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This past week the National Party of New Zealand released a discussion document of their proposed law and order policies. These have subsequently been discussed in the media with strategies to “crack down on gangs” receiving the most widespread coverage. The opposition party, which controlled the previous three government coalitions, claimed it “is the party of law and order” and in proposing these policies is challenging the short fallings of the current Labour Party coalition.
Without going into full detail, National’s proposals include: toughening laws surrounding organised crime, reforming the legal system to allow more support for victims, improving government plans and agencies to preemptively stop crime, reforming aspects of managing youth crime, tweak and improve police policy, introduce mandatory education and work policies for prisons, improving access to justice, better defining gun legislation targeting illegal ownership, and cracking down on harmful drugs. However, because National Party leader Simon Bridges led with gang policy proposals before the full document was released, coverage was more negative with questions on how feasible these policies would be. One central proposal, to set-up a special squad within the Police to deal with gangs and intrusively interfere with their activities, led a former Australian detective to criticise Bridges. The Australian policy of zero-tolerance for gangs and harassing them there has “been a disaster”, Mike Kennedy told Radio New Zealand, adding that it only drives gangs underground. Former National MP and policeman Chester Borrows commented, regarding all the proposals, that some of the policies were “already catered for within the law” and believed they were partially an electioneering strategy, according to Stuff.
Without now turning analysis into a piece focused on rhetoric or one concerned with partisan politics, there are clearly disagreements about whether National’s law and order policies will be workable and appropriate should they form the next government. Given that coverage has focused on a questionable strategy National would implement to combat the growth of gangs and their criminal activities, there is little to add but to agree it would be better to recognise and minimise the conditions which cause gangs and crime. Despite this obvious point, which they would agree with (demonstratively from their other policies), this is somewhat out of a government’s ability to solve and is naturally why National is keener to impose harsher penalties on repeated and egregious crimes as a deterrent. Here the ideological and philosophic underpinnings clash as clearly National want a safer and fairer New Zealand, yet more citizen resources and freedoms will likely have to be compromised to see some better outcome from the proposed policies. This is particularly apparent from their drug policy which they do not want to liberalise, however accepting a ‘yes’ result from the future marijuana legalisation referendum would chip some power away from illicit actors.
Criticisms aside, there are good and sensible policy fixes in National’s law and order discussion document, with ideas to upgrade the court system and ensure oversights in current laws are addressed. However, to be successful should the party come to govern, it must truthfully commit to the evidence-based philosophy it has outlined in criticising the failings of the current government. As hard as it is to balance everything a government ‘should’ provide for the country to run well, adopting that philosophy would ensure the next government is not beholden to itself. And on that note, this Kiwi would encourage his country to pay attention to policy and give constructive feedback to these kinds of proposals, as reaching a critically evaluated consensus amongst all political persuasions can usually only mean good outcomes for us all.