Criminology graduates and a senior criminology lecturer at VUW are calling for the Climate Change Amendment Bill currently before Parliament to be totally transformed so that it reflects the reality that the world is facing an existential crisis.
Graduates taking CRIM 417 (an Honours level course called Crimes against the Environment) and their Course Coordinator have crafted a comprehensive submission to Parliament. The criminologists are calling for the name of the Bill to be changed to the Climate Crisis Response Bill and the Climate Change Commission proposed in the Bill to be called the Climate Crisis Commission.
The submission is supported by Ollie Langridge who has been conducting a one-man protest outside Parliament for the last two months calling on the Government to declare a climate emergency.
The submission also recommends that strategies adopted by Parliament based on the Commission’s recommendations should be made compulsory – with financial penalties for industries, agencies and individuals who fail to comply.
Finally, the criminologists are suggesting that regulatory impact statements (RIS) for all future legislation proposed by Parliament, relating to any matter whatsoever, should be required to describe the likely contribution of any new policies, procedures or regulations (resulting from the proposed legislation) to future greenhouse gas emissions.
This would ensure that in the future, Parliament would be required to take the climate crisis into consideration with every single Bill that comes before it. So, for instance, if the Government wanted to build a new prison at a likely cost of $1 billion, it would need to produce a regulatory impact statement describing how much carbon dioxide building and operating such a prison would emit. In other words, it would need to be sure that a new prison was compatible with the goal to be carbon neutral by 2050.
Another example is that it would require the Government to justify decisions such as giving $50 million to Te Papa (announced in the budget for 2019) when the building will likely suffer irreparable damage from rising seas by the end of the century.
Hopefully, just about every Kiwi knows who Greta Thunberg is. In case you’ve been hiding under a rock, she’s the schoolgirl in Sweden who took time off class to draw attention to the climate crisis. She protested outside the Swedish parliament with a sign reading ‘School strike for the climate’ kicking off a strike by school kids around the world. What’s remarkable about Greta is she realised “our house is on fire” at the age of 15, and is trying to put it out all on her own. The response to her courage and conviction has been extraordinary, from around the world.
New Zealand now has a lone parliamentary protester as well. His name is Ollie Langridge. At 55, he’s a few years older than Greta and has a wife and six children. Langridge began his protest two weeks ago after the UN Biodiversity Report was released, which warned Earth was in the middle of a mass extinction. He said he was motivated by the fear he felt for his children’s future and was going to stand outside parliament, seven days a week until the Government declares a climate change emergency.
Is there really an emergency? The World Meteorological Organisation advises that levels of greenhouse gases are now higher than they have been in the past 800,000 years. The result is global warming. Petteri Taalas, secretary general of the World Meteorological Organisation says:
“The last time the Earth experienced a comparable concentration of CO2 was three to five million years ago, when the temperature was 2-3C warmer and sea level was 10-20 metres higher than now.”
If that happens, quite a few cities around the world will be under water. That should put out a few fires – but a lot of people are going to drown first.
“For those of us, who are on the (autism) spectrum, almost everything is black or white. We aren’t very good at lying and we usually don’t enjoy participating in the social games that the rest of you seem so fond of… There are no grey areas when it comes to survival. Either we go on as a civilization or we don’t.”
In October 2018, she addressed the ‘Declaration of Rebellion’ organized by Extinction Rebellion opposite the Houses of Parliament in London. She said:
“We’re facing an immediate unprecedented crisis that has never been treated as a crisis and our leaders are all acting like children. We need to wake up and change everything.”
“Our civilization is being sacrificed so that a very small number of people can continue making enormous amounts of money. Our biosphere is being sacrificed so that rich people in countries like mine can live in luxury.”
Speaking to the financial elite at Davos on 23 January, 2019:
“I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act. I want you to act as you would in a crisis. I want you to act as if the house was on fire – because it is”.
On 21 February 2019, Greta spoke at a conference of the European Economic and Social Committee about the need to keep global warming below two degrees centigrade. She said:
“If we fail to do so all that will remain of our political leaders’ legacy will be the greatest failure of human history.”
“We live in a strange world where children must sacrifice their own education in order to protest against the destruction of their future – where the people who have contributed the least to this crisis are the ones who are going to be affected the most.”
At an April 2019 meeting at the European Parliament in Strasbourg with MEP’s and EU officials, she said if politicians were serious about tackling climate change, they would not spend all their time…
“talking about taxes or Brexit…If our house was falling apart, you wouldn’t hold three emergency Brexit summits and no emergency summit regarding the breakdown of the climate and the environment.”
That’s Greta for you – blunt and to the point. She may have started her protest alone, but not anymore. She’s got millions of supporters around the world.
On the other hand, Ollie Langridge has hardly said a word. So far, his is a silent protest. But he’s posted a lot of photos on Instagram. And you know what they say: one picture is worth a thousand words. So if you agree with Greta and Ollie that ‘the world is on fire’, head on down to parliament and get your picture taken with him. Help Ollie persuade the Government to declare a climate emergency.
What will that achieve? Possibly very little. But it would demonstrate to the world that New Zealanders care about the survival of the entire planet, not just Kiwis murdered in a mosque. Jacinda Ardern earned enormous international kudos for her compassionate response to the Muslim community after those shootings. She has the world’s respect. If she now declared a climate emergency, people would listen to her as well as to Greta. And then she could take a picture with Ollie.
In response to the murder of 50 Moslems by Brenton Tarrant last week, the Government has banned semi-automatic rifles in New Zealand – a decisive response to prevent any future loss of life with such weapons. Tarrant’s homicidal rampage was brought to an end after two police officers tracked him down fleeing from the Linwood mosque in his car. According to the police his intention was to continue his killing spree elsewhere.
By some strange coincidence, the two officers had been attending a training session earlier that day on how to stop armed offenders. They pursued Tarrant, rammed his car off the road and arrested him. The two officers deserve a medal for risking their lives and preventing further bloodshed.
79 deaths in police pursuits since 2008
Generally, police pursuits in New Zealand do not involve such serious crimes or such dangerous offenders. Since January 2008, police have pursued over 30,000 fleeing drivers leading to hundreds of accidents and 79 deaths, nearly half of whom were innocent victims. The number of pursuits and the number getting killed is growing every year. But the reality is that the vast majority of the 30,000 offenders pursued by police posed almost no risk to the public – until the police started chasing them.
So many Kiwis are dying that police pursuit policy is almost permanently under review. Coincidentally, the same day that Tarrant went on his rampage, the IPCA completed its sixth review publishing a 143 page document: Fleeing Drivers in New Zealand.
The IPCA found that:
35% were stopped for a driving offence for which they would not have been arrested
15% were merely ‘suspected of offending’;
14% were stopped for ‘suspicious behaviour’;
9% stopped for an arrestable driving offence;
6% were simply routine stops.
The review recommended better training and more oversight for police but no change to the pursuit policy. Police Commissioner, Mike Bush, claimed the review relieved the police of any responsibility arguing…
“the review has shown that our staff generally manage fleeing driver events well…”
Police Minister Stuart Nash said the report showed there was no need for “wholesale changes” to police pursuit policy. Judith Collins and Mike Bush claim that when drivers flee, the police have no choice. They worry that if police don’t pursue, criminals will get away scot free and that more people will take off when apprehended. Collins argues that the police cannot “give over the roads to criminals?”
“if the police refrain from chasing all offenders or terminate their pursuits, no significant increase in the number of suspects who flee would occur.”
All the police have to do is take down the car’s registration and then pay the driver a visit first thing in the morning when the adrenaline rush is over. Only a quarter of pursuits involve stolen cars, so most of those who flee would still be caught.
Who’s the adult in the room?
These dubious death-denying justifications by those responsible for police policy ignore some fundamental realities – that nearly half of the dead are teenagers and according to US research, 42% are innocent bystanders. Road safety campaigner, Clive Matthew-Wilson notes that it’s pointless expecting teenagers to behave sensibly when stopped by police. He says:
“The simple fact is: the part of the brain that allows an adult to make rational decisions doesn’t form properly until the early twenties. That’s why teenagers tend to make impulsive decisions that often end badly. Given that teenagers aren’t going to stop and think, it’s up to the cops to stop and think, instead of letting adrenaline rule their decision-making process.”
“basically the most hazardous activity you could possibly undertake on roads legally… It’s a total contradiction for police to be engaging in them when they’re supposed to be improving road safety. The fatality rate for pursuits is 3,500 times higher than for normal travel.”
Police pursuits banned in Australia
In 2009, the Queensland state government banned all police pursuits unless there had been a murder or there was an imminent risk to life. Since this policy was introduced, not one person has died in a police pursuit. The Australian state of Victoria has a similar policy. The former head of road policing in Victoria, Doug Fryer, rejected the idea that the state’s cautious pursuit policy meant criminals ‘got away with it.’
“We would far prefer to drag an offender out of bed at six o’clock in the morning than try to drag them out of a car after a crash.”
If this policy had been in place in New Zealand, not one of the 79 people who have died since 2008 would have been pursued – because not one had committed a serious crime which justified the pursuit. These were unnecessary and totally avoidable deaths.
So who’s responsible?
Writing in The Spinoff last year, Toby Manhire agreed that police chases are inherently dangerous but went on to argue that…
“a rush to assign blame for deaths in police chases can only distort the important discussion around a pursuit policy that should put human life first.”
This not only minimises, it completely ignores, the contribution of the police to this carnage on our roads. We need to name, ‘blame’ and shame the police because it’s their policy that’s directly responsible for the pursuits that lead to these deaths.
The reality is that until the cause of the problem is correctly ‘named’, no one can be held to account. If we don’t specify and identify the problem – police pursuit policy – inevitably there will be more phony reviews leading to more platitudinous recommendations about better police training and oversight.
It’s a shame it took a massacre before the Government was persuaded to take decisive action on semi-automatic weapons. In the meantime, police pursue over 3,000 drivers a year – and 79 people have died. How big will this massacre be, and how long will it go on before the Government takes decisive action on that?
The prison population is still rising and is now over 10,000 – again. In February last year, the muster hit an all-time high of 10,700. Towards the end of the year, it dropped to 9,700 but is now back up again.
At the peak, Andrew Little and Kelvin Davis announced that Labour wanted to cut the prison population by 30% in 15 years – otherwise we would need another prison
In an attempt to reduce the length of prison sentences, Andrew Little made an aborted attempt to repeal the onerous three strikes law. This was shot down by NZ First which refused to play along with its coalition partners. Then Kelvin Davis stepped into the breach. He offered temporary relief telling Corrections management to make administrative changes which would cut prison numbers without having to change the law. Writing in the Spinoff, Roger Brooking wrote: Kelvin Davis has a cunning plan to cut the prison population – and it’s working.
Embarrassed by his aborted effort to repeal the three strikes law, Andrew Little was in no mood for additional attempts at legal amendments. Instead, Labour launched a massive publicity campaign designed to win the hearts and minds of the public that the entire justice system needed to be reformed.
It began with a criminal justice summit held in Porirua in August last year which the government called “the start of a conversation.” This was followed by the appointment of a panel led by former National MP, Chester Borrows. The panel held a series of meetings up and down the country, to which the public were invited to give their opinions on how New Zealand could develop a Safe and Effective justice system. Andrew Little subsequently made remarks in the media that New Zealand’s entire justice system was broken. I beg to differ. It’s not the Justice system that’s broken – it’s the political system. In the last 30 years, political parties of both persuasions have competed with each other to pass tough on crime laws which are directly responsible for the dramatic increase in the prison population.
Now that prison population is over 10,000 again, the number on remand is at an all-time high. In response to an OIA, Corrections advises that on 28 February this year, the prison population was 10,015 of which 3,421 were on remand. That’s 34% of the total. In other words, 34% of prisoners in New Zealand have yet to be convicted of a crime.
What happened to the fundamental legal principle: Innocent until proven guilty? Perhaps Andrew Little is right – our justice system is broken – we lock up way too many people who have yet to be convicted of a crime. Isn’t that what third-world dictators, communist countries and authoritarian, anti-democratic regimes do?
In 2017, 378 people died on New Zealand roads. In June last year, the Automobile Association followed up with a media release claiming “We now have more crash deaths where people test positive for a drug than (test positive for) alcohol”.
This statement was simply not true. In fact, twice as many deaths were caused by drink drivers than drivers under the influence of (other) drugs.
The AA got its figures by making an OIA request to the New Zealand Transport Authority. NZTA’s response stated that in 2017, out of 378 deaths, 79 people died in drug-related accidents and 70 people were killed by drink drivers who were over the legal limit (or who refused to supply a sample). The point to note here is that the AA didn’t ask NZTA how many people were killed by drivers under the influence of alcohol; they asked how many were killed by drivers over the legal limit.
Based on this response, AA mistakenly concluded that drugged-up drivers were killing more people than drink-drivers.
All of these stories were, in Trumpian vernacular, ‘fake news’ – because the AA forgot to ask how many people were killed by drink drivers who were under the legal limit in addition to those who were over it. So I asked NZTA the question. They then disclosed that, in fact, 154 people were killed by drink drivers in 2017. This is almost double the number killed in drug-related accidents. See the NZTA’s response to one of my questions below:
The AA used their dodgy data about drug deaths to argue that police should be given saliva testing kits to tackle what they called this ‘silent killer’. A spokesperson for the AA, was quoted as saying:
“The AA has called drugged driving a silent killer on our roads for years and these latest figures confirm how prevalent drugs are in fatal crashes.”
There is no doubt that the number of deaths on the road related to drug use is rising. However, it is still nowhere near the number killed by drink-drivers.
Remarkably, the figures also show that slightly more people were killed by drink drivers under the legal limit (80) than were killed by drivers over the limit (74). What this suggests is that the decision to lower the legal limit from 400 micrograms of alcohol per litre of breath to 250 micrograms in 2014 has had no impact on the road toll – which, in fact, has been going up for the last six years (see chart).
In 2017, 154 alcohol related deaths plus 79 drug related deaths suggests a total of 233 people were killed by drivers under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Deducting 21 cases where the driver was under the influence of both alcohol and drugs, that’s 212 or 56% of all road deaths that year. Because the AA has been misinterpreting the data for years, it mistakenly claims on its website that alcohol and drugs contribute to only one third of deaths on New Zealand roads.
A zero solution
This leads to an obvious, but politically unpalatable, policy recommendation. If we want to cut the road toll, we need to cut the legal limit for adults to zero – just as we did for teenagers in 2011. This might seem radical but the idea is even supported by those who make a habit of drink driving. At the Make A Plan (MAP) programme for repeat drink drivers in Wellington, participants are asked why they chose to drive after they had been drinking. Often they say: “I thought I was alright to drive”.
In other words, although they had been drinking, they didn’t feel drunk; they were unable to judge whether or not their drinking may have put them over the limit. Participants generally agree that if the limit was zero, the situation would be crystal clear and it would be much easier to make the decision – one drink and they would not be allowed to drive.
Obviously, this would not stop everyone. There are plenty of ‘bloody idiots’ who just don’t care. But for the generally law-abiding citizens among us, legal clarity is helpful. If you intend to go drinking, don’t drive. Such a move would demonstrate the Government was serious about the audacious target of zero deaths on New Zealand roads set by Julie Anne Genter in April 2018. Remarkably, in January 2019 Ms Genter changed tack 180 degrees and said it would be many decades before the road toll would be significantly reduced. It seems like she’s given up.
I know something that might help. Reduce the legal limit to zero. Any road safety strategy with a higher than zero alcohol limit has zero hope of achieving zero road deaths.
It’s intense. Writing on Stuff, Alison Mau pointed out that ‘plentiful pictures of gorgeous Grace were available’ in this plethora of publicity and implied that all this attention is inherently racist. She noted that social scientists call it ‘Missing White Woman Syndrome’ defined by…
“the media’s undue focus on upper-middle-class white women who disappear, with the disproportionate degree of coverage they receive being compared to cases of missing men or boys, women of colour, and women of lower social classes.”
Mau reports that in Western countries like New Zealand, numerous studies reveal “viewers will stay glued to the set to hear endlessly about young, photogenic missing women – but only if they’re white” and can be depicted as “innocent” and “angelic”.
“Grace Millane and her memory deserve every tribute, and her whānau deserve every iota of sympathy that comes their way. But so did those other victims… we act as though all lives aren’t created equal.”
The murder of Christie Marceau
The media’s response to the murder of Christie Marceau was equally intense. She was also young, attractive, female and white. Christie was killed by Ashkay Chand who two months earlier had already threatened to rape and kill her. Much of the subsequent outrage, driven by Garth McVicar, was directed at the judge who allowed Chand out of prison on bail. McVicar even started a campaign to have the bail laws amended so this would never happen again.
Sure enough, two years later, National passed the Bail Amendment Act which doubled the number of prisoners on remand in three years and created a crisis in prison capacity. In response, Justice Minister, Andrew Little, said Labour wanted to reduce the prison population by 30%.
One of the concerns about the Grace Millane case is that Google and British media breached the temporary suppression order and named the alleged perpetrator. Peter Williams claimed the internet has compromised justice and wondered whether he can get a fair trial. Williams also found it totally inappropriate that the Prime Minister made a public apology to the Millane family. He wrote:
“Has a New Zealand political leader ever made such an emotional comment about a homicide victim before? More pertinently, why would the Prime Minister think it appropriate to comment on one homicide victim in a week when there were at least three other homicides in the country? Politicising a homicide case is not appropriate. Do it for one, and you really should do it for all.”
And not just for the families of attractive, young, white females. Each year approximately 50 people are murdered in New Zealand – giving us one of the lowest homicide rates in the world. No one in the Government has ever apologised to any of these families – not even to the family of Christie Marceau where a judge was (incorrectly) accused of being at fault.
Media commentator, Jim Tucker, thinks the outpouring of outrage is because Grace’s murder has embarrassed us overseas. It seems we’re so embarrassed that a …
“cohort of prominent women including former Prime Ministers Helen Clarke and Jenny Shipley signed an open letter to the men and government of New Zealand and submitted it to the Prime Minister’s office. The letter stated that New Zealand had some of the worst statistics for violence against women in the OECD and listed actions each party could take to make our country a safer place.”
That’s a worry. Ever since the law and order referendum initiated by Norm Withers in 1999, New Zealand has been listening to populists with a penchant for punitive legislation. Just this year, a Bill was introduced requiring judges to impose a six-month prison sentence on anyone who attacks a paramedic or other first responder. At the beginning of December, new legislation came into effect penalising attempted strangulation. Both of these will put more people in prison.
Why is this politically dangerous?
It’s dangerous because it risks escalating the pathetic competition between political parties to be tough on crime which has gone on for the last 20 years – and because it will undermine Andrew Little’s aborted attempts to reduce the prison population.
So how will politicians respond to the murder of Grace Millane? Chances are some right-wing MP will try to re-introduce a private member’s Bill advocating the death penalty for the murder of attractive, young, white women. Further down the track, some other MPs could decide to hang the killers of less attractive, young, white women – or even wrinkled, older, white women. That would keep the prison population down.
News that Gavin Hawthorn has recently been convicted of drink driving yet again has caused oodles of outrage in the media. Hawthorn has already killed four people in two separate accidents. In 2004 he was convicted of manslaughter over the death of his friend Lance Fryer and sentenced to 10 years in prison. He was released in 2013 and has now been caught drink-driving again – for the 13th time. On this occasion Judge Johnston sentenced him to six months home detention and disqualified him from driving for two years.
“This judge has failed to keep us safe as New Zealanders. We’ve been let down by his profession once again. He has let us down, now we are in harm’s way.” He went on to say the case was an example of why the public “have little confidence in the justice system”.
Blaming judges is misguided and myopic. This is what Garth McVicar and the senseless sentencing trust have been doing for years. All that has achieved is a burgeoning prison population and a crisis in capacity. At $100,000 per prisoner, per year and a reoffending rate of 60% within two years of release, clearly this is a failed strategy – and a massive waste of taxpayer money.
Keeping us safe
The justification for all this moral outrage is the dubious assumption that sending ‘dangerous’ people to prison ‘keeps us safe’. Does it? Let’s look at the facts.
Gavin Hawthorn killed his last victim in 2003. Between 2003 and 2017, another 5,402 people have died on New Zealand roads – an average of 360 people a year – or nearly one every day. Half of these deaths are caused by drivers under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or both.
The point is that most of these people died during the ten years that Hawthorn was in prison. Clearly his incarceration did not make us any safer. Giving the judge a hard time for not sending him to prison on his current conviction does not change this reality.
So, what’s the solution? The only intelligent comments in the media came from Andrew Dickens on NewstalkZB who asked rather quaintly: What to do with our drinkiest drink driver? He argued with considerable insight that:
“Indefinite incarceration and licence deprivation is not what this man needs. What he needs is to STOP FREAKING DRINKING.”
Dickens’ answer to the problems posed by the likes of Gavin Hawthorn is to put him into a drug court (in New Zealand known as AODTC – Alcohol and Other Drug Treatment Courts). To be eligible, defendants must be alcohol or drug dependent and facing a prison sentence. A treatment plan for each participant is developed by the judge, taking into account the views of treatment providers, support workers and lawyers; it involves rehabilitation, counselling, drug-testing, community service and making amends to victims.
Dickens describes the process like this:
“They’re a three-phase, 18-month-long programme designed for high-needs and high-risk addicts who are facing prison, or who have tried but failed treatment programmes in the past.”
Drug courts have the potential to help thousands of offenders, not just drink drivers. And there is no shortage of available candidates in New Zealand. In 2011, judges told the Law Commission that 80% of all offending was alcohol and drug related. In 2017, Northland district court judge, Greg Davis, who sees a lot of methamphetamine related crime, said up to 90% of all offending was related to issues with addiction.
Currently, the only two drug courts in the country are both in Auckland. Hawthorn is serving his sentence of Home Detention in Paraparaumu – so a drug court in Wellington would be helpful. We need such courts in all our major cities.
Compulsory AOD assessment
Another strategy is available to target drink drivers in particular – one that also involves assessment and treatment. Currently out of 20,000 people convicted of this offence each year, only 5% – those disqualified indefinitely – are required to have an alcohol and drug assessment to see if they have their drinking under control before getting their driver’s licence back. Many of the remainder are sent to prison – just like Gavin Hawthorn. If any drink driver who incurred a second conviction was required by law to have an AOD assessment before their disqualification could be lifted, fully half of the 20,000 drink drivers would be assessed. As a result, there would be a lot less people in prison.
An evaluation of the NZ drug courts shows they also reduce imprisonment – 282 participants have been kept out of prison during the six years the two Auckland courts have been operating.
So if the government implemented these two strategies, this would shift the focus of our justice system away from punishing alcohol and drug addicted offenders towards treating them instead. This would surely help Justice Minister, Andrew Little, get closer to the Government goal of reducing the prison population by 30%. Maybe it would even moderate the media to tone down their moral outrage.