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.   

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