As other members of the House have said tonight, the Victims of Crime Reform Bill amends the Victims’ Rights Act 2002, the Children, Young Persons, and Their Families Act 1989, the Parole Act 2002, and the Sentencing Act 2002.
In establishing such a wide scope for the bill, it is already legislation with a fairly wide brief. I will make a few comments that will provide an even broader context, and that is to include the context of Māori victimisation as our starting point for change.
If the Minister has not already come across it, I refer him to an excellent piece of research that was compiled by Fiona Cram from Ngāti Kahungunu, Leonie Pīhama from Te Atiawa, Ngāti Māhanga, and Matewiki Karehana from Ngāi Te Rangi, under the auspices of the International Research Institute for Māori and indigenous education (IRI). Their report, which is called Meeting the Needs of Māori Victims of Crime, is set in the context that Māori victimisation rates are high. In fact, in the New Zealand Crime and Safety Survey 2006 the rate of Māori victimisation is 1.3 times the European rate.
Assaults, threats, and damage to personal property were the major crime types contributing to the high rates of personal victimisation for Māori.
Māori have a prevalence rate two to three times that of Europeans for all these offence types, and especially high rates of violent offences by partners and other people well-known to the victim.
But even more depressing was the fact that a person’s chances of being multiply victimised were higher if he or she was Māori. Irrespective of the type of crime or incident, prevalence, or crime concentration rates, these differences for Māori victims were very real. These factors therefore form the foundation for how we should understand the key priorities and target areas to emerge from this Victims of Crime Reform Bill.
The purpose of the bill is to
· strengthen the existing provisions for victims of crime,
· expand the rights of victims of serious offences, and
· ensure victims’ rights in the adult criminal jurisdiction are applied in the youth justice jurisdiction.
These are three very important factors, which we naturally support as a consequence of the significance we place upon supporting all those who have fallen victim to the abusive crime.
I will raise a few questions that Cram, Pīhama, and Karehana first identified. They suggest to us that the term “victim” is often seen as problematic, because of its association as a solely individual experience, whereas a transgression impacts on those linked by whakapapa to the transgressed and to Māori as a whole. To put this in a simpler context, when a person hits a Māori person they are in fact hitting all of those who are joined as descendants and ancestors to that individual. The damage to one is damage to all.
Another issue they raised is that the term “victim” often implies powerlessness, and as such the labelling of someone as a victim may hinder resolution. Cram, Pīhama, and Karehana also challenged this House to consider that notions of both victim and crime must be viewed within the historical context. For Māori this context is the history of colonisation within this country.
I think these concepts are really important to think about as we look at the proposals in this bill to enhance the victim notification system, increase the rights of victims of offending by children and young persons, strengthen the accountability of agencies in extending the application of general rights of victims, and improve provisions for victim impact statements.
We believe that what is most important and most needed is a holistic approach to the reduction of crime, by looking at the perpetrator, the offender, and the causes of crime, including poverty, lack of education, and institutional racism. We need to focus on the existing justice system to ensure that healing and resolution is acknowledged as a crucial platform for victims. And we need to ground our focus in the reality of whanau.
The Māori Party seeks to promote restorative justice systems, where victims are empowered to advocate to enhance community involvement in the justice process. In many respects, therefore, the proposals included in this legislation help to strengthen the opportunities for support for whānau through care and concern for victims, which we absolutely endorse.
We are particularly pleased at the initiative to improve provisions for victim impact statements, as covered by Mr Kennedy Graham. This is an initiative which, of course, came through clearly from the traumatic events surrounding the court hearing associated with the tragedy of Sophie Elliott. We think it is important to acknowledge that no family should ever go through the ordeal again of having their statements altered.
I want to conclude my contribution to the debate with four key recommendations that arise out of the work quoted earlier, namely Meeting the Needs of Māori Victims of Crime. These recommendations are:
· that mainstream support services be encouraged to become more accessible, user-friendly, and culturally appropriate for Māori victims of crime;
· that a kaupapa Māori service be established for Māori victims of crime, and
· a kaupapa Māori service be resourced as a one-stop shop for Māori victims of crime; and
· that the Māori processes of resolution be resourced.
There are other ways and other matters that must be given due attention as well.
Researchers demonstrated that ethnic minority offenders are more likely to be the victim of violence while in custody. We would like to know whether this is taken into account within the legislation.
The validity of victim recourse studies has been widely questioned, due to problems with victim memory decay, a tendency for victims to revert to racial stereotypes of offenders, and, perhaps most crucially, the fact that only a small subset of crimes are actually witnessed by the victim. We seek some response from the Minister and, indeed, the community through the select committee stage, as to whether this issue is adequately addressed in this bill.
Finally, we note that the collection and use of ethnic data in the justice sector in New Zealand was recently reviewed by Statistics New Zealand. The review concluded that there is little need for all justice datasets to be able to be disaggregated by ethnicity, age, gender, and location, to establish and monitor the extent of offending by victimisation of Māori, and interventions that work well for Māori. It was further noted that ethnicity data collected by New Zealand Police, and also utilised by the Ministry of Justice, did not comply with the New Zealand statistical standard for ethnicity. As a consequence, the New Zealand Police data was not compatible with ethnicity data from other official sources.
These latter matters were raised in the very comprehensive research compiled by Bronwyn Morrison entitled Identifying and Responding to Bias in the Criminal Justice System: A Review of International and New Zealand Research, which was produced just last year.
We hope that all of these issues may form part of the ongoing debate in supporting and protecting victims of crime, as part of families, and as part of our communities. We support this particular bill at its first reading.