Speech to New Zealand’s first Leading Justice Symposium – Parliament, Wellington
Thank you Miriam, and thank you Prime Minister.
I would like to reiterate the Prime Minister’s welcome to you. In particular I welcome our international guests:
· Hon Michael Mischin MLC, Attorney-General, Western Australia;
· Judicial Commissioner Tan Siong Thye, Singapore;
· District Judge Victor Yeo, Singapore;
· Mr Rick Persse, Chief Executive, Attorney-General’s Department, South Australia;
· Mr Greg Wilson, Secretary of the Department of Justice, Victoria;
· Professor Gloria Laycock OBE, an expert advisor on policing and crime prevention, who is Professor of Crime Science at University College London;
· Dr Russell G Smith, Principal Criminologist for the Australian Institute of Criminology, who is a recognised expert on cyber-crime, organised crime and transnational crime;
· Professor Betsy Stanko, Head, Evidence and Insight, Mayor's Office for Policing and Crime in London;
· My Parliamentary colleague, Hon Chester Borrows, and also Hon Anne Tolley who will be in and out throughout the day;
· My other Parliamentary colleagues who have also joined us, Andrew Little and David Clendon, it’s good to see you both here.
I’m delighted to host this first Leading Justice Symposium. Thank you for putting your hand up to contribute today.
I wanted to hold this Symposium because we want to make sure we have the best possible policy and thinking to improve the quality of our justice system.
New Zealand has done well, I can probably say very well, in some areas. The integrity of our institutions continues to rate exceptionally well. And our country becomes increasingly safer.
But we need to look hard at the particularly difficult areas and we need to look ahead.
We want to continue to reduce crime and the harm from crime; to improve justice services (especially for those who most need it); and to maintain and build trust in the institutions of justice.
So we want different perspectives and insight; fresh thinking; and fresh ideas. That’s why we’re all here today.
And I’m really hoping this day will provide some thinking that our international visitors can take home to benefit your countries and jurisdictions.
You will have seen in the overview information provided, and what’s in front of you, that New Zealand’s crime rate is now at its lowest level since 1978 – that’s about 36 years ago.
I want to briefly highlight some of the shifts and issues.
The Prime Minister mentioned the approach the Government took from 2008 - strengthening penalties for the worst offenders; focusing on the underlying drivers of crime and better rehabilitating offenders; and ensuring the justice system better helped those people who were victims of crime.
There has been a vast amount of legislative change. We have, for example, strengthened bail laws; given police greater powers to tackle serious crime; and brought in alcohol reforms that give local communities the option of having tailored alcohol regulations that tackle local alcohol related issues.
But there has been just as much practical, operational, and even attitudinal change.
The Government introduced Better Public Services, or BPS, targets in 2012 for key public services that would make a real difference for New Zealanders. They were also used to drive a sectoral approach to issues that require broader, long-term and multi-agency responses.
The Justice sector – the main agencies being the Ministry of Justice, NZ Police and the Department of Corrections – set ambitious targets for reducing the rates of total crime, violent crime, youth crime, and reoffending by 2017.
This focus is supported by a justice sector fund – an innovation for this government - that allows justice agencies to collectively share savings and put money where it will have the best effect.
The sector produced a results plan that included 60 new actions as well as building on major initiatives already underway. The plan is being updated this year, and I’m sure there will be some ideas from today that will be incorporated.
The actions range from the big - like ‘Policing Excellence’ with its emphasis on crime prevention, and expanding the range of training and rehabilitation programmes on offer to prisoners - through to smaller initiatives like trialling New Zealand’s first drug and alcohol courts, and providing a range of government, justice and community services starting in the Hutt Valley, from a mobile office in a van.
All of our initiatives however are about reducing crime and improving frontline results and services for people.
A fantastic example of this is the Hutt Valley Innovation Project, which targets local issues by improving the co-ordination of frontline services across the agencies in the area. During 2013, while this project was in its trial period, violent crime in the Hutt Valley dropped by a remarkable 10 per cent. That model is now being rolled out to three other areas.
As for results, yesterday I announced the latest BPS results - to December 2013. Our target was to see a 15% reduction in the overall crime rate by 2017. As at December, it was down 14% - we’re almost there and with 3 years to go! As well as this, the violent crime rate was down 10 per cent, overall re-offending down by 11.7 per cent and the youth crime rate has reduced by 27 per cent.
To put real numbers around this, remembering New Zealand’s population is about 4.5 million, the results mean New Zealanders are now experiencing around 56,000 fewer crimes annually than in 2011.
This is a lot less people becoming victims of crime.
This is a huge achievement.
The progress in reducing crime and re-offending creates an opportunity to increase the focus on crimes that cause significant and life changing harm, such as sexual violence and domestic violence.
Sadly there are a group of people who are particularly vulnerable when it comes to crime – in many cases women and children are especially vulnerable.
We want to make sure we are creating an environment for these people where crime is less likely to happen in the first place and when it does happen, that it is less likely to reoccur.
So I am determined that the justice system recognises the place of victims and is designed to support them and reduce harm as much as that’s possible.
As our official statistics show and peoples’ experiences confirm, crime does not affect most people.
New Zealand’s last Crime and Safety survey in 2009 showed 64 per cent of people didn’t experience crime of any kind in the previous year and most felt safe in their communities – close to 90 per cent of people who walked at night felt safe. The latest survey is out in the field now and these types of results are what I would expect.
It is the other side of the equation that is of concern. The survey showed 6% of people suffered 54% of crime. This is a staggering statistic. By focussing on this area we can obviously do better – both in terms of reducing crime and its effects on the most vulnerable people.
We have done a lot to better meet the needs of victims and to protect people. For example:
· There are new legislative measures such as Public Protection Orders, and the family justice reforms recognise ‘economic abuse’ as a form of domestic violence.
· A $50 ‘offender levy’ is now paid by all people convicted to fund grants and services to victims.
· We are funding and using more restorative justice services
· And the government is funding the expansion of a programme that provides home security for women and children at the highest risk of repeat victimisation.
It is a key role of government to protect our most vulnerable New Zealanders and I want to make sure we are relentless in this goal.
I’m pleased more domestic violence is being reported – it is a crime that shouldn’t be hidden and this is a positive trend. But domestic and sexual violence are crimes that need to be addressed.
There are also new types of crimes that are developing.
The digital revolution has given rise to things like cyber-bullying, identity theft, hacking, and online stalking - concepts which were undreamt of a generation ago.
I’m proud that we have legislation before Parliament to address cyber-bullying and know this is an area other countries are watching with interest.
This reiterates that our justice system must remain agile and vigilant in the face of unacceptable behaviour as crime continues to evolve.
That is why I have asked that the Symposium look forward ten years. What issues might we be facing? How we can further reduce crime? What justice services will New Zealanders want and how can they be better delivered? How can we better help victims and the most vulnerable?
If we can begin to answer these questions we can enhance the high levels of trust and confidence that our justice institutions require.
So, it is quite a challenge in front of you.
I’m very much looking forward to the day ahead. I know there will be some concrete ideas that we can take forward.
And I certainly hope that those of you from other countries and jurisdictions enjoy the discussions and find some equally useful ideas to take home.
Once again, thank you all for being here at New Zealand’s first Justice Symposium.
It’s time to get started!