Thursday, 30 August 2012

Whanganui – giving ‘h’ to Whilson

Every now and then something happens that carries within it the seeds of a great lesson. Often that lesson is not immediately obvious because it is obscured by other stuff. The fallout from the Stuart Murray ‘Wilful’ Wilson fiasco is just such a case.

In fact this one carries with it several lessons. The first and most obvious of these is that the current Government (and for that matter the last Labour one) don’t give a stuff about the welfare of the victims of crime or for that matter the welfare of those who could potentially become the victims of crime. If it was not so, they would have made some important changes to the law following the release of Lloyd McIntosh.

For those unfamiliar with the facts; McIntosh was another foul sexual deviant who was released from prison on a ten-year supervision order similar to that which Wilson is now being released under. At the time McIntosh was deemed to be too dangerous to ever cease to be a threat. But as with Wilson, as the law stands authorities were obliged to release him. That was in 2005 and at the time concerns were raised about the situation by then opposition MP Tony Ryall. He said in relation to a suggestion that Corrections staff might reduce McIntosh’s level of supervision from two-on-one to one-on-one, “He is the worst of the worst and the staff are very worried that the community is being put at risk for the sake of a few thousand dollars.". 

That is the same Tony Ryall whose bum is today firmly wedged in seat number six at the cabinet table and who holds ministerial portfolios for Health and State Owned Enterprises. He was concerned enough about the situation when he was in opposition and in no strong position to do anything about it, yet after four years on the Government benches when one might expect he has some degree of influence he still has done NOTHING about it. Now that’s commitment for you – commitment to saying whatever might get you elected anyway.

Hand in hand with the evidence of Government indifference to the plight of the ordinary folk in New Zealand in general and Christchurch and Whanganui in particular is the obvious conclusion that our laws have not been thought through. It would appear they have been drafted with the idea in mind that everyone can be rehabilitated – if you take a generous view, that is. However if you are somewhat curmudgeonly inclined, as myself, you might take that as a lesson that these laws are drafted to make for a quick fix and based on the theory that people have short memories. They figure the cost of keeping someone inside is so high that it is cheaper to let them loose among the rest of us. The potential costs (financially and emotionally) when all of that turns to shit have not been factored in or even considered.

But for me the biggest lesson coming from the release of Wilson that is being laid out for all of us to see is the reaction of the people of Whanganui.

Now I realise there will be two camps over this. Some will say the organised way in which the townsfolk have come together and are talking of mass trespass orders and the like is an example of a vindictive and cruel society. They might say it is an example of how a few rabble-rousers such as Michael Laws can home in on a key issue such as the general alarm and fear generated by having a dangerous sex offender released into your community to get together a lynch mob.

That might be the case and I can see why it might be seen that way. I think it is a sad reflection on our society that people feel they have to take measures such as this, but who could possibly blame them for (a) being afraid and (b) being prepared to DO SOMETHING.

Now that is what I mean about a really valuable lesson that we can learn as a nation from this. If we don’t like what is going on, we can take action. But the key to it is that you need numbers to make these things work. Time will tell whether the people of Whanganui actually do carry through with what they are proposing, but the fact they actually have got together and discussed some direct action and are seriously considering taking it is a start.

I hope they do go ahead with their plans. It might seem vindictive, but there is a bigger issue here than simply the welfare of Stuart Murray Wilson. People are understandably worried when they discover the state is obliged to release people from prison who are known to pose an unacceptable level of risk to them. This furore is more about the situation than any individual. And when it comes right down to it, I am afraid that some people are entitled to more rights than others. People like McIntosh and Wilson who have grossly offended against their society have lost the moral right to be treated like the rest of us. The safety of ordinary law-abiding citizens must take precedence.

But go Whanganui and watch this space New Zealand. People working together in numbers for a cause – that’s how you get change. Governments like the one we now have (and plenty before them too) are a bit Mutt and Jeff. They don’t hear petitions and letters to the editor, but they find it harder to ignore a noisy mob.   

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Future perfect? Not in the present tense.

Now I get it. I can understand what Jianqi and his motley crew meant by their election campaign tag. The first thing I needed to understand about that tag was that the average level of education in New Zealand is pretty bloody poor and as a result press releases, public notices and newspapers are riddled with silly mistakes. It wasn’t ‘brighter future’ at all; it was ‘brighter futures’ as in for Jianqi and his lot.

In other words it means the current Government is dedicated to boosting the economy for the money men and those who are already exceedingly wealthy while totally ignoring the more pressing needs of the general population. And just so we don’t necessarily see it all happening they bring us bread and circuses to distract us.

This is hardly a revelation to many people but I bring it up (it is rather hard to keep down) to demonstrate to the few who might remain unconvinced of this very blatant agenda.

Check out these few facts and see if you still believe this Government has any sort of handle on how to make life better for the majority of Kiwis.

·         The Wellington Rape Crisis Centre is closing its doors one day a week despite their client contacts doubling in the last year because of a $55,000 funding shortfall.

·         Capital & Coast Health has cut funding to the Newtown Union Heath Service; a service that looks after the health needs of many low income people including new immigrants. They are to lose $275,000 per year, which is almost eight percent of their total funding because the DHB is attempting to cut its own budget by $20M over the next three years.

·         New proposals to ‘reform’ the Family Court mean those needing its mediation services which were previously provided free of charge, will now have to pay nearly $900 each time; a proposal that even officials at the Department for Courts have predicted will result in about 1200 fewer people being able to access the services.

·         In a time when unemployment rates are the highest they have been for 18 years and are still growing the Government is cutting $58.8M from the Youth Transition Service which provided training, support and education to school leavers to help them find work.

·         As if that wasn’t enough they also plan to cut $96.4M over the next four years from money available for employment assistance through WINZ.

There are dozens more of these cutbacks throughout most of the services provide by or supported by Government and of course the whole time we are being told it is because of the Global Financial Crisis or the Christchurch Earthquake or the Rena disaster or perhaps because the digits of the year add up to five. In any event the message is that these cutbacks are necessary because we have so many things we need to fund that we have to prioritise them and deal with the most important first.

That would make sense and be accepted by the majority of the population – if it was true. However it is rather hard to swallow the idea that we can’t fund health services for the vulnerable or programmes to get kids off their bums and out of trouble and into work when we still seem to have oodles of dosh to throw at some pretty marginal projects.

Here are some of the sillier examples of what I mean:

·         Gezza Browneye has spent $200M on consultants on what could be called the Roads of National’s Spendthrifts.

·         We currently contribute $1.8B to the IMF and are currently considering increasing this

·         Over the last couple of years we have given billions to bail out collapsed finance companies

·         Last year we guaranteed a $45M loan to Mediaworks a foreign owned private media company with billions of dollars of international assets.

It’s kind of hard to claim we haven’t enough to look after our own problems when we are so free and liberal with sums like that for purposes such as those. But it has just come to my attention that another project that I think is even sillier and wasteful in the current climate is going to scarf down another great pile of money that could be put to better uses.

I will probably offend a few sensibilities with this one, but here goes anyway; I am referring to the plan to build a large war memorial in Wellington to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Gallipoli landing.

It is fine to recognise the deeds of those who (misguidedly or otherwise) went to war on our behalf. Although to be strictly accurate they went on behalf of the gutless politicians who always start these things and then send others to fight them. But I digress.

My point is that I have no problem with us holding a shindig in 2015; but why do we need to build an elaborate new war memorial when we already have 453 war memorials in New Zealand? Furthermore why do we need one which is already being calculated quite openly by Government to cost over $80M?

Of course as we all know, such estimates are always incredibly conservative. It is almost certain the project will blow out to well in excess of $100M and probably nearer to $150M.

I am very disappointed in the opposition parties for not opposing this, despite the fact they don’t have the numbers to stop it. But I guess none of them had the stones to do so. The ANZAC spirit is one of our most sacred cows and anyone who dares to do anything that might be perceived as pulling its tits is bound to cop a backlash and be accused of being unpatriotic or unsympathetic towards the sacrifices made by the diggers. The mud that would have been thrown at them would no doubt taint them in the eyes of the majority of people who will think this is something we have to do. I guess it would be an electorally unsound stance to take.

But wait a minute; do we really want politicians who will turn a blind eye to a capital expenditure like this while far more important things are being cut back?

Commemorate and honour the sacrifice each year, by all means, but do we really need to make more graven idols to the madness of war in order to do this?

I would ask anyone who defends this decision to ask themselves again what it was these guys thought they were fighting for. It has always been my understanding they were risking their lives to preserve a good way of life for us all. At least that’s what I’ve always been told. Of course that has been the Government’s propaganda about war since forever, but their motives have always been much less altruistic.

I believe the old soldiers I have spoken to from time to time and who have said they did it because they saw it as their duty to their fellow countrymen. That was what was in their heads and so they wanted us to have a better way of life and to look after our most vulnerable citizens.

I wouldn’t mind betting there will be a lot of these guys spinning in their graves when they see $100M or more going to this project while rape victims are unable to get the support they need, young people are short-changed on their education and all but the wealthy are having their health services compromised.

They’d be even less impressed to see Jianqi racing to knock down the assets many of them paid for so that he and his money market buddies can scoop huge bundles of them up and make even bigger fortunes.

Hmmm definitely brighter futures for them.     

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

We’re shifting those bloody deck chairs again

While it is true you can prove anything you like with statistics; plain ordinary numbers are a little harder to argue with if they are presented in context.

One such number that caught my eye this week and nearly caused it to pop out was the number of people who committed criminal offences (additional to those they were already facing) while on bail. I knew it would be a lot because many of us have banged our heads against the wall when yet another limp wristed judge allows yet another crazed psychopath the freedom to commit even more heinous crimes against our society.

However I was not ready for the fact that over the period 2006-2010 inclusive, almost 70,000 such slimeballs committed new crimes while on bail and 44 of those involved either murder or manslaughter. That’s an average of 14,000 bail breaching criminals each year, nine of whom (on average) kill somebody while they are on bail.

A further flick through the figures which Granny Herald obtained under the Official Information Act reveals a total of more than 7000 offences that could generally fall under the banner of assault; over 1100 involving, such acts as kidnapping, harassment and threatening behaviour and a further 763 sexual offences. Just think how many people have had their lives ruined by these poor judicial decisions.

It is important to remember that in 2008 the bail laws were ‘tightened’, which goes to prove once more that it is the judges that need to be changed and not the laws. Having said that; the excuse that is often tendered by judges is that they are bound by such Acts as the Sentencing Act and the Bail Act. This is correct of course, but too often they are not fully using the powers available to them under either Act.

The Bail Act definitely needs some tweaking though, and don’t hold your breath for Judith Collin’s much heralded Bail Amendment Act to rectify that. A look through that proposed piece of legislations uncovers only one clause that could realistically be called an improvement in keeping the public safe. That sole beacon (or should I say single Beehive match power) of hope is what is proposed as the new section 9A in the Bail Act. “In deciding whether or not to grant bail to a defendant to whom this section applies or to allow the defendant to go at large, the need to protect the safety of the public and, where appropriate, the need to protect the safety of any particular person or persons are the primary considerations.

That sounds promising, but don’t get too excited because apart from that the remainder of the changes are so insignificant as to be almost invisible. The basic thrust of the Act still seems to be to avoid holding anyone in custody.

A casual reading of the Bail Act can be misleading because there are a number of sections headed Restrictions on bail if...... Each one of these begins by listing offences that qualify the defendant under this section to have their option of bail restricted, until you read down a few subsections and find the following No defendant to whom this section applies may be granted bail or allowed to go at large except by order of a High Court Judge or a District Court Judge.” This is of course a no-brainer and we all figured out that neither I nor you nor the dustman could actually grant bail. We are further enlightened in each of these sections by the following subsection: “No defendant to whom this section applies may be granted bail or allowed to go at large unless the defendant satisfies the Judge that bail or remand at large should be granted.”

That is also no surprise to anyone, but the significance of it is that for every clause that appears to restrict the right to bail these two sub-sections are added which opens a door we are supposed to have been fooled into thinking had just closed. The bright shiny new ‘future’ Bill sponsored by Little Bo Tox removes none of these so it effectively will bring no change at all.

There is still a default situation for those under 20 to be granted bail unless a really good case can be made for not doing so. I can only assume that in either instance they would have to make a really, really good case considering how easily Judge David McNaughton found it to release Akshay Anand Chand on bail after he had kidnapped and threatened the life of Christie Marceau. McNaughton’s clumsy act led directly to the death of Christie Marceau at the hands of Chand.

Much of the PR associated with the new Bail Amendment Act centres on what is being pitched as a fundamental change surrounding the granting of bail to persons charged with serious violent or sexual offences. The amendment means that instead of the cops having to show why someone should be held in custody, the accused has to satisfy the judge why he should be allowed out. The track record of our judges so far doesn’t really fill me with hope based on this wimpy bit of legal verbiage and I am sure it will be business as usual.

So why do judges grant bail to dangerous bastards and put us al at risk? Because they can and there ain’t nothin’ we can do about it.