Q+A's Paul Holmes interviews Act MP, David Garrett & Prison Reformer, Kim Workman.
PAUL On Wednesday parliament's Law and Order
Select Committee heard submissions for ACT's three strikes policy,
under which offenders after three serious crimes could be locked
away for at least 25 years. It's been controversial where it's been
tried overseas, National is reserving judgement on whether to
support the bill. In a moment we'll debate the law with its
architect David Garrett of ACT and the Director of Prison Reform
Organisation, Rethinking Crime and Punishment, Kim Workman.
PAUL We say good morning to Mr Garrett and also to Kim Workman, but Mr Garrett before we begin to discuss the three strikes policy there's another matter I must take up with you. You're in the news today, you're in some trouble for having apparently made an inappropriate remark to a woman at parliament over the water cooler. Did you make an inappropriate remark?
DAVID GARRETT - ACT MP
No Paul, the remark - the story about the water cooler is a complete fabrication, there are parts of the rest of the story that are quite accurate, well actually not quite, it says that Rodney reprimanded me, I would have said he tore several large strips off me actually, but they were about as he says inappropriate comments - the water cooler incident which as far as I'm concerned never occurred.
PAUL Well let's not worry about the water
cooler, did you make an inappropriate remark to a female staff
DAVID I believe that's perfectly possible Paul.
PAUL Yes or no?
DAVID Well what's inappropriate, Paul I come from a background - I'm probably the only Member of Parliament who has been an oil rig worker for ten years, it was a big adjustment to become a lawyer, and even bigger adjustment to become an MP, I'm on a very steep learning curve, I now understand very clearly that the kind of thing that might have been okay in a law firm in Tonga is not okay in parliament.
PAUL The perception of course of the woman obviously is that it was an inappropriate remark, Rodney Hide worked on oil rigs too but he doesn't made inappropriate remarks. Have you apologised to the woman?
DAVID Oh I have Paul, yes, unreservedly.
PAUL Do you regret making the remark?
DAVID I do, very much so yes.
PAUL The question being of course how many strikes before you're out?
DAVID Well that's up to Rodney, I've spoken to Rodney about it just this morning and he's indicated that he still has faith in me and until that changes then I intend to keep doing what I'm doing.
PAUL Very good Mr Garrett, thank you for answering those questions. Now, let's talk about your three strikes legislation, why do you want it?
DAVID Because we have a situation where a number, we campaigned on - your story said 78, we actually campaigned on 77 and that figure came, and Kim's well aware of this, it came from an OIA question that I asked back in 2007, it took months to get the answers by the way, and in summarising it, Kim's seen the answers, 77 people as at November 2007 who are in gaol currently for murder or manslaughter, had at the time they committed the killing for which they're incarcerated, served at least three sentences for serious violence. Now it's a simple matter of arithmetic that had there been a three strikes law of the type that we proposed, those people would be alive.
PAUL But in terms of why you want the legislation basically if there are serious violent recidivist offenders, you want them put away once and for all?
DAVID Well look what's happened since the election Paul, very sadly during the campaign that number increased to 78 when the killer of Emma Agnew, one Liam Reid, aka Julian Edgecombe with a list a mile long was convicted of her murder, and it increased to 79 a month or two ago. We need to personalise this Paul, a young fellow he was quite literally a Samoan choir boy, quite literally out celebrating his 24th birthday when he was killed by one Charlie Karaka because Karaka thought that this poor person resembled someone who'd stolen Karaka's gang patch...
PAUL Let's talk about the bill, I mean it's all very well to personalise, it makes it very dramatic, let's speak about the bill, you oppose it Kim Workman, why?
KIM WORKMAN - Prison Reform Advocate
Well I don't think it's necessary, it never has been. We've got sufficient sanctions in New Zealand now to deal with serious violent offenders, I think the issue is something else. The issue really is that we have people in prison like Burton and William Bell who are eventually going to come out and that needs to be addressed and we think that an amendment to the preventive detention provisions will secure that.
PAUL You would simply see a greater use of preventive detention? The provision is there to keep people inside now?
KIM Exactly, and if it was extended to the offence of murder with perhaps a 14 year limit on parole, it would mean that the judiciary if they weren't satisfied that the person could be released safety, could keep them there forever.
PAUL But isn't what David Garrett's proposing at least a signal to violent offenders in this country, by God we are not going to take any more?
KIM The difficulty for me is that the three strikes bill takes away the discretion of the judiciary and puts it in the hands of the Police, because the Police will have the discretion as to whether to charge them for the three strikes offence or not, they'll indulge in plea bargaining. In California somewhere between 25 and 40% of all three strike offences are dismissed because of the decisions on the part of the prosecution. Now I'd rather see the discretion placed in the hands of the judiciary than the Police.
PAUL Alright, the 77 coffins and the 78 or 79 whatever it is...
DAVID Well 79 it is now Paul.
PAUL Well 77 in your stance before the election. You say that 77 people would be alive if we'd had three strikes?
DAVID At the time they were killed.
PAUL Corrections say none would have been saved by the three strikes legislation.
DAVID No that's not right Paul. What Kim did very helpfully I have to say is make his own OIA request and it asked this question, pretty much using my wording - how many of the 400 and Kim will correct me if I get it slightly wrong - how many of the 420 persons currently serving time for murder or manslaughter would have been prevented from doing so by the bill as currently drafted. The answer came back zero. Now the bill as currently drafted is not what ACT campaigned. The bill as currently drafted has added an extra five year test, so not only do the strikes have to be a conviction for an offence, but also the person has to receive five years on each occasion - 77 to zero.
PAUL In the first two imprisonments the person must have been convicted for a violent crime and be sentenced for five years.
DAVID Under the law as drafted yes.
PAUL The Nats have added some offences - well let's talk about that shortly, but some very serious people are bothered by the bill. Chris Finlayson the Attorney General is quite clear, he says the bill as it's drafted now violates the Bill of Rights.
DAVID No no no Paul, I'm sorry, he doesn't, he said it may.
PAUL He says disproportionate sentence is made by the Bill of Rights. Jonathan Krebs of the Law Society says it's bad law, it might cause offenders to kill witnesses rather than trust....
DAVID That argument has been comprehensively refuted, we had Dr Jennifer Walsh, an American academic who has specialised in her entire post doctoral career, in researching the impact of three strikes laws. That claim by Crebbs who incidentally I'm sorry to have to say on live television, hadn't read the submission that he presented, it was quite obvious. When I called him on papers he was quoting he hadn't read them, and he admitted it in Select Committee.
PAUL But what is wrong with what Kim Workman is saying about use preventive detention, keep it nice and simple.
DAVID Here is what's wrong, two things. Firstly that judges don't use it enough, and secondly under Kim's proposal you have to wait till they kill someone. The whole idea of the three strikes proposal is to prevent people, the 77, 78. 79, whatever, who are on a path to kill, preventing them getting to that point, that's the whole idea.
PAUL Is that a good point?
KIM No it's not a good point actually, because you don't have to wait until you kill somebody, the schedule under preventive detention allows for a whole range of crimes that could be dealt with short of murder. What I'm saying is that as a final measure we should add murder to that schedule. Now I think the other issue is that Jennifer Walsh was here certainly and she was talking about that it wouldn't have any impact, it would stop people from murdering, it's a lot of nonsense actually, Jennifer Walsh is a lecturer in political science, in a Christian private conservative university with five thousand students. The real experts out there will say look that's nonsense.
DAVID Who are the real experts - Professor Pratt from Victoria University, who's commenting on laws he knows nothing about? Who are the real experts Kim? I believe you're a Christian yourself, so is because Dr Walsh is a Christian does that disqualify her from having a valid academic opinion?
KIM No I'm just making the point that she's not on the ten most wanted list in terms of expert on the three strikes.
PAUL Okay let's come back to the bill as it stands, so it's gone to the Select Committee, the Nats have added a few crimes, I mean this is all kinds of you know violent crimes, crimes against children, so forth, the Nats have added bestiality and acid throwing.
DAVID They've also added some attempted sexual offences which - and I'll choose my words very carefully particularly ....
PAUL You've used the word Machiavellian, you think the Nats are being ...
DAVID No I didn't say that either, I said I was puzzled and one of the explanations for that might be a Machiavellian attempt to kill it. Now Justice Minister Power has assured me that that is not the case, incidentally he's also told me and Justice Minister Power and I have I think a good and open relationship, he has told me that he was surprised himself that adding that five year extra test lowered the number from 77 to zero. Now I take Minister Power at his word, I take him at his word when he says he will listen and has listened with an open mind to the evidence he saw before him.
PAUL So to you mind bestiality and acid throwing being included? Why should you go away for 25 years for acid throwing, throwing it where? Where - on to the footpath?
DAVID No it's actually an old fashioned offence, apparently I'm told that in the 1920s women who were jilted for breach of promise which was 1920 speak for having ..
PAUL Thrown acid in someone's eyes.
DAVID To disfigure them.
PAUL But that would be covered now wouldn't it, I mean you could get into serious trouble now. Is the bill gonna pass, is it going to pass, can you pass it, have you got support?
DAVID We don't know.
PAUL The Attorney General worries that it's against the Bill of Rights.
DAVID Look Paul I read the Attorney General's report very very carefully, very carefully, and I spoke with Chris about it, and what he says in the report is quite different from how it was characterised in the media. If you read the report in full as I have done more than once, it quotes our Supreme Court, that makes it very very plain by quoting with approve of Canadian decisions that say in our constitutional system parliament is sovereign.
PAUL Have you got the numbers?
DAVID We don't know. We have only just finished hearing submissions just last week, just last Thursday I think it was, where we are awaiting the report, the executive report back from the officials, and on the thousand and seventy submissions that were made, 70% of which were strongly in favour, and I guess then we'll start to discuss whether we can come to an agreement.
PAUL Are you happy with the bill as it stands?
DAVID No, no I'm not.
PAUL Are you gonna vote for it then? Will you vote for it?
DAVID Well we'll have to see, it's early days Paul, as I said ...
PAUL We're going nowhere fast aren't we?
DAVID I've been very impressed with Justice Minister Power, you know and I'm taking him at his word, perhaps that makes me naïve.
PAUL Where do you put the bill, do you call it nonsense?
KIM Well I think it is nonsense, look we're very good at locking people up in New Zealand, since Christmas we've put an extra 700 people into the prison system, that's almost a 10% increase which is costing us $95,000 per person. We've got a Drivers for Crime policy which National has been brave enough to pursue, that's where the money should be going into crime causation, dealing with the real issues. The concern for me Paul is that the research is absolutely clear, the more people you put into prison the longer you keep them there the more likely they are to reoffend when they leave.
PAUL I've got to leave it there, thank you for coming in.