DAVID CLENDON (Green)
: I am pleased to take the opportunity to speak to this Budget debate. One of the values of a Budget is, of course, to give us a useful and a
very clear insight into the intentions and priorities of the Government in this coming year. In a sense, it is an operational plan; it is an annual plan. Generally, such a document would be underpinned by some longer-term vision—a well-articulated strategy—to achieve that vision. Sadly, as other speakers have commented, that does seem to be what is missing in the context of this year’s Budget statement. Nowhere is that longer view in evidence and we are left with what is very much a business-as-usual approach, at a time when what we critically want and need is some leadership, some change management, and some re-visioning of what this country is and what it could be.
Partly, perhaps in an attempt to disguise the very superficial nature of this Budget, we saw in a week or so leading up to its release some pre-Budget announcements made in a number of policy areas. One of those earlier announcements, I have to say, did give us just a wee glimmer of hope that in one area, at least, this Government is starting to listen to reason and it is actually starting to think about seeking and implementing solutions to very real and urgent social problems, rather than simply continuing to be a slave to populism and to engaging in a race to the bottom in what has proven to be a failed strategy around the so-called being tough on crime.
In a week or so before the Budget, the corrections Minister and her associate Minister announced that $65 million of operating expenditure over 4 years would be prioritised in a way, we are told, that will reduce reoffending, reduce the prison muster, provide more rehabilitation and reintegration services, and improve access to drug and alcohol addiction treatment. Minister Tolley told us: “It’s time to get serious about breaking this vicious cycle of prison and reoffending, … Offenders need to be made accountable for their crimes. But while they are in prison and upon their release, we must do more to rehabilitate, and then reintegrate, if they are to avoid a return to crime.”
I would entirely agree with the Minister that some action is long overdue, in fact. We have for years been going backwards in terms of corrections and in terms of imprisonment. The social and human cost has been enormous, to say nothing of the economic cost, as we have seen an obsession with this so-called tough on crime approach, based on an unfounded and unproven assumption that New Zealanders actually want a punitive approach taken to crime, rather than one focused on real solutions and improving public safety.
The Minister went on to say: “We know that two-thirds of prisoners have addiction problems, and that up to 90 percent can’t read or write well. By seriously addressing these major contributors to crime, alongside increased employment opportunities, we can reduce the likelihood of reoffending.” I must say I am encouraged by the Minister’s use of the word “we”. It recognises this is a community problem. It will be solved only by a consensus approach—in this context, a cross-party approach—to doing a great deal better in terms of managing crime and punishment.
The Minister, as well as mentioning addiction, illiteracy, and others, might well have included other factors that we know are typical and that research tells us have landed too many people in prison over the years. Things like mental illness, a history of abuse, incidence of head injuries, or being hearing impaired are all highly characteristic of the population of our prisons. It is only by addressing these causative factors that we can hope to dramatically reduce our prison population and break this downward spiral of offending, reoffending, imprisonment, and more reoffending.
It is refreshing, I must say, to hear from a Minister who at least indicates that she has been listening to some of those whose proposed solutions are based on solid evidence and a respect for human rights and basic humanity, rather than a knee-jerk populist response, of which we have seen far too much in recent years. Although I do applaud the Minister and the associate Minister indeed on their indication of at least a hint of a new direction, it is clear from an analysis of the numbers in this Budget that there is
some work yet to be done in persuading her colleagues to make the real structural changes that will deliver better social and economic outcomes.
A decade ago Vote Corrections sat at around $450 million—if my memory serves, about $437 million, in fact. This year we have seen an appropriation in excess of $1.1 billion. We have had an increase. Failed policies have given us an increase over that 10 years of some 250 percent. That is a massive, wholly unsustainable increase, particularly when most of it has been so poorly targeted and so poorly applied. It has produced very little positive good and a great deal of measurable social and economic harm. This was very well articulated by our current finance Minister, of course, when he very accurately described prisons as moral and fiscal failures.
It is useful to look at the breakdown of how Vote Corrections is to be spent in the coming year. Of the total of close to $1.2 billion, about 64 percent of that—some $760 million - odd—is committed to custodial services, which is basically keeping people locked away, reflecting the per inmate cost of some $93,000 per year simply to keep people contained inside these places. About 18 percent of the vote, some $210 million - odd, will be committed to managing community-based sentences. The grand sum of $151 million, slightly less than 13 percent of the total, will be devoted to the full range of rehabilitation and reintegration services. These percentages are not dissimilar to previous years’ allocations. Indeed, the expenditure in total on rehabilitation and reintegration is very, very close to what was actually spent last year. That, in a sense, represents the essential dilemma that has arisen from years of false assumptions, populist policies, bad lawmaking, and a very ill-considered distribution of resources.
The challenge now is to put in place a programme of justice reinvestment. Justice reinvestment, a phrase that we have, I guess, adopted from overseas, essentially talks about moving money away from spending on keeping more people in prison for longer. It moves away from throwing very scarce money at more concrete, more steel, more wire, and instead talks about spending that money more wisely on actually treating causes of crime and the reasons why we have so many of our people in prisons.
If we go down this path of reinvestment, of investing rather than wasting money and wasting human potential, I believe we will see a very positive multiplier effect. For a very long time we have seen a great deal of noise from a vocal minority suggesting that New Zealanders want more punitive approaches. We know, in fact, that there is a massive resource of volunteers and community organisations that can turn the corrections dollar, multiply that dollar, by contributing their time and their support to released prisoners. There is a major benefit to be won there by appealing to that more silent majority, shall we say, who will give a positive and an active contribution.
Of major concern, I have to say, is the capital expenditure line. There is an indication to spend some $222 million of capital expenditure, an increase of almost $100 million over last year, and the only obvious explanation for that is the project planned at Wiri, the construction of a 1,000-plus bed prison. Dr Sharples, the Associate Minister, was quoted as saying: “With the prison population beginning to fall, we can change our approach to Corrections and focus our investments more on those in custody and less on property.”, and I do hope that with that comment, Dr Sharples was indicating, signalling, a move away from spending on these incredibly expensive and wasteful prison construction projects and putting that money into dealing with the human causes and with the solution to the human suffering that is occurring every day in our prisons.
There are a number of justifications as to why we ought to go ahead with that project. None of them stand up to the light of day. We look forward to a time when we will spend this money well and wisely, rather than throwing it into failed policies. Thank you.