Hon JUDITH COLLINS (Minister of Police)
: I move,
That the Vehicle Confiscation and Seizure Bill be now read a first time. At the appropriate time I intend to move that the bill be considered by the Transport and Industrial Relations Committee, that the committee report finally to the House on or before 10 September 2009, and that the committee has the authority to meet to examine the bill at any time while the House is sitting, except during questions for oral answer, and during an evening on a day on which there has been a sitting of the House, and to meet on a Friday in a week in which there has been a sitting of the House, despite Standing Orders 187 and 190(1)(b) and (c).
Recent events have demonstrated that illegal street racing and the associated antisocial behaviour leads to violence, disorder, and road fatalities. New Zealand clearly has an illegal street racing problem. The correspondence I have received from members of the public has confirmed that New Zealanders have had enough. The relentless noise, uncontrollable behaviour, and general disruption to people’s lives has called for a strong and comprehensive response.
The Government’s response to illegal street racing takes the form of two separate bills that are designed to work in unison to stop illegal street racers in their tracks. The Land Transport (Enforcement Powers) Amendment Bill, led by the Minister of Transport, will enhance the powers of police and road controlling authorities to tackle illegal street racing and the associated antisocial behaviour. This legislation builds upon the earlier street racing legislation introduced in 2002 by the previous Government. The Land Transport (Street and Illegal Drag Racing) Amendment Bill 2002 introduced specific new offences for illegal street racing. The Vehicle Confiscation and Seizure Bill makes use of these specific offences, but goes a lot further in penalising individuals who persist in breaking the law.
This bill aims to significantly reduce the harm and nuisance to communities caused by illegal street racers by strengthening the powers of the courts to order the confiscation of motor vehicles, by empowering the courts to order the destruction of motor vehicles used by persistent illegal street racing offenders, and by strengthening the provisions to seize motor vehicles to enforce the collection of unpaid fines and reparation.
Both the Vehicle Confiscation and Seizure Bill and the Land Transport (Enforcement Powers) Amendment Bill aim to close existing loopholes that permit illegal street racers to circumvent the law. We know that illegal street racers frequently avoid being penalised for breaking the law by exhibiting such practices as switching vehicles with each other, registering their vehicle to another person, and selling their vehicle to a friend for a nominal fee before a court appearance. Illegal street racers will no longer be
able to commit an offence in another person’s car and avoid being penalised. The Vehicle Confiscation and Seizure Bill amends the Sentencing Act to allow the courts to confiscate and, in some instances, destroy a vehicle used by an offender that a third party owns or has an interest in.
In the past finance companies have been unaware of illegal street racing offending committed in cars in which they have an interest. This bill includes anyone who has an interest in the vehicle under the definition of “substitute”. This will mean a finance company would receive a written caution if a vehicle that had finance owing on it was used to commit an illegal street racing offence. There has also been difficulty with illegal street racers accruing fines and failing to pay them. Part 2 of the Vehicle Confiscation and Seizure Bill inserts into the Summary Proceedings Act new powers that strengthen the court’s power to seize a vehicle and sell it if there are outstanding fines.
This bill allows a three-step approach to stop recidivist illegal street racers. The Sentencing Act 2002 already authorises the court to confiscate and sell the vehicle of an offender convicted of specific offences. If an offender is convicted of a second serious traffic offence within 4 years, the court must confiscate the vehicle unless this would result in extreme hardship for the offender. This bill amends the confiscation regime in the Sentencing Act to give the courts discretion to allow the confiscation and destruction of a vehicle if an offender commits a third illegal street racing offence within 4 years. This is designed to be a last-resort option, to deter and punish the most serious repeat offenders.
Upon an offender being convicted of an illegal street racing offence, the court will have discretion to order the confiscation and destruction of a vehicle used to commit the offence if the offender has two prior convictions for such offending imposed on different occasions within the preceding 4 years and the offender owns, or has an interest in, the vehicle, or if a third party who has been issued with a written caution in respect of the offender for an illegal street racing offence within the previous 4 years owns, or has an interest in, the vehicle. Under a confiscation and destruction order, the vehicle will be confiscated and sold to a vehicle wrecker or scrapyard. It will be a condition of sale that the purchaser remove any sellable parts and destroy the remainder of the vehicle. Once the vehicle is confiscated and sold, or confiscated and destroyed, the proceeds of sale are applied in the following order of priority: firstly, to pay the cost of the sale, which includes all costs incurred in seizing the motor vehicle, towing, and storing it, including any prior impoundment costs; secondly, to pay any amount owing pursuant to a security interest; thirdly, to pay any fines and/or reparation or court costs owed by the offender; and, fourthly, to pay any surplus to the offender.
As I stated earlier, we know that offenders commit illegal street racing offences in cars that do not belong to them in order to avoid being penalised. This bill closes that loophole by extending confiscation to vehicles that are owned by a third party who allows an offender to use his or her vehicle. If an offender commits an illegal street racing offence in another person’s car, the owner is personally served with a written caution. This written caution warns the recipient that any vehicle he or she owns that is used by the offender to commit a further illegal street racing offence is liable to be confiscated. If a third illegal street racing offence is committed, the vehicle may be confiscated and destroyed. The intention of this provision is that it will encourage parents and friends to withdraw access to a vehicle if it is being used for illegal street racing. This also encourages people to take a greater level of responsibility for their vehicles and to think more carefully as to whom they lend them.
The bill contains safeguards to prevent third parties from circumventing the law by selling a car before appearing before the court. Currently the court can reverse any
vehicle sale that occurred between the commission of the offence and conviction if the sale was not genuine. This bill provides that the same will apply to third parties. That means if an offender is convicted of a second offence in a vehicle belonging to a third party who has received a written caution but has since sold the vehicle, the court can also reverse the sale if it is not bona fide.
Part 2 focuses on the collection of unpaid fines and subsequent seizure of motor vehicles. The bill proposes to insert new sections into the Summary Proceedings Act. They will strengthen existing provisions to seize motor vehicles, enforce the collection of unpaid fines, and therefore reduce opportunities for illegal street racing. Motor vehicles will be able to be sold if fines remain unpaid. If fines remain unpaid after the vehicle has been seized, then the vehicle can be sold at public auction or in any other manner directed by a District Court judge. The proceeds of the sale are applied in the same way as those for confiscation and destruction.
Part 3 amends the Privacy Act 1993 to authorise police to automatically release personal information about the driver or registered owner of a car that has been impounded by the Ministry of Justice. This will enable the Ministry of Justice to locate drivers and owners who may have overdue fines, by using more up-to-date information.
I invite the select committee to ensure that the bill meets its objective of reducing the harm and nuisance that illegal street racing causes to communities. I am open to, and indeed anticipate, changes through the select committee process to better reflect this intention. I encourage all interested parties to remain actively involved in the development of the bill through the select committee process. This will ensure that we have legislation that is workable and effective.
I would like to acknowledge all those who have contributed to this bill being introduced, and all those people who have taken the time to write to my office and explain how illegal street racing has affected them and their families. I acknowledge the officials from the Ministry of Transport and the Ministry of Justice, the New Zealand Police, and the Parliamentary Counsel Office for the work that has gone into the drafting of this bill. I acknowledge the support parties for their backing of this important piece of legislation, and also the previous Government for its past efforts to address the issue of illegal street racing.
This bill responds to the demands of New Zealanders to live in their homes in peace and to drive on their roads without mayhem. Illegal street racing is dangerous, irresponsible, and infuriating. This Government will not tolerate the wayward behaviour of a few people who are ruining the quality of life for many. This bill delivers a tightened vehicle confiscation regime with severe penalties for those offenders who have no respect for the law or the people of New Zealand. I therefore commend this bill to the House.
Hon CLAYTON COSGROVE (Labour—Waimakariri)
: Labour will support the Vehicle Confiscation and Seizure Bill going to the Transport and Industrial Relations Committee. We will reserve judgment on the bill until that time so that, as the Minister in charge of the bill, Judith Collins, has said, people can have their say, and others can contribute to it. I acknowledge the Minister’s speech. It was a far more measured communication than the others she has launched on this issue to date. She has worn the tag, I think, of “Crusher Collins”—somebody called her that.
The ASSISTANT SPEAKER (Eric Roy): The member should be careful.
Hon CLAYTON COSGROVE: I will not adhere to that name, but she has worn that tag as a sort of badge of honour.
I say that history will judge this bill for what it is. We will examine it closely in the select committee. As someone who was in this Parliament as a backbencher and attempted to address this issue, I learned a lot from listening to submitters. When my
member’s bill—which was then adopted as a Government bill by the Government—was being passed, I recall saying in my third reading speech that I did not believe that my legislation would be a panacea, nor a silver bullet. I invite the Minister to look closely at her rhetoric about crushing cars, and at the Dirty Harry routine that she has perfected par excellence in many areas of her portfolio, and I invite her to reflect very carefully on making promises that she cannot deliver on.
I agree with the Minister, and unlike many on that side I have personally been threatened, and my family has been the subject of intimidatory tactics by some of these thugs. I do not speak from a position of theory; I speak from a position of personally being on the receiving end of some of those tactics. I share the Government’s view and I share the view of all New Zealanders that this sort of stuff is grotesque. It has moved on. I note there is an ACT member in the House, and I note that ACT was one of the few parties in the last Parliament in 2002 and 2003 that voted against my legislation. I will be waiting for the speech from Mr Garrett, the man who is tough on law and order. My legislation provided the New Zealand judiciary with more extensive powers than those of their Australian counterparts, even though that legislation was based on an Australian model. It is true today that if a judge is of a mind to, that judge can confiscate a vehicle for ever on a first offence. Judges have that power today. Sadly—and I choose my words carefully—our judiciary choose to use that power in only 2 percent of cases.
My simple view of the world is that if people do not have their wagons or their souped-up death machines, they cannot do a lot to destroy communities and the lives of communities around them, nor, more important, can they do a lot to kill themselves or their mates. That is also an issue in our communities. I sympathise absolutely with, and have lived amongst, as Christchurch members have, communities that have been subject to thuggery and intimidation. It has actually gone beyond that. There were those who wrung their hands, as I recall, when I put my legislation through, and said: “Cosgrove’s being a killjoy. It’s always been a bit of fun, hasn’t it? Our dads did it—those of our dads who had a wagon that had got to fourth gear when they reached the party.” It has actually gone well beyond that to, now, hundreds, if not thousands, of mostly young people, but also not-so-young people—some slightly closer to the pension than a number of us—who do not engage only in the odd doughnut in the footy club car park, but also in intimidation. I have walked through crowds where I have seen violence and people being set upon. As we know, good police have been set upon by thugs. It has gone beyond just burning a bit of testosterone and live and let live, as I think members of the ACT Party back in 2002 tried to put it. Communities have been done over, and are done over nightly.
We have a hospital in Christchurch, we know, where patients are moved from one side of the ward to the other on a Friday night. Our tourism is in jeopardy. Now there is a group, with one member who was beatified, I believe, by the Christchurch
Press at the time, one Mr Hemi. He has got a record longer than my arm, I am told. He was beatified by the
Press because he wrote a few letters to the editor defending boy racers. Then we found out what he was like, as he committed very serious offences. There is now a group that likes a fair bit of violence.
We will support this legislation to the select committee, but I make a couple of points. Many of the aspects that are trumpeted in this legislation are available today. It is interesting that we move from a position where, in my legislation, after one offence over 4 years a judge can, and after two offences over 4 years a judge must, confiscate the vehicle, to a situation now where the Minister says it is three offences over 4 years. I invite members to reflect on that. Some would call that a weakening of the legislation that is before us today.
Then we come to the so-called car crushing. I have to say that I do not really care how you dispose of the vehicle. If it is off the road and communities are set free and lives are saved, I am for it. But I am also for legislation that works. If judges in only 2 percent of cases use their discretion to confiscate a car on a first offence, this Minister has given them the discretion—yet again; it will not be mandatory—after three offences in 4 years not only to confiscate the vehicle but also to have it destroyed. I raise this issue with the Minister. One reason we did not put crushing in my legislation was because I did not want to be a politician who passed a law that was very populist, with everybody’s support at the time, and then have the problem that everybody but the offender paid the bill for it.
In many cases the only asset some of these thugs have—and many are thugs—is the souped-up death machine worth two or three grand. If we take it and crush it, and they owe fines, reparation, and court costs, they have nothing else that can be clawed back from them. So who ends up paying the bill? The taxpayer does—the innocent party. I raise that as an issue, not to defend boy racers, but to defend the community. It should be, I would have thought, the offenders who pay the bill out of their asset base, rather than everybody who did not offend—that being the community and the taxpayer.
I raise another issue. One would think, listening to the Minister, that it was the first time in history that we could seize property or assets, in the form of motor vehicles or other property, to pay people’s fines. Well, in the Justice and Electoral Committee last week, members asked justice officials about this, and they confirmed that we have been able to do it for years. In fact, in Christchurch and other places I have sat in the back of a police car as the police have pulled over people—not for boy racing, but just because they have thought they would check those people out—run them through the computer, and found they owed thousands of dollars’ worth of fines and court costs. The cops ring up the bailiffs. The bailiffs come, get the car on the tow-truck, and tow the car away. There is nothing more pleasing, in my view, than to see the tears in the eyes of, generally, grown men, as the souped-up jalopy is taken away. On one particular night the police said: “Well, how are you getting home, young fella?”. He said his mates were going to come and pick him up. So the police waited for his mates to pick him up, and did their car as well. Cars can be confiscated. The bailiffs do it all the time. They confiscate property and have it disposed of to pay fines.
I say that there is a fair bit of window dressing in this bill. It does promise much. If the bill matches the rhetoric then I am sure all New Zealanders will be happy. But the Minister said in respect of crushing that she expects only 10 cars per year to be crushed or destroyed. Now, people who live in Christchurch, Hamilton, or Auckland know there are a heck of a lot more cars out there, with hoons doing the business on communities. So it will be interesting, as this legislation progresses, to see whether the practical effect matches the reality. I say to the Minister in good faith that it is worth a go. I said in my third reading speech on my legislation, similarly to the Minister’s, that I hoped people—because I do not have a monopoly on all knowledge—would bring better ideas in the select committee process.
I do also recall that in 2002 not one Opposition member in the 9 years those members were in Opposition got off his or her chuff and put up a private member’s bill in respect of—[Interruption] no, not noise—the boy-racer and speed issue. So we will support this to the select committee, because we will back our communities. But it will be interesting to see, as I say, whether the rhetoric matches the practical effect. We will back what works. We will not back rhetoric.
Hon TAU HENARE (National)
: It is interesting that when I had a look at the overview of the Vehicle Confiscation and Seizure Bill I saw that it states that the
Vehicle Confiscation and Seizure Bill is an omnibus bill. I thought it stated that the bill is an ominous bill. It will be an ominous bill for the street racers.
It is all about reducing traffic offending. It strengthens the power to order the confiscation of motor vehicles. It empowers the courts “to order the destruction of motor vehicles used by persistent illegal street racing offenders:”. I emphasise the phrase “persistent illegal street racing offenders”. The bill strengthens the seizure provisions to enhance the collection of unpaid fines and reparations. It is about getting rid of harm and the nuisance issue of the illegal street racers. I suppose that in the vein of the previous speaker, Clayton Cosgrove—the Walter Mitty of New Zealand politics, the congenital strutter of New Zealand politics, and the forever hard man of New Zealand politics—I say to the illegal street racers that they should use their cars properly or lose them entirely.
The bill is not about noise or even modification; it is about behaviour and about what people do with the modifications to their cars. I come from two areas. I am a one-time, long-serving resident of South Auckland and am now ensconced in west Auckland. I suppose the view of west Aucklanders has been of them wearing black t-shirts and driving big V8 Ford Fairlane 500s that make a lot of noise. Everybody in every generation has modified cars since the Ford Model T, but only of late have they used the modifications in terms of the street race culture. There is a guy who lives up the road from me, whose dad owns the dairy, who is a car nut. Quite frankly, he is appalled by what is going on in terms of illegal street racing and the harm it does to communities. This bill is about sending a message. It is about taking the toys off the illegal street racers. Essentially, that is what the cars are; they are very expensive toys.
David Garrett: Dangerous toys.
Hon TAU HENARE: And they are dangerous toys. I thank the member from ACT.
I will say just a couple of things about my learned colleague Clayton Cosgrove.
Hon Darren Hughes: The honourable.
Hon TAU HENARE: The Hon Clayton Cosgrove. It is all well and good to talk tough, talk hard, and rumble round as if one is doing the rumble in the jungle, but it would have been better if he had been like that about this issue when he was in Government. I have never heard a speech with more use of the words “my” and “I”. That is what his speech was all about: “When I was there”, “This was my bill”, “My this, my that, my everything else”, and “I did this and I did that, but basically I didn’t do anything and that was why we got kicked out.” Labour members can say platitudes and talk about reserving their judgment. What does that mean? Their reserving judgment means that they have not come to a position. They have never been able to come to a position on this issue. This is the first time—
Hon David Carter: They’re soft on crime.
Hon TAU HENARE: —they are soft on crime—that a Government has actually brought the issue right to the fore. Quite frankly, it is about time. Not only do I commend this bill to the House and to the select committee but I give a warning to those illegal street racers: their time is up. They will lose their toys and their babies.
Hon LIANNE DALZIEL (Labour—Christchurch East)
: I will not enter into a competition of who is toughest on boy racers, which was happening with that member’s contribution to the debate. I support the referral of the Vehicle Confiscation and Seizure Bill to the select committee, but I reject the idea from Tau Henare that this side of the House ought not to be raising in this Parliament the need to have a detailed debate on a bill that we fear has been overcooked by the Minister. I do not think that is an unreasonable point or position for us to adopt.
The bill has already been labelled the “Three Strikes and You’re Crushed Bill”—and for a very good reason. There have to be three separate offences over a 4-year period
before a car is up for crushing. The only thing that is really being crushed is the hope that this bill will actually do something about what is a very serious problem, particularly in my home city of Christchurch. I happen to have lived in all of the streets where the street racers undertake their particular interest, although I should say that illegal street racing is not always the nub of the problem. The previous bill that was debated will go some way to addressing the problem where there is a congregation of individuals who have nothing better to do with their time than to show off their rather fancy cars, and who, by clustering in groups and driving up and down particular streets, cause a huge problem to people who are trying to spend their nights sleeping, as I think most of us want to do.
We were told by the Minister that this legislation was designed to close existing loopholes. As I said, I have a really serious concern that the Minister has completely overcooked this particular legislation. It does not do almost anything she said it would do. I went right through the regulatory impact statement, as I am wont to do, because I often find that regulatory impact statements are very useful for establishing the analysis that the Government undertook in order to establish the nature of the problem, the options for addressing the problem, and the most appropriate of those options for going forward. Here is the adequacy statement from the regulatory impact statement: “This regulatory impact statement is based on the RIS submitted at the time Cabinet approval of the policy of this Bill and its companion Bill amending the Land Transport Act 1998 was sought.” Well, that is really not a statement of adequacy or otherwise; I would say that is completely inadequate. That has become a practice of this Government, which is the first Government to have a Minister for Regulatory Reform, so it is a bit unfortunate it has established this as a practice.
The essence of the next part of the regulatory impact statement is that it sets out the status quo, and through the status quo says that it is stating the problem. But in fact it does not do so. I want to draw the House’s attention to the following part of the regulatory impact statement. It states that “Apprehending a driver or drivers in the act of an illegal street racing activity occurs infrequently and randomly. In the 2003-2007 period, there were on average 1,659 convictions for illegal street racing activity a year. It is hard to know the true extent of illegal street racing as the participants are transitory and highly organised.”
The regulatory impact statement goes on to state: “Current penalties for illegal street racing are disqualification and a fine or jail. If a person is convicted twice in 4 years for an illegal street racing offence, the court must order that their vehicle be confiscated unless it will result in extreme hardship to the offender or undue hardship to any other person. Despite confiscation being a discretionary penalty after conviction for 1 qualifying offence and a mandatory penalty after 2 convictions, the actual rate of confiscations is very low. In 2006, there were 9,600 offences in which mandatory confiscation applied, and over 50,000 in which discretionary confiscation applied. There were only 1,062 confiscation orders granted. This puts the current rate of confiscation at less than 2% (or 1 in 10 for mandatory confiscations).”
I heard the Minister in charge of the bill, the Hon Judith Collins, say that this legislation would close the loopholes that exist. She said there were issues around people switching vehicles, registering vehicles in another name, and selling a vehicle for a nominal fee. There is not one ounce of information in the regulatory impact statement to justify the approach that has been adopted in this area. There is no estimate showing how many people did not see the mandatory confiscation of their vehicle as required by the law. In the 9,600 offences in which mandatory confiscation applied, with only 1,062 confiscation orders granted in that year, the confiscation period of the mandatory confiscation was even lower than that, at one in 10. If that is the case, then surely we
need to know why the mandatory confiscations were not made. We need to know how many people switched vehicles, how many registered their vehicles in another name, and how many sold their vehicle for a nominal fee to avoid the application of that particular provision.
There is absolutely nothing in the regulatory impact statement that sets out the basis for the change being promoted. The alternative options outlined in the explanatory note are very interesting. The non-legislative option of local authorities designating areas for burn-out pads and racing was considered by officials in early discussions but not progressed. That was the Government’s statement of the alternative options. The regulatory impact statement then states: “Experience of this type of intervention in the past has done little to reduce or rectify the illegal street racing problem.” There is absolutely nothing to grapple with there. The preferred option is to introduce these two bills, the Vehicle Confiscation and Seizure Bill and the Land Transport (Enforcement Powers) Amendment Bill, to apparently deal with the nature of the problem the Government has failed to identify.
The regulatory impact statement then goes on to outline the benefits and costs to consumers and wider society. It states: “The threat of vehicle confiscation and destruction will deter, and reduce the opportunities to use vehicles for, street racing offending.” There is absolutely nothing in this regulatory impact statement to back up this claim, at all. I think that the select committee will really have its work cut out for it in going through the evidence the Government is hiding from public view, because the Government certainly has not put it in the regulatory impact statement. The Government says that the incidence of illegal street racing will decline as a result of this bill, and that the police will be able to reallocate their resources to other front-line duties. I am afraid that just saying so in a regulatory impact statement does not make it so. I think there is considerable work to be done.
Then we are told that if rates of vehicle confiscation increase, then finance companies will be more inclined to undertake rigorous background checks on vehicle owners before financing a vehicle. How will they know before they finance a vehicle whether it will be used in an illegal street race? It is hardly the sort of thing that will come up in a disclosure document. Vehicle owners can already have their vehicles confiscated; there is mandatory confiscation after two offences in a 4-year period. In fact, this regulatory impact statement states that this should not be an additional burden on finance companies. Well, it will not be, because this regulatory impact statement does not explain how the bill will be effective.
We are told under the heading about the costs that will apply that an increase in Vote Courts has been sought in anticipation that the courts will order the confiscation of an additional 3,000 vehicles annually. The Government is saying it will not even make the current law work, because over 9,000 vehicles should have been confiscated under the previous law. So even the Government is not very ambitious in what it believes this legislation ought to do.
Finally, I will comment on the last little bit of the regulatory impact statement, which states: “While less may be recovered from vehicles intended for destruction, the number of orders is likely to be small. In 2007, only 10 offenders were convicted of a third illegal street racing offence within 4 years.” That is why I come back to the name of this bill, which really ought to be the “Three Strikes and You’re Crushed Bill”. This has been a crushing defeat for the Minister.
METIRIA TUREI (Co-Leader—Green)
: The Green Party will not support this ridiculous legislation. It is a waste of taxpayers’ time—and money, certainly—and a waste of this House’s time. I will outline some of the reasons why that is the case.
It really is quite remarkable how much time National members will waste on legislation that sounds good and that makes them feel better, but that does absolutely nothing to deal with the real problems our communities face. The Vehicle Confiscation and Seizure Bill will not make any difference at all to those Christchurch people, in particular, who suffer from the nuisance, intimidation, and illegal behaviour of not only young people but also, often, grown-ups, and the misuse of their vehicles.
In 2002 this Parliament passed what the Green Party considered to be quite Draconian legislation. At that time it was Clayton Cosgrove’s bill. It gave the police significant new powers to deal with dangerous driving and its related behaviour, particularly around illegal street racing. After that legislation was passed, it was found to be a very serious breach of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act. At the time of the debate, my colleague Nandor Tanczos led the issue for our party. He made it clear, for example, that all of the police powers in that 2002 legislation were already available to the police. It is the same case here. All of the powers the police need to deal with dangerous driving, its associated behaviour, and the nuisance and intimidating effect it has on our communities, are available to them as we speak. We simply do not need to keep passing more legislation to give the police more powers, because they already have them.
The difficulty is that no Government, whether it was Labour in the previous term or National in this term, is prepared to resource the enforcement agencies so that they are able to use that law effectively to protect the community. I know that National members have been going on about the fact that they have invested more in policing, and that they are expecting to have 600 new police. Well, 300 of them are going into one area, Counties-Manukau, and they may very well be needed there. But scattering 300 other new police around the country will do nothing. It will do nothing to support the police who are already trying to do that work, and it will do nothing for Christchurch people in particular, who are the most vocal about their problems with illegal street racing. In effect, all that the National Government is doing is throwing law rather than money at a problem, and it is not doing anything that will make a real difference.
I heard Lianne Dalziel talk about the regulatory impact statement and the expression of confidence in it that this legislation will have some kind of deterrent effect. It was great to hear Tau Henare putting out his message to those boy racers. He told them that they should just watch it, as the Government is going to get their cars. But, no, the boy racers are not listening. They are not listening to Tau Henare, they are not listening to the National Government, and they are not listening to the Minister, who is going on about some cars being confiscated. Ten cars out of 10,000 might be confiscated and destroyed under the powers given in this legislation. The Government says that that is supposed to provide some kind of deterrent to those—mostly adult men—who are using and misusing their vehicles in this way and causing intimidation and concern in the community. Confiscating and destroying 10 cars out of 10,000 will not be a deterrent. Here we are, spending hours and hours and hundreds of thousands of dollars of taxpayers’ money passing legislation that will have no effect.
The cost to the Crown, which is mentioned in the regulatory impact statement, is worth noting. The operating costs for the courts are estimated to be around $470,000 a year, going up to around nearly $1.5 million a year in year 2 and out-years. The argument is that somehow the fines that will be imposed on these people when their cars are confiscated and then destroyed will provide some revenue back into the Crown coffers. That will not happen. The Minister has already talked about the fact that a number of these people owe large amounts in outstanding fines. If there are already significant amounts of money owed by people who are engaged in illegal street racing, why does the National Government think that more legislation that will impose more
fines will somehow make people pay more of their fines back? It will not do that. It never has worked like that, and it never will.
Again, these are ineffective and wasteful actions on the part of National, and meanwhile the community continues to look for real solutions to the problem. And those solutions are complicated. I guess that is why the National Government has failed to provide any decent solutions. The solutions involve a great deal of community engagement. It means more real money, not just in producing more police but in providing proper support for the police who are already engaged particularly in community policing. It means giving councils greater capacity to engage with their communities so that they can find alternatives that will enable these people to do their driving elsewhere, in places that are safer. But the Government has no intention of engaging in real solutions or practical ideas that involve working with communities towards addressing the things that need to be changed. What it wants to do instead is waste time and money by putting up legislation that looks good and sounds good, and gives the Government something to beat its drum about, but is utterly ineffective. That is a serious shame, and a real concern for the communities that need help. These communities are desperately trying to find some peace.
I also note the strange priorities of the Government. It will pass legislation to confiscate and destroy cars that are noisy and create a nuisance, yet it does nothing in response to the owners of cars that kill people or seriously maim them. Somehow it is more important to confiscate and destroy cars that are noisy than it is to destroy cars that have been used to maim and kill people. Just this year 189 people have died on our roads as a result of road accidents. Yet this Government, instead of focusing on those kinds of transport issues that are of importance and concern to the community, and instead of looking at ways of dealing with those kinds of issues, is wasting time passing legislation that will crush 10 cars that cause a nuisance. This Government’s priority is out of whack with what the community really needs. The Green Party simply will not support such unprincipled, useless, and distorted legislation that will do nothing to help our communities that are so desperately in need of help.
DAVID GARRETT (ACT)
: I rise to support the first reading of the Vehicle Confiscation and Seizure Bill. For the second time today I am happy to say that I am surprised to be able to support a speaker from the other side of the House who normally is not on the same wavelength as me. I refer of course to Mr Cosgrove. When debating the previous bill, the Land Transport (Enforcement Powers) Amendment Bill, it was Mr Jones whom I supported. Mr Cosgrove made a great deal of sense, as indeed did many of the speakers from the other side of the House.
Before I get into the speech I have prepared, I want to turn to the speech made by the new co-leader of the Green Party, Metiria Turei, on the Vehicle Confiscation and Seizure Bill. As usual, she found that everything is incredibly complicated. Her speech reminded me of the reaction in New York state about 15 years ago, after the zero-tolerance policies—commonly known as Broken Windows—were instituted in New York City by a former New York mayor, Rudolph Giuliani. The policies resulted in a plummeting crime rate for both large and small crimes, and changed the city from being one of the most dangerous in the country to being one of the safest. It changed Times Square from being a place where I personally witnessed drug dealing and was offered a hooker at 4 o’clock in the afternoon to being a place where families now go to celebrate New Year’s Eve. When the crime rate plummeted, the American equivalent of Ms Turei and other left-wing academics and politicians were absolutely shocked. They launched a fevered search for any other reason, because it could not have been something as simple as Broken Windows; all those questions on the causes of crime are so complicated!
They desperately searched, and they came up with the availability of abortions as the reason for the plummeting crime rate.
In our view, sometimes things are quite simple. Here is an example from this bill. For 30 or 40 years New Zealand has allowed boy racers to behave inappropriately in cars without consequences. Mr Cosgrove and the previous Labour Government introduced commendable efforts to do something about it. What I have heard mostly from the speakers on the other side of the House are very helpful indications of how this bill could be improved at the select committee, which of course is the major reason we are supporting the bill being referred there.
The bill is not perfect. It is far from perfect. In fact, Ms Dalziel referred to the fact, which I noticed myself, that there is a discretion whether to confiscate and destroy a vehicle after the third offence, which is contained in the proposed section 129A of the Sentencing Act 2002, inserted by clause 8. The court “may order the confiscation and destruction of any motor vehicle”, blah, blah, blah. Perhaps at the select committee there will be submissions that say that that word should be changed to “shall” or “must”. As members will know, that is a huge difference in law. There will be all sorts of suggestions at the select committee. No doubt more faults will be identified. Although I am not certain of the Māori Party’s position, it is quite clear that with the support of three parties in the House there will be a multipartisan effort to improve whatever faults are found.
One of the reasons the ACT Party is supporting this bill is that it is entirely consistent with its “three strikes” bill for more serious violent crime. The bill is based on a “three strikes” principle, which is an escalation principle. If an offender offends once, there is a penalty; if the offender offends a second time, there is a stronger penalty; an offender who offends a third time may lose his or her vehicle altogether, as the bill is drafted. The “three strikes” principle has been derided as a silly American idea. Actually, it is not. Getting a second chance is a very, very Kiwi idea. New Zealanders, by and large, believe that people should be given a second chance at all sorts of things, but not 102 chances.
The bill recognises that fines have become largely voluntary in this country. How often do we hear judges say that they are remitting $20,000, $30,000, or $50,000 in fines? As one of the National speakers noted, fines pasted up on walls have become a badge of honour among the idiots whom this bill attempts to deal with. Of course, in days gone by there were no overdue fines, because fines used to be an alternative to imprisonment. In the old days judges would hand down a fine of $100 or $200, and in default 14 days’ imprisonment. There were never any overdue fines. But we have moved on from those days—sadly, in my view. Maybe we need to have a look at it again.
But in the meantime—and without using those lovely words “Draconian legislation” that members on the other side love to use so much—this bill addresses the problem of people not paying fines by taking a different tack: the demerit point tack. The bill states that on someone’s third offence he or she has had his or her chance, and that is it. As I have said, it may well be that at the select committee submitters will say that the confiscation and destruction of a car should be mandatory, not discretionary.
The Labour Party has very usefully identified the fact that only 2 percent of cars eligible for confiscation have been confiscated under the current law. That fact is a strong indication of a need, and here again I am happy to agree with Mr Cosgrove, to send a signal to the judiciary. Because this House is where the law of the land is made, not over the road at the Ministry of Justice, it may be time for Parliament to tell the judiciary what needs to happen with these people. They are not just boy racers. In my
speech on the Land Transport (Enforcement Powers) Amendment Bill I referred to them, very deliberately, as road criminals.
Members on both sides of the House have talked about death and serious injury, as well as intimidation. That is not some kind of cap-on-backwards group of idiots playing with their trolleys; that is dangerous criminal activity. I agree with other speakers that this bill will not be a panacea. But it will reduce the number of ridiculous vehicles on the road whose drivers do not use them for the purpose of shopping, or taking the kids out, or doing any of the other things we use our cars for, but to intimidate and cause mayhem.
But one thing that is correct is that those boy racers do love their cars. In that sense they are car enthusiasts. I am a car enthusiast: I have an old Jaguar, which sucks up a lot of money. My club is the Jaguar club. The only thing that I have in common with boy-racer clowns is that I love my old car too, although it costs me lots of money. Often those guys have their manhood tied up in their cars, too. They are not legitimate car enthusiasts, but they love their cars. This bill gives the eventual option of destroying their pride and joy, as they say. It will make them think twice. It will make them think twice about buying another car, which could also be destroyed.
So far, I have covered all the positives. The ACT Party is very, very aware of the bill’s potential risk to private property rights, to lenders, and to other owners. But the bill is a very careful attempt to address those problems, and to make sure that innocent people do not suffer as a result of some clown who may have access to their car. But it may well be that at the select committee other problems are shown in that regard. With the tripartisan approach to the bill at this stage, I am quite sure the National, ACT, and Labour members, and possibly the Māori Party members, on the select committee, will be able to find solutions to that problem. So at this stage the ACT Party is very happy to support the bill.
TE URUROA FLAVELL (Māori Party—Waiariki)
: Tēnā koe, Mr Assistant Speaker Roy. Kia ora tātou e te Whare kua hui mai i tēnei pō.
The phenomenon of boy racing is not one of the biggest problems confronting Ngongotahā in Rotorua, where I live, so I needed to look a little bit wider throughout my electorate to see the extent of boy racing across the Waiariki electorate. The results were quite interesting. In one calendar year, between March 2008 and March 2009, the Bay of Plenty witnessed 195 incidents of operating a vehicle in a noisy manner, 60 incidents of operating a vehicle in an unnecessary exhibition of speed, and 251 incidents of operating a vehicle causing sustained loss of traction. Beyond these criminal offences sit other stories and anecdotes of violence, of consistent defiance, of way-out noise violations, and of antisocial behaviour.
The explanatory note of the Vehicle Confiscation and Seizure Bill describes the nature of the harm that arises from illegal street racing as being broken into three categories: road safety, noise, and the public nuisance or disorder associated with what is certainly perceived as antisocial behaviour. It then goes on to address the confiscation of vehicles. It establishes new confiscation and destruction orders. It enables vehicles owned by or used by people with overdue fines to be seized and sold to pay for those fines. It allows a vehicle to be seized not just to recover fines but also to reduce opportunities for traffic offending. Those are all things that we can do today, and we should do so.
But I note that the extent of the problem we are debating tonight is really difficult to get a handle on. The very origins of this bill emerged from the knowledge that the current laws are insufficient to deal with the issue, and apprehending drivers in the act of street racing is really, really difficult. We know that many participants take great pride in being able to avoid detection by the police, and that there is a complex web of
communications in train in which word of mouth and text messaging are able to quickly sort out a new venue where those involved in this activity can gather together. I believe that the latest
Sunday television programme told us all about that. In short, this is a subversive subculture, which this bill still leaves basically intact. The issues will not go away, even if the vehicles do. That is the problem that all of us in this House must continue to explore in order to achieve the outcomes of safer streets and healthier communities.
The bill amends three separate pieces of legislation, the Sentencing Act 2002, the Summary Proceedings Act 1957, and the Privacy Act 1993, in order to reduce boy-racer traffic offending. The amendments are required to, firstly, strengthen the powers of the courts to order the confiscation of cars; secondly, to empower the courts to order the destruction of cars; and, thirdly, to strengthen provisions to seize cars in order to enforce the collection of unpaid fines and reparations. Suddenly, the investment of 600 front-line police and an extra $950 million in Ministry of Justice spending makes sense. In particular, the $16 million put aside for improving fines collection, I am sure, will be immediately put to use with this bill.
But I guess the question remains of what we should be doing to address the problem of boy racers. I would like to take a little bit of time to note some of the ambiguities around the charges that will be brought in under this bill. Part 2 of the bill, according to the explanatory note, authorises the confiscation of vehicles that “appear” to belong to offenders. It enables vehicles owned by, apparently owned by, or used by people or organisations with overdue fines to be seized and sold to pay for overdue fines. Those are the qualifiers. The inclusion of vehicles that are “apparently” owned opens up considerable room for speculation and indecision. The Māori Party would hope that during the select committee process these uncertainties will be tidied up.
I return again to the question of what those changes will do to encourage these gangs that there is more to life than pushing their souped up vehicles beyond their limits, irrespective of the speed zones or the safety of their passengers. What work has gone into exploring the reasons why Christchurch and Hamilton seem particularly attractive to potential boy-racers? Is it a peculiarity of the landscape design, where both centres appear pretty flush with long, flat roads made for cruising? Or is it something about the populations of Canterbury and Waikato? Are they more inclined to complain to the police than those in other regions? Perhaps it is that the police force is cracking down on boy racers in these areas, while other police squads are putting out their fires. Are there more alternative recreations in other cities? Is the car market to blame perhaps? Are souped up imports chock-a-block in Christchurch car yards boy-racing vehicles waiting to happen? Those are the sorts of questions that we wanted to raise.
There are other theories abounding about the subjects of this bill. A particularly interesting analysis was undertaken in the
New Zealand Geographer
journal, in a study called “Driving people crazy”. The study tried to come to terms with the activity of boy racers by unpacking the fundamental principles on which this subculture sits. The research identified that the males participating in the study used the car as a prop to situate themselves socially. That was alluded to by Mr Garrett. In other words, those who drove the flashier cars were “the man” amongst all men. Apparently, that is not just a phenomenon of the young: an ACNielsen survey revealed that more than half of New Zealanders prefer cars with 2-litre engines. A Toyota Starlet or a Honda Civic does not seem to cut it, as my colleague Hone Harawira would be quick to point out. But I come back to the boy racers. Other reasons why these vehicles have become a symbol of status appear to be about experiencing a rush, getting some relief from the daily routine, showing off, escaping the boredom perhaps.
As a father of five, I am not, of course, immune from some of those trials of teenage-hood and the consistent desire for some excitement in life. That, in itself, is not a bad thing. Indeed, one of the Tūhoe nation, Tāmati Kruger, talks about these sensations in terms of te ihi, te wehi, te wana—those experiences that all of us search for in our pursuit of the mystery of life. But the problem is that for the subculture of boy racers, these sensations, when closely linked with alcohol consumption, stunt driving, drag racing, doughnuts, wilful damage of property, and the mass culture surrounding all of that, take on a whole new edge.
Throughout this kōrero I have attempted to raise some of the issues the Māori Party has debated in our caucus. It is evident that for us, the Māori Party members, the spectacle of boy-racing convoys leaves us with more questions than answers. We read about the damage to, and devastation of, property, the impact on the reputation of safe communities, and the adverse effects upon the tourism industry, as alluded to by Mr Cosgrove. But the real costs of the deaths, injuries, and the mayhem that are created so needlessly on city roads is what has got us all searching for solutions.
In closing, I need to say that I have difficulty with this issue when considering that umpteen armed police entered the Ruātoki valley and the Tāneatua communities against the so-called threat of terrorism about 18 months ago. Yet if we were to take as gospel many of the accounts from people like Nicky Wagner, Clayton Cosgrove, and others tonight, that there is intimidation, bullying, stand-over tactics, and so on, why, then, is it not possible to send those same umpteen armed police to Christchurch to deal with the real criminals? The issues in Ruātoki and Tāneatua are still perceived, at this point in time; innocent people’s lives were seriously disrupted when the police moved. The issues in Christchurch and Hamilton are known and seen, as expressed in the House tonight; surely a similar show of force might be worth considering.
In closing, we commend this bill to the select committee process, in order that possible solutions may come to the fore. We therefore support this bill at its first reading.
Dr JACKIE BLUE (National)
: The Vehicle Confiscation and Seizure Bill follows on from the Land Transport (Enforcement Powers) Amendment Bill to form the Government’s legislative response to illegal street racing. First of all, my congratulations go to Judith Collins, who has been determined in her crusade against illegal street racing. I also acknowledge my colleague Nicky Wagner, who has been waging a war against the noise that boy racers make. These two bills, the Vehicle Confiscation and Seizure Bill and the Land Transport (Enforcement Powers) Amendment Bill, will give the police, courts, and local authorities greater powers to tackle illegal street racers, and to crush their vehicles as a last resort. Together, these bills will send a strong message to illegal street racers that dangerous, disruptive, and antisocial use of vehicles is not acceptable. Illegal street racers cause excessive noise, disruption, and intimidation.
The public have had enough. The police have had enough. The Government is determined to see illegal street racing off our roads. This Government will not accept that the laws of our land have been flouted. The Government and the public have lost patience with drivers who use their vehicles in an antisocial manner, and who put the safety of the public and the police at risk. Illegal street racing is fairly widespread in New Zealand; it threatens public safety. Earlier this year, there was an attack on a lone police officer by a mob of illegal street racers and their friends. Indeed, this was nothing less than cowardly mob behaviour. Following that attack, the Prime Minister, Minister Joyce, and Minister Collins asked officials from the police, the New Zealand Transport Agency, and the ministries of transport and justice to work together to create this new legislation.
The public are simply fed up with hoons running riot, and with cars doing skids, churning up grass verges, and scattering rubbish. It is not just about the dangerous driving and the putting the public at risk; it is also about what these hoons leave in their wake—soggy beer cartons, broken bottles, and flattened cans littering pavements and roads, and spray-painted start and finish lines on the roads. It is also about property being damaged, fences destroyed, and grass areas ripped up. These idiots have gone on far too long, and got away with it. Well, they will not be getting away with it any more under this new legislation. Residents are sick of being woken up and having to listen to boy racers’ antisocial behaviour.
I digress a wee bit to say that I live in a street in Auckland that does not normally have street racing, but I tell members that not so long ago I was woken up at 2 a.m. by the searing, screeching noise of tyres. I looked out and the road was full of smoke. It was rubber burning; wheels were on fire. The noise was tremendous, and, quite frankly, I was intimidated. It was a frightening experience.
The public are living in fear of reprisals if any of them complain. Then there is the concern of vigilante action being taken by residents—the situation where they could take the law into their own hands. We all know that two wrongs do not make a right, but these two laws together will send a powerful message that members of the public do not have to live in fear in their own homes and that they will not have to take the law into their own hands. The Land Transport (Enforcement Powers) Amendment Bill, which has already passed its first reading, will include provisions, firstly, to allow local authorities to create by-laws that will prevent vehicles from repeatedly cruising city streets. Secondly, they will allow a compulsory impoundment of vehicles involved in illegal street racing. Thirdly, they will produce demerit points for noise offences, licence breaches, and registration plate offences. This will ensure that repeat offenders will lose their licences rather than just accrue fines.
The Land Transport (Enforcement Powers) Amendment Bill is about ensuring that the penalties for this antisocial behaviour are a strong deterrent to repeat offending. This Vehicle Confiscation and Seizure Bill aims to take the worst boy racers off the road by taking away their vehicles permanently. Crushing cars will be the last resort for dealing with only the most serious of repeat offenders, but every offence will bring them closer to the crusher.
The Vehicle Confiscation and Seizure Bill will allow vehicles to be seized and destroyed as a new penalty against illegal street racing. It will allow vehicles repeatedly used by people with overdue traffic fines to be seized and sold to pay for those fines. It will enable the police and courts to target illegal street racers who commit offences in another person’s vehicle.
Illegal street racing is detrimental at every level. The police and our city councils need to have the tools to deal with this issue. These two bills will give the police the tools they urgently need. Indeed, the current law is not working; it has not stopped illegal street racing. There have been thousands of offences under the Land Transport (Unauthorised Street and Drag Racing) Amendment Act since it was passed in 2003. Each year the number has grown, and more than 90 percent of these offences have resulted in the police impounding cars. But the threat of having a car impounded for only 28 days is not a deterrent. As well, the number of fatalities where showing off or racing has contributed to deaths has actually risen since the law was passed. By taking away the vehicles of illegal street racers permanently, they will be prevented from buying back their cars and reoffending. By enabling the police and courts to target illegal street racers who use another person’s car to offend, car owners will be encouraged to take a greater level of responsibility for their property.
Many illegal street racers rack up huge fines, which they refuse to pay; under this bill, cars will be seized and sold to pay the fines of the worst offenders. Motor vehicles will be able to be seized if fines and reparations remain unpaid. If these penalties remain unpaid after the vehicle has been seized, then the vehicle will be able to be sold at public auction. The proceeds of the sale will be applied in the same order of priority as for confiscation and destruction.
A number of deaths reported in the media have been attributed to boy-racer - type activities, and I include some of the following: in May 2008 Scott Finn, 20 years, died during an illegal street race in Mount Maunganui. He was hit as one of the vehicles returned at high speed on the wrong side of the road. In May 2008 Laureen Helen Reilly, 60 years, was killed after being hit when a 25-year-old lost control of his high-performance car while racing in Christchurch. In March 2008 Ratu Victor Vikash Junior Lal, 23 years, and his 18-year-old passenger, Adam Herrick, were killed in an apparent street racing accident in Birkenhead on Auckland’s North Shore. In May 2007 two girls, both 16, were killed and 17 party-goers were injured when Lipine Sila drove into a crowd at a Christchurch party. Sila, 23 years, was sentenced to a non-parole period of 17 years, and was jailed on two charges of murder and eight of grievous bodily harm. In August 2006 pedestrian Amy Edward-Minton was killed while crossing Cambridge Terrace in Wellington during a drag race by two boy racers. In December 2005 Billy Wall, 12 years, was killed on State Highway 1, south of Taupō, when one of two speeding cars crashed into him as he crossed the road on New Year’s Eve 2005.
I could go on, for this is the face, the tragic face, of illegal street racing. This Vehicle Confiscation and Seizure Bill, which follows on from the Land Transport (Enforcement Powers) Amendment Bill, will make our streets and our communities safer. I commend this bill to the House.
BRENDON BURNS (Labour—Christchurch Central)
: I am pleased to speak in the first reading of the Vehicle Confiscation and Seizure Bill. As the member of Parliament whose electorate is acknowledged to be most plagued by boy racers, I support the introduction of this bill and its referral to the Transport and Industrial Relations Committee. I wish to make it clear that if this bill contributes to reducing the menace and annoyance that hundreds of my constituents face every weekend, I am for it.
I have lived off Fitzgerald Avenue and been kept awake at night by the boy racers. I have sat with constituents watching and listening as boy racers roar up and down Fitzgerald Avenue. I have met people who live off Edgeware Road, and whose quiet street has become an occasional drag strip. I have worked with boy racers to try to get a burnout strip established, attended numerous meetings to try to make some progress, and visited Bealey Avenue moteliers who are in despair, yet still we have appalling incidents like last week’s attack on a female airport security guard and, earlier in the year, the attack on a police sergeant. Those were despicable and cowardly attacks. This legislation is part of a continuum of attempts to deal with such thuggery.
In February of last year, at my first public meeting as the Labour candidate in Christchurch Central, I chose to front and chair a meeting and invite the then Minister for Transport Safety, Harry Duynhoven, to come and outline what the Labour Government was doing. Changes were announced in late 2007, including such things as a specific warrant of fitness noise-level test; a move away from fines, which are often left unpaid and run to thousands of dollars; a move towards faster accumulation of demerit points, which boy racers take seriously because they want to retain their licences; and moves to set new car-noise limits at 90 decibels.
After that meeting, I told Mr Duynhoven that my firm view was that we as a Government needed to do more. Within a month, we had some new regulations, giving
police more powers to take cars with noisy exhausts straight off the road, to have car-owners pay for their cars to be noise-tested, and, if the cars were over the prevailing 95 decibel limit, to have them modified to not exceed 90 decibels at the car-owners’ expense. So no member of this House should be under any illusion that there has not already been a considerable legislative and regulatory effort to deal with the boy-racer issue. We should also acknowledge that the legislation in front of us now will provide some of the same remedies as those that have been passed before. I am pleased to acknowledge the comments tonight from the Minister responsible for the bill, the Hon Judith Collins, who acknowledged that there has been a concerted effort in the past to deal with these issues.
I believe that this issue will require ongoing effort and resources. Last year, in Canterbury alone, the police issued 1,500 offence notices to boy racers. That is 10 times the number issued in Auckland. I wish to say, without prejudging the scrutiny that the House and the select committee might provide, that the bill before the House now is unlikely to provide any silver bullet for the problems caused by boy racers, even when one associates it with the tandem legislation discussed earlier this evening. Personally, I think that this bill and the Land Transport (Enforcement Powers) Amendment Bill are as likely to solve the problem of boy racers in Christchurch, and to see them park up quietly to drink sarsaparilla, as Paul Quinn is to become the Prime Minister. I am sure this bill will, though, tighten the tourniquet. But the fact is that the measures are already there for the judiciary.
I acknowledge the contribution to this House of the Hon Clayton Cosgrove, whose Land Transport (Unauthorised Street and Drag Racing) Amendment Act of 7 years ago dealt with the problem of street racing, burnouts, and wheel spinning. It targeted those issues. It gave the police the power to impound a vehicle that is operated in an illegal street race for 28 days, immediately, if they so wished. It also gave the power to require that an offending car emerge from impoundment with a new warrant of fitness, one that did away with illegal modifications such as lower suspensions and noisy exhausts, and it gave the courts the power to confiscate a vehicle on the first offence. If the boy racer was caught twice within 4 years, the Land Transport Act, as amended by the House back in 2003, stated that the court must confiscate the vehicle, barring extreme hardship.
Part 1 of this bill requires three strikes before a car can be confiscated, and that, in effect, is a weaker power. I acknowledge that, on that third offence, the car can now be crushed. Just how much better than confiscation that will work remains to be seen. Certainly, there is a strong public view that crushing should be introduced, but Minister Collins has said that perhaps only nine or 10 cars a year will be crushed under this bill.
If members saw on the weekend the
Sunday documentary on boy racers, they will have some idea of the scale of the problem in my electorate alone, not to mention other electorates. There are sometimes hundreds of cars roaring up and down the avenues in Christchurch, and I think we need to ask the courts why judges are not using the stiffer sentences that are already available, such as the provision that for a first offence offenders lose their cars, which is a power already available to the court. I would like to know whether the Minister has any information on that issue. I ask whether she got briefings from officials, and whether she can tell us why, after people have been charged with tens of thousands of the offences as defined under the legislation introduced by Clayton Cosgrove, only about 2 percent of the cars involved have been confiscated.
I think the police have every reason to be frustrated by this issue. We are, in effect, wasting valuable police time and sapping their efforts when we do not see the courts use the powers that are already available to them in a wider way. I would like to know whether the Minister has asked for a report on those issues.
If the courts and judges are not using the powers they already have, then one has to ask why they would use the added power that is provided by this bill, even if it takes three strikes and not one strike to see a car confiscated and then crushed. Will the turning of 10 cars into cubes each year really send the sort of signal that will be understood and acted on by people who seem immune to anything but their own egos? I am not criticising the Government for adding to what the previous Labour Government did; I just say we should not put all our hopes on the idea that this bill and its companion measure will do what previous efforts, sometimes described as Draconian, have failed to do.
The funny thing is that at about this time last year I started getting feedback that the collective efforts were starting to work. I was told by people at two inner-city residents association meetings that the problem of the boy racers was reducing.
Amy Adams: Yeah, they’re moving out to Selwyn. How does that fix it?
BRENDON BURNS: Well, they may have been moving somewhere, but we were quite delighted that the problem seemed to be abating in Christchurch Central.
Amy Adams: Oh! Yeah, just wash your hands of it. Wash your hands.
BRENDON BURNS: I am not washing my hands; I am acknowledging what people in the community were saying last year. Then came summer, and the problem returned. Perhaps its abating was a result of some stronger police action last year, the measures that were introduced, or a cocktail of things, although I suspect the real reason why the problem abated last year was that the petrol price went to $2.20 a litre. Perhaps that is a signal that when financial constraints are applied, the boy-racer problem can reduce.
Nicky Wagner: Like fines.
BRENDON BURNS: Well, this bill also includes a move away from fines towards the whole issue of using the other options. I note that there is nothing in these two bills to reduce exhaust noise to a maximum of 90 decibels, as has been long and noisily promoted by at least one member opposite, even to the point of two parliamentary petitions. Perhaps that is being kept in reserve in case these two bills do not deliver the crushing victory against boy racers that is being suggested.
Certainly, we need to refer this bill with its companion bill to a select committee to make sure they add some real measures to what is already in place. But I do not believe that this legislation, with its companion bill, will provide the silver bullet. I remain in conversation with constituents, the police, and even boy racers to try to see what more might be done. I believe that Parliament will return to this issue. In the interim, I am very pleased to support this bill’s referral to the select committee to have whatever measures need to be added to it to improve and strengthen it. I hope that we can see a beginning to some end of this issue.
NICKY WAGNER (National)
: I rise to support the Vehicle Confiscation and Seizure Bill. It is part of a bill combination designed to deal with the issue of boy racers. Coupled with the Land Transport (Enforcement Powers) Amendment Bill, it will make a difference—and it is about time.
I have been campaigning for action on boy racers for the last 4 years. During that time the previous Labour Government did absolutely nothing to deal with the boy-racer problem—absolutely nothing. Boy-racer culture has grown and flourished right across the country. Back in the early 2000s, boy-racer behaviour was mostly noise and nuisance; it should have been nipped in the bud then. Over the years the nature of the boy-racer community has changed dramatically. In 2009 there is a much bigger group and it is much more antisocial. Boy racers now move in packs and they generate a much larger number of offences.
In my home town of Christchurch City, the downtown area in the centre of the city has long been a target of boy-racer behaviour, but now more and more boy-racer packs
congregate outside the city in rural areas. The police play a game of cat and mouse as they try to contain noisy, violent, and destructive groups. The police are working hard to contain offences but they need more tools to curb the problem. The police are losing the race against boy racers. The public is absolutely tired of the noise and the destruction from these groups and they want to see something done about it. For far too long Christchurch City and its environs have been labelled noisy and violent, and businesses and families have borne the brunt of that noise and destruction.
As members have heard tonight, the boy-racer problem reached its height in Christchurch earlier this year when a police officer was ambushed by a pack of boy racers who pelted his car with bottles and shot at him. It was an example of premeditated violence and the stimulus for this legislation. Since then we have seen an even worse situation when an innocent driver was attacked by a pack of boy racers. Last week a lone female aviation security officer was stopped by boy racers while she was driving behind the airport. Her car was attacked, all the windows were smashed, and she felt that her life was at risk. There is absolutely no justification or excuse for this type of behaviour, so I am very pleased to support this bill at its first reading.
The New Zealand public are delighted to see a bill that will allow the confiscation and crushing of cars. People whose lives have been disrupted regularly by boy racers are very keen to crush cars. Reports from other countries that tell of car crushing are eagerly discussed, and calls for New Zealand to do the same have been constant. But Kiwis are also fair-minded. They want to curb boy-racer behaviour but they also understand that the cars may not belong to the drivers, and, equally, they do not want to see wasteful car crushing if there is some other way to deal with the problem. This bill has solved the problem neatly by seeking a “three strikes and you’re out” regime. Upon the first offence a letter will be sent to all owners of the vehicle to tell them about the danger of confiscation and car crushing if there are three offences involving the vehicle within 4 years. The letter will be sent again after the second offence. If finance companies, families, and friends, as owners of the vehicle, continue to allow the offender to drive that vehicle, and the offender continues to break the law, then the owners are obviously prepared to take the risk of losing their property. There is no compulsion for the boy racer to continue to offend. I believe that the vast majority of car owners will act after the first letter, and certainly after the second letter. It is hoped that the offenders will lose their cars not by car crushing but by repossession of the cars by their owners. For a small number of persistent, unrepentant offenders, who are unable to live within the law, car crushing is a good solution for their offences. Crushed cars cannot do burnouts; crushed cars cannot race illegally; crushed cars cannot become part of a boy-racer pack.
This is a tough new law that is useful and timely. Combined with the Land Transport (Enforcement Powers) Amendment Bill it will allow the police to deal with boy racers across the country. It is time that noisy, violent, and disruptive behaviour has some real consequences.
JACINDA ARDERN (Labour)
: I am pleased to take a call on the Vehicle Confiscation and Seizure Bill. I begin by acknowledging the commonality that exists in this debate across both sides of the House. In this particular case I think we are all in agreement that a sector of our society is behaving in an absolutely abhorrent way that is to the detriment of our communities and is potentially very, very harmful to various sectors of our society. We have already heard about the negative consequences of that behaviour from a list that was read out in another member’s speech.
But I also acknowledge that this is an issue of degrees. We can start at the very small, lesser end of the scale. Coming from a town like Morrinsville, I have seen and even experienced the lesser end of the scale. As a teenager I once foolishly chose to teach my
sister how to do a burnout on my gravel driveway. It was a foolish act given that my father is a policeman and it did not take him long to figure out who the culprit was; I raked the driveway for almost 3 hours. This is an issue of degrees. We are not talking about the foolish acts of young people doing rark-ups on their parents’ driveways; we are talking about a group who are flouting the law and, as has been pointed out, have no interest in abiding by the law set out in this House. I think that is a really important point to keep in mind when we analyse whether this bill will impact on the serious situation we are trying to grapple with, and I will come back to that point when I go through some clauses that I think deserve particular scrutiny.
It is also important to keep in mind that we have been here before. As has been pointed out by my colleagues, we already have legislation that is tougher than what our counterparts in Australia currently use—that is, the Land Transport (Unauthorised Street and Drag Racing) Amendment Act 2003. As we all know, Clayton Cosgrove introduced that legislation to deal with the very group of people we are trying to deal with again today. That amendment Act allowed two very important things. First, it enabled the police to impound vehicles on the spot. It may be a matter of our needing to go back to the police and ask them why that provision is not being used frequently enough. Perhaps a safety issue is involved whereby impounding a car on the spot causes an unnecessary risk to the personal safety of police officers in heightened, potentially violent situations. We should perhaps be putting these questions to the police.
The second provision in the amendment Act is that the courts have the power to confiscate vehicles on a first offence. We have already heard some of the statistics repeated in the House tonight. In 2006 alone there were 9,600 offences in which mandatory confiscation could have applied. But it did not. We have already heard that the rate of confiscation was a mere 2 percent. Lianne Dalziel has already brought up the question of why we have not seen a higher rate of confiscation under the Land Transport Act as it currently stands, and I have to say I am very disappointed that the regulatory impact statement in the explanatory note of the bill does not touch on the gaps in the existing Act and reflect on why the courts are not using this mandatory power more. I would have given a lot more kudos to the Government if it had asked where it is going wrong now, because I think that might have meant that we would be debating something that had a little more teeth than the bill we are currently looking at.
Let us reflect on that. We currently have the power to enact mandatory confiscation. Mandatory implies that all those 9,600 cars would have been confiscated, but they have not. There is one provision that allows a court the discretion not to confiscate. What is that? A judge is able, when considering confiscation, to take into account extreme or undue hardship. That is not an unusual provision; it is something that we see, for instance, in the Sentencing Act, where a judge has the discretion to take into account the situation of the individual before him or her when factoring in reparations and the payment of fines. It is not unusual that we give judges that discretion. Currently that discretion has obviously meant that cars are not being confiscated frequently. If this Government is truly serious about being as tough as possible on boy racers, why has it not looked at that provision? Currently the bill keeps that discretion for the courts. I am not arguing either way as to whether that is good or bad, but I would have at least expected the regulatory impact assessment to say why in 98 percent of cases judges are not mandatorily ordering confiscation of cars. What is going on in those 98 percent of cases? There has been no analysis of that, and I think that is a failure on behalf of the Government.
So what is different about this bill? If all of those provisions actually remain the same, that discretion is still there, and we are likely to see very little change as a consequence, then what is different about this legislation? I want to spend a bit of time
reflecting on the much talked about crushing aspect of the bill. It is contained primarily in clause 8 of the bill, where new section 129A enables courts to order the destruction of motor vehicles where an offender who is convicted of a street racing offence has two previous convictions for similar offences committed within the last 4 years. The court may order the destruction of a motor vehicle if the offender was driving or was in charge of it at the material time, and if it is owned by the offender or a substitute for the offender. The court must not order the destruction of a motor vehicle if it would result in extreme hardship to the offender or undue hardship to any other person, including to a substitute.
Let us just run through what process we would see happen, what procedures must happen, and which hurdles must be overcome in order to see the ultimate end point that the Minister is hoping to see: the crushing of vehicles. What will happen? The first criterion is that two previous convictions must have occurred. Members should keep in mind that this bill is not retrospective, so it is saying that starting from Royal assent two convictions must be incurred by an offender for similar offences. We are expecting to see someone convicted through the courts of two similar offences. Second, those convictions must be received in a certain time frame; hurdle No. 2 is that they must happen with a 4-year period. Third, the court can then order destruction if the person who is driving the vehicle also owns the vehicle. I would have liked to see more analysis in the explanatory note of this bill of the situations of those who have come before the court where they already own the vehicle. In 98 percent of cases a judge is not ordering confiscation. Is that because in 96 percent of cases those people do not, in fact, own the car? Why have we not seen any analysis of that in the explanatory note? That is the third criterion; it is the third hurdle to toughness, if you will. The fourth hurdle to toughness is the issue of undue hardship that the judge is able to take into account.
Those are four reasonably tight hurdles to overcome before we will see the Government reach its ultimate end point of crushing vehicles. It may well be that in this case the Government was after the ability to say that it was going to crush cars but without actually reaching an end point of doing so. I do not want to be too cynical about it, though; that might not be its intention. But if it was not, surely we would not have seen such a high bar set by the Government before the end point of crushing was reached.
Of course, I acknowledge that we have an issue in New Zealand that we need to tackle. I am not denying that. But what would I have liked to see? I recently had the privilege of spending some time with a group of young people at a WE-Speak conference, which is where young people in Christchurch come together to discuss the issues in their community. They raised this as an issue; they want to debate it.
AARON GILMORE (National)
: I rise to support the Vehicle Confiscation and Seizure Bill. This bill is about the rubber hitting the road or, more important, the Minister of Police standing up to do something about stopping some of that. This bill is a step along the path of doing something about that activity, and about the 10 deaths per year that are reported to be the result of illegal street racing. It will help to stop and get rid of a persistent core group, and do something about those who take away lives. The horrific costs to society of illegal street racing are estimated to be in excess of $30 million per annum. That is outlined in the regulatory impact statement, but it was not touched on by any speaker here tonight. As awful as that may be, it is also the case that these actions lead to other important things for those who survive: fear, pain, and suffering. There are cases such as the bottle attack on a lone police officer in Wigram, which we have heard about tonight, and the spineless attack last week on an aviation security officer behind Christchurch International Airport. This bill will not stop these
incidents. It will not stop the thuggery completely, but it may just save the life of someone we love or know, or maybe it will just save those people from experiencing the pain, suffering, or fear caused by such activity.
This bill amends three Acts, as was mentioned earlier: the Privacy Act, the Summary Proceedings Act, and the Sentencing Act. To achieve this there will be some costs. The Greens mentioned earlier some of these costs, and they focused on that issue as a reason why this bill should not go ahead. It is estimated that in excess of 3,000 vehicles per annum will be seized, which is up from the current 1,000 vehicles per annum. The additional cost of this to the Crown will be a little under $2 million. If that saves one life or two lives, is that worth it? I think so. It may save 10 lives. If it saves 10 lives, is it worth it? I think so.
We heard members opposite also talk about how the finance companies may make decisions and change how they finance the cars owned by these people. How will they do that? It will be just like what insurance companies do with regard to insurance. Actuaries calculate the risk that exists for people, in order to change their behaviour. That is what actuaries do best; they will calculate the probability of the risks around whether boy racers may or may not participate in that activity and cause problems and issues down the track.
This bill will take away some of the rights of those people, some of those who cause us pain and fear. I am told by the police that many of the boy racers in Christchurch come from my side of town and head to the west side of town, where my colleague Amy Adams lives. Some of these people I knew; some of them have passed away, murdered in some way by boy racers. Some of these people I grew up with. Some of them still drive these cars. And some of them, I hope, may change their behaviour as a result of these laws. Some of them may not. This bill will not harm the rights of the good, law-abiding citizens who appreciate the artistry of fine automobiles or take part in car rallies. But it will deal with some of the innate fear and hatred that exists regarding boy racers.
One of the members on the other side of the Chamber spoke tonight of being the only member who has experienced the thuggery of those people. Since that member spoke, many other members have spoken about it. I have experienced it as well; so have all the other members of this House, to varying degrees. Some members have simply had their sleep ruined; some have had more permanent scars—some emotional, some physical. If this bill, by removing some cars off our streets and by crushing a few cars, takes boy racers’ pride and joy off the streets, I say let us do it. It will not make the problem go away entirely, but it may make it better. It may save one life or two lives, or it may save more than that. It may save pain and suffering for a loved one in the future. Many people have young children, as I do, and this measure may save them from being impacted on by these thugs in the future. If this bill does that, I say it is a good bill. I look forward to this bill being enacted.
The speaker who has just resumed her seat spoke about why not enough confiscation and impounding of cars by the police have occurred. I tell that member I sat in a meeting about 4 or 5 months ago with district commander Cliff of the Christchurch police, and with the member from Waimakariri and the member from Christchurch Central. In that meeting it was outlined why the current impounding does not work—and it does not work currently. Mr Cosgrove did not believe Superintendent Cliff, but I back the police over why this law change needs to go ahead. It is because the current law does not work.
I look forward to this bill being enacted, and I look forward to some of the changes that it may bring about. As a member opposite said, it is worth giving it a go.
A party vote was called for on the question,
That the Vehicle Confiscation and Seizure Bill be now read a first time.
||New Zealand National 58; New Zealand Labour 42; ACT New Zealand 5; Māori Party 5; Progressive 1; United Future 1.
||Green Party 9.
|Bill read a first time.
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON (Attorney-General) on behalf of the
Minister of Police: I move,
Transport and Industrial Relations Committee consider the bill; that the committee report to the House on or before 10 September 2009; and that the committee have the authority to meet at any time while the House is sitting (except during oral questions), and during any evening on a day on which there has been a sitting of the House, and on a Friday in a week in which there has been a sitting of the House, despite Standing Orders 187 and 190 (1) (b), and (c).