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National talks tough on crime

In brief

  • National has rolled out its Real Consequences for Crime policies.
  • Policies include: limiting judges ability to discount sentences, scrapping cultural reports, and extending rehab to remand prisoners. 
  • Some say National is “fear mongering” while others applaud these policies for putting the focus back on victims. 

Law and order policies

The National Party has rolled out its suite of law and order policies called “Real Consequences for Crime”. These policies are a response to what party leader Chris Luxon calls a “crime wave” in New Zealand. 

Luxon‘s stats say retail crime is up by a third over the past year and, since Labour took power, violent offences have risen by 40% (between 2017 and 2022) and are up another 9% for 2023.

Yet the prison population is down by over 20%. The incarceration rate in 2022 was 149 people per 100,000 people. It peaked at 213 in 2018.

While this may put New Zealand in line with comparable countries, including Australia at 165 per 100,000 people, National would seek to reverse this trend, which they see as too low for the amount of crime, based on NZ’s historical numbers.

National talks tough on crime - Centrist
Many people are applauding National’s stricter law and order policies.  Image by Jakobandrewnz

Harder line on sentencing 

National’s policies would limit judges’ discretion to reduce or “discount” sentences by no more than 40%. So a ten year sentence could only be reduced by a maximum of four years . 

Cultural reports about offenders’ backgrounds designed to discount sentences would be scrapped. Rehabilitation would extend to prisoners on remand (awaiting trial or sentencing), who make up about half of the total prison population. 

National proposes discounting sentences based on an offender’s age or their sense of remorse would only be allowed once under the “use-it-and-lose-it” rule. 

The Three Strikes rule, repealed under Labour, would be reinstated, so offenders would receive maximum sentencing if convicted three times. Also, gang patches would be banned in public and gang membership would be considered an aggravating factor in sentencing.

Cultural reports to be scrapped 

Luxon has vowed to end cultural reports under Section 27 (s27) of the Sentencing Act 2002. As a practice, cultural reports used to be rare but they’ve morphed into a cottage industry.

There were eight taxpayer-funded cultural reports in 2017, and more than 2400 last year.

The Crown spent nearly $6M in 2022 on cultural reports, with each report costing around $2500. That’s nearly double the spend on s27 reports in 2020. 

Mongrel Mob member Harry Tam’s consultancy, Hard2Reach, has been paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to produce cultural reports since 2017. 

Under National, offenders will still be able to ask the court to hear from someone who knows them, but taxpayers won’t be paying for that.

Instead, National says they will take the money that would have been spent on s27 reports and give it to victims for things like counselling or transport to and from court. They say the move will boost funding for victim entitlements by about a third.

Reactions to National’s policies

AUT law dean and parole board member Khylee Quince called the announcement “fear mongering” and said widespread perceptions of crime increasing were not accurate. She claims, without pointing to any solid evidence, crime is actually falling. 

Lawyer Steve Cullen warned discretion for judges is important because it allowed for flexibility when dealing with offenders, who themselves, have been heavily victimised. The judges will still have discretion, only it will be more constrained so the victim card can’t be relied on too heavily by the perpetrator. 

Justice Minister Kiri Allen questioned how National plans to fund pricey imprisonment policies. 

Victim advocate Ruth Money applauds National’s policy for bringing the focus back to victims. She says survivors of crime view the practice of discounting sentences, by the courts, as out of control.

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