to be an extra black mark against my name.” Certainly in my experience this has already applied significantly with emergency services such as ambulance and fire, but less frequently—far less frequently—with serving police officers.
I commend the Minister of Justice for this bill. The other work that she has done both as justice Minister and police Minister—this Minister was a very, very popular Minister of Police—has restored much to the spirit, the heart, and the morale of that service and it is in good heart now. I commend this bill to the House.
The ASSISTANT SPEAKER (Lindsay Tisch): Members, this debate has concluded. The question is that the motion be agreed to. Those of that opinion will say Aye, to the contrary, No. The Ayes have it.
Dr Russel Norman: Party vote.
The ASSISTANT SPEAKER (Lindsay Tisch): Well, OK, a party vote is called for. I will ask the Clerk to do a party vote. The member must vote against it at the time. There was no one who voted against it at the time. That is why I said that the Ayes had it. Is the member wishing to cast a party vote?
Dr Russel Norman: Yes.
The ASSISTANT SPEAKER (Lindsay Tisch): And the member is voting against this bill?
Dr Russel Norman: Mr Speaker, I am exercising a proxy vote on behalf of the Mana Party, which is voting against it.
A party vote was called for on the question,
That the Sentencing (Aggravating Factors) Amendment Bill be now read a third time.
||New Zealand National 59; New Zealand Labour 34; Green Party 14; New Zealand First 8; ACT New Zealand 1; United Future 1.
||Māori Party 3; Mana 1.
|Bill read a third time.