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Treasury unhappy with rushed gang law's lack of human rights consideration – New Zealand Herald

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The Government has been trying to reduce gang crime. Photo / NZME
Treasury offered harsh criticism of the Government’s policy to tackle gangs in a paper earlier this year, warning the speed at which the Government was progressing meant human rights issues weren’t addressed and the proposals might conflict with the Government’s own justice goals.
In advice offered ahead of the Cabinet meeting where the policy was agreed in July, Treasury warned that the speed at which the proposals had been developed meant they had not been given full scrutiny. This meant there were questions around human rights and impacts on Māori that had not been fully worked through before the proposals went to Cabinet.
The paper, released to the Herald under the Official Information Act, also warned that officials had not properly worked out whether the proposals would actually work and that they appeared to contradict the Government’s criminal justice strategy.
“It is not clear how the gang policy proposals align with the justice sector’s current approach to addressing and preventing harm. For example, the paper highlights the proposals could negatively impact the Police’s existing Resilience to Organised Crime in Communities programme.
“It is unclear what work is being done to mitigate this risk,” officials warned. Treasury nevertheless supported progressing the paper, as long as ministers noted those specific objections.
The paper was developed under urgency after Chris Hipkins took over the police portfolio from Poto Williams and Kiri Allan inherited the justice portfolio from departing MP Kris Faafoi. Labour had been under attack from National for weeks on perceived inaction on gang activity.
The policy gave new targeted warrant and additional search powers to find and seize weapons from gang members during a gang conflict, expanded the range of offences where police can seize and impound cars, motorbikes and other vehicles, and allowed police and other enforcement agencies able to seize cash over $10,000 when found in suspicious circumstances.
Treasury warned the Cabinet paper did “not provide sufficient analysis of how the proposals would sufficiently address the presenting issues or lead to improved outcomes”.
It noted that the paper was “a ministerial priority and has been developed under urgency”.
But the agency was scathing about the lack of analysis done on the proposals.
“Neither analysis of the financial implications of these proposals, nor a regulatory impact statement have been completed”.
A later analysis of the proposals, drawn up by the Ministry of Justice to review parts of the proposals warned that parts of the strategy, specifically increased search powers directed at gangs could “negatively impact” the work the Government was doing to work with gangs, under the “Resilience to Organised Crime in Communities” strategy, “which focuses on working more directly with gangs to lessen gang harm, including providing alternative pathways to gangs and pathways out of gangs”.
“Searches of gang whanau homes, for example, are likely to damage these relationships and erode trust. The proposed new powers would need to be exercised carefully to encourage the long-term and short-term outcomes sought by both the new powers and existing programmes to reduce gang harm,” the paper said.
Treasury also noted there were unanswered questions about the human rights implications of the changes.
“The paper also highlights there are still questions about human rights implications, and the possible risk that some of the policies may disproportionately impact Māori or conflict with the equity principle of te Tiriti o Waitangi.
“The paper also notes there has not been time to consult Māori on the proposals.”
Attorney-General David Parker later vetted legislation giving effect to the changes and determined it to be compliant with the Bill of Rights.
Green Party justice spokeswoman Golriz Ghahraman told the Herald that if “we are serious about keeping our communities safe then we must follow the evidence of what works, rather than oversimplified fear-mongering.”
She said that the most striking thing about the Treasury advice is that “neither of the two major parties are willing to adopt the right solutions to the challenges facing our communities. Our communities deserve better than rushed, simplistic solutions that have repeatedly failed to address the underlying causes of crime, or have caused more harm.”
Hipkins and Allan were approached for comment. The Herald was referred to prior remarks made by the Government.
Introducing a piece of legislation to result from the paper in September, Allan said the Government was trying to hit gangs where it hurt: “profits”.
But she added that it was also “important to remember that tackling organised criminal activity and harm requires us to also tackle the causes of marginalisation, which leads young people down that path. This Government is committed to ensuring those who are at risk, including young people and 501s, have the support they need to make better choices for their future.”
Gang crime continues to be a divisive political issue. Over the weekend Hamilton West byelection candidates clashed over crime in the city, while National MPs got out to sell the party’s youth crime policy, which drew attention for a proposal which would see serious youth offenders sent to military camps.
National’s Hamilton West candidate Tama Potaka defended the policy in a debate on TVNZ’s Q+A, saying a similar policy from the last National government had seen 15 per cent of people not reoffend, and a drop in serious violent offences.
“Fifteen per cent of people who went to MAC, the military academies under the National government, actually didn’t reoffend,” Potaka said.
A Ministry of Social Development paper on the policy from 2016 said that internationally, reducing reoffending by offenders at the “high end” of the spectrum by 10 per cent was seen as a “positive outcome”.
Luxon his policy created “consequences”, alongside the current Government’s “wraparound support” approach.
“At the moment, we’ve got to be really clear on the consequences side of the equation and we have to be really clear in getting into the causes of the equation as well,” Luxon said.
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National Transport spokesman Simeon Brown on the clean cars legislation. Video / Mark Mitchell