Week in Politics: National gets tough on young offenders, but policy faces strong opposition

5:27 pm on 18 November 2022

By Peter Wilson*

National Party leader Christopher Luxon

National Party leader Christopher Luxon. Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

Analysis - National announces a strong youth offender policy - send the worst of them to boot camps; Christopher Luxon gets himself into a muddle with the party's clean car policy and the government calls for an apology after he points the finger at principals over truancy. Legislation that will replace the RMA is introduced to Parliament but it's going to be a slow process.

With the words "enough is enough" National's leader Christopher Luxon announced his party's youth offenders policy this week - put them into boot camps for up to 12 months.

Luxon said he thought it would be well received, and he's probably right. It could be a vote-catcher as ram raids and blatant youth burglaries continue to get extensive media coverage.

It was released in Hamilton, which has been particularly hard-hit - seven stores in Waikato in a single night - and Luxon said his message to young offenders was that under National they would face consequences for their actions, RNZ reported.

The boot camps are part of a $25 million-a-year policy which creates a new Young Serious Offender category for those aged 10 to 17 who have committed at least two serious offences, funding for community groups providing rehabilitation programmes and the previously-announced ban on gang patches.

Luxon said the government had been "missing in action" during the youth crime wave. There were no consequences whatsoever for the young offenders and that had to change.

Left-leaning parties expressed anger, disgust and derision.

Acting Prime Minister Grant Robertson said that kind of approach had been tried before and it did not work.

"It's a policy that's been proven to fail in the past and all it will deliver is fitter, faster criminals," he said.

"National is just reheating failed policies."

Green Party co-leader Marama Davidson said National's approach was racist, classist, and lazy politicking.

"They protect their own communities, they only stigmatise basically brown, poor-income communities," she said.

The boot camps are an echo of policies past, RNZ reported.

The idea is similar to the Fresh Start law National passed while in government in 2010, although that was later scrapped after chief science adviser Sir Peter Gluckman concluded the following year they did not work and had high recidivism.

National revived it for the 2017 election campaign but did not win.

The announcement went off without a hitch, but the rest of Luxon's week did not.

During a climate discussion on Newshub's AM Show he said the party "would keep the clean car discount and make sure low emission cars come in".

That caused some excitement because National very firmly opposed the discount when it was introduced.

"He's pulled an almighty U-turn on climate policy," Newshub said.

He had indeed, but he had not meant to. "I misspoke this morning. What I meant was we're going to keep the clean car standard," Luxon said.

That did not get him out of trouble. The Herald pointed out that National had voted against the standard, which vehicles must meet when they're imported, when it was passed by Parliament.

"Christopher Luxon drove himself into a policy traffic jam", the paper said.

Robertson ignored the "I misspoke" explanation.

"A U-turn on a U-turn on a U-turn. The first politician to complete a policy doughnut in history," he said.

During the same interview - it really was an unfortunate one for Luxon - he had tried to focus on National's target of the week, the school truancy rate.

Late last week a Herald analysis of Ministry of Education data reported that overall only 39.9 per cent of all students were attending school regularly in term 2 of this year.

That compared with roughly 60 per cent in term 2 last year, and the fall to below 40 per cent caused considerable comment and disquiet.

Luxon said there was a "mixed standard" of leadership across schools when it came to truancy.

"We need to make sure we've actually got leadership in schools that are actually very much focussed on getting kids into school," he said.

"There is a mixed standard of leadership across our schools and across our principals which actually means they are not focussing as strongly only on getting kids to school as they can."

It isn't known whether he had anticipated the sort of reaction that would bring. Perhaps he did, and if he did not he should have.

First up was Tai Tokerau Principal Association president Pat Newman, who described Luxon's comments as "tripe".

"It's annoying as a principal, and it doesn't matter which party the politician is when they trivialise a really complex problem with a lack of understanding but thinking they can pick up some votes with some tripe comments that will get some media coverage," he said.

Other principals popped up to say Luxon did not know what he was talking about, and so did Associate Education Minister Jan Tinetti, a former principal.

"Attendance is something that's really complex, (principals) are working really hard," she said. "To hear that this morning is just sort of saying 'you're not working hard enough' when they're working extremely hard."

Tinetti said Covid had an impact on school attendance, which was not covered by the ministry data.

Education Minister Chris Hipkins said principals did not deserve "cheap shots from politicians" and Luxon should apologise.

He did not back down, telling media he wanted "zero tolerance" for poor school attendance.

"We're not the only country in the whole world that had Covid and the reality is we're sick of excuses," he said.

The government's big event of the week was the release and introduction to Parliament of two bills that will replace the Resource Management Act.

It has been years in the making and the government is promising the new regime will be "faster, better, cheaper" than the RMA.

"Everyone is frustrated," Environment Minister David Parker said.

"Environmentalists, developers, councils, farmers, home builders, and there is cross-party support for the need to replace and repeal the RMA."

The Natural Built Environments Bill and the Spatial Planning Bill are designed to bring in a major shift of land use and resource rules, making the consent system more streamlined and much quicker.

Costs to applicants are expected to fall 19 per cent, or $149 million a year.

Nothing is going to happen fast, the new regime is expected to take about a decade to bed in, RNZ reported. Full details are in its report.

Industry groups welcomed the overhaul of the RMA but National was not happy with it.

Luxon said there would be more bureaucracy and complexity, not less, and he was highly sceptical the changes would improve the status quo.

"It sounds great but, frankly, it's another layer of bureaucracy above the district councils and regional councils," he said. "We want a lot less discretion and interpretation from bureaucrats and courts, we need a lot more up-front clarity with a wide scope so that people can actually get moving with projects."

He also said the changes would take too long to implement.

National is working on its own RMA reform proposals that will be revealed before the next election.

The Greens weren't happy either. The plan traded away environmental protections in favour of speeding up the consenting process, MP Eugenie Sage told RNZ.

ACT leader David Seymour said the implementation timeframe would not put building and development on the fast track.

"This will put the development of housing and infrastructure backwards, while people try to work out what this new law means," he said.

RNZ summed up the reaction like this: "Labour's proposed new resource management system appears just as unpopular with other political parties as the law it would replace."

Now the bills have been introduced the legislative process can begin - first readings, select committee, second reading, committee stage and third readings. Parker is in for a long and tedious time in the House.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was away all week, in the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh for the East Asia Summit and then in Bangkok, Thailand, for the APEC leaders meeting.

(File photo) Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern shakes hands with China's President Xi Jinping  before their meeting at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on 1 April, 2019.

(File photo) Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and China's President Xi Jinping before their meeting at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on 1 April, 2019. Photo: AFP / Pool

The high point of her trip will be a formal meeting with China's President Xi Jinping. She had previously spoken informally with US President Joe Biden and held a series of bi-laterals with other leaders.

The meeting with Xi Jinping is scheduled for Friday night NZT. It will be their first face-to-face encounter in three years and she has promised a frank discussion about the differences as well as the two countries shared interests, RNZ reported.

"We say nothing publicly that we don't say privately," she said. "We're very transparent and we're very consistent."

*Peter Wilson is a life member of Parliament's press gallery, 22 years as NZPA's political editor and seven as parliamentary bureau chief for NZ Newswire.

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