National Leader Simon Bridges yesterday broke with years of liberal traditions in his Party and swung it sharply to the right with a new hardline law and order policy.
This follows on an increasing shift to the right under Bridges with policies like his promise to pull New Zealand out of the UN Compact on Migration.
And there were hints of Donald Trump yesterday in a tweeted reply to Newsroom Editor, Tim Murphy.
Commenting on the law and order policy announced yesterday, Murphy tweeted: “Is there anything more unimaginative in opposition policy-making than ‘work for the dole’ ‘get the gangs’ or ‘hard labour for prisoners’?”
Bridges replied: “Is there anything more unimaginative than a middle-class journalist sneering predictably about a centre-right political party arguing for policies in line with its long-held principles?”
But in fact, the policies announced by Bridges yesterday do not match with the general direction of travel of the Party on law and order issues over the past few years.
Bridges has proposed a crackdown on parole; prisoners would need to get NCEA2 before they could apply and; murderers who did not reveal where a body was would not be legible.
There would be harsher sentences for gang members and for some crimes.
In the previous Government, Bill English, Stephen Joyce and even Judith Collins all cautioned against increasing prison numbers.
Most famously, Bill English said in 2011 that prisons were “a moral and fiscal failure” and New Zealand should never build another one.
Corrections Minister, Judith Collins, following up English’s comments said: “we cannot continue to keep locking up people at the rate that we have over the last decade, and we have to put a lot more emphasis on rehabilitation.”
The prison population has jumped by 18 per cent since English made his comments and currently stands at 9969.
That rate of growth troubled former Finance Minister, Stephen Joyce, who told a National Party conference in 2016 that the Government was looking at policies that would manage that demand (for prison places) down a little bit better.
“We have some big investments coming up ahead of us in corrections, and that’s part of the infrastructure problem for a growing country sadly,” he said.
“We do have to think of ways that we can manage that cost while we maintain public safety.”
When Joyce made those comments, Corrections under then-laws was projecting an increase in the prison population to about 11,000 by 2026 at a capital cost of $1.5 – $2.0 billion for new prisons.
National has not provided an estimate of how much their crackdown would increase the prison population by, nor the cost of building new facilities.
The Party has produced its law and order policy before the final report of the “Safe and Effective Justice Group” chaired by a former National MP and Corrections Minister, Chester Borrowes.
That report is expected soon.
Speaking to POLITIK last night Borrowes said there were “good and bad” bits in the National policy.
“Changing the clean slate legislation is quite good,” he said – a reference to a proposal to wipe records for under 18-year-olds convicted of offences that carry less than two years imprisonment and who get NCEA2 and comply with other “good behaviour” criteria.
But Borrowes is less convinced by a raft of proposals to crack down on gangs.
“A lot of that gang stuff has already been done, and they have the ability to do it,” he said.
“So some of it is ho-hum, and some shows a little bit of insight.
But his taskforce in its interim report emphasised that many people involved in the justice system either as offenders or victims wanted justice policy de-politicised.
Borrowes was particularl critical of the proposal to restrict parole unless a prisoner got NCEA2.
He said that if “kids” had been at school for nine years and still didn’t have NCEA, then the educators should be held to account.
The other consequence of the proposed crackdown on parole and the longer sentences National is proposing for some offences would be the increase in prison numbers.
Borrowes said it was costing $1 million a bed to build a new prison.
Above all, he wants to see the debate about justice de-politicised.
“Get the politics out of it; get a cross-party accord; get people who are really interested in making some changes to actually sit in the same room and talk to one another about it rather than just pushing the button every three years,” he said.
Launching the policy yesterday, however, Bridges kept pressing the law and order button.
“Law and order is personal for me,” he said.
“I worked as a Crown Prosecutor on more than a hundred jury trials.
“I’ve seen the harm serious offenders have caused families and communities.
“I want New Zealand to be the safest country in the world.
“National is the Party of law and order. “