• Jack Elder

I am very pleased to have the chance for a few words here today at what is the first time I have addressed a Police Association conference as Minister.

It will not have escaped anyone's notice that this week marks a year since the last general election, which in December led to the formation of this Coalition Government.

I want to tell you right now that I am very pleased with the way the year has gone for the Police portfolio.

If that opinion seems at odds with what is supposed to be a public mood of doom and gloom, I shall take a little time to explain my point of view.

In the nine weeks following the election, New Zealand First entered into a gruelling round of negotiations with the Labour and National parties with the aim of striking a coalition agreement.

I was involved in these discussions, and I can tell you there was a lot of very tough talking and horse trading as all sides argued for as much of their election manifestoes as possible to be included in any formal agreement.

Before the election New Zealand First campaigned very strongly on law and order issues, and during the negotiations I argued with both other parties for more attention to be paid to fighting crime.

When the final Coalition Agreement with National was announced on December 12, I was quite satisfied with the concessions we had been able to extract and with the new emphasis that was to be place on law and order.

The Agreement states the Government is to adopt a stronger approach to law and order, and to develop additional strategies to attack crime at its roots.

Under this broad general direction, the Coalition Agreement lists a number of specific targets.

They include a greater emphasis on policing gangs, widening the police capacity to use electronic surveillance against organised crime, to enhance designated drug squads and emphasise covert as opposed to overt speed cameras.

And, of course, the Coalition Agreement stated the intention to create 500 new police positions over the three year term of office.

This was a good result for the New Zealand First negotiating team - no other party at the last election advocated taking a tougher line on law and order.

The truth is no other party supported funding as much as an extra Blue Light Disco.

Let explain something about New Zealand First's thinking on law and order, because it is rather different to the other parties.

It doesn't resort to left-wing academic excuses that society is to blame, or that the criminal is a victim of oppression who is striking back at the oppressing classes.

However we do support the concept of attempting to save those young people who can be saved from falling into a life of crime. But we do not believe that family group conferences are necessarily the best way of dealing with youth offenders in all circumstances.

And we do not subscribe to the view that individual human rights are paramount over the right of the rest of the community not to be a victim of crime.

Our approach is essentially common-sense and practical. We expect people to take responsibility for their own actions. If people choose to break the law, then they must be prepared to face the consequences of their choice.

But we want to do all we can to stop people falling in to a life of crime in the first place. That is why I argued for extra funding this financial year for an extension of the youth at risk of offending programmes being trialed in Auckland and Dunedin.

I note with pleasure the success of these schemes to date. For example, in Dunedin, Operation New Directions has resulted in a sharp fall in youth offending.

The number of children and young people being referred to Dunedin police dropped from 1795 in 1994, to 1111 this year, the lowest total since 1988.

On Budget night the Treasurer announced an extra $3.3 million over the three year term for these programmes to be expanded to 12 more locations.

The Government is especially concerned with the pressure south Auckland police are under, which is why an extra $3 million over the term has been set aside for the development of an intensive intervention programme for high risk teenagers in that area.

And over a million dollars has been earmarked for the development of new programmes targeting at-risk young Maori.

The recent settlement of the Police budget for this financial year was of particular satisfaction to myself. While I am sure all police officers face difficult challenges in their working lives, I would suggest trying to get taxpayer dollars out of Bill Birch as being a particularly tough ask.

While we have faced tough negotiations over the Coalition Agreement and in the Budget allocations, the behind the scenes talks continue in areas that will be of interest to you.

You will be aware of the Harassment and Criminal Associations Bill which is currently with the Justice and Law Reform Select Committee. Briefly, this set out to tighten up the law in a number of areas relating to gangs, organised crime groups and harassment.

Clause 43 of the Bill amends the law relating to the interception of private communications in certain limited situations for the purpose of investigating serious violent crime.

When it was first introduced to Parliament, the Bill specified Police had to be able to show that three or more people were involved in the crime for their communications to be intercepted.

This was not a situation supported by the Police, but human rights activists were pushing it enthusiastically.

While I am not at liberty to discuss the deliberations of a select committee before a bill has been reported back to the House, I can tell you there has been considerable argument and some arm-twisting behind the scenes, and I am hopeful that when the Bill finally becomes law, the Police point of view will be adequately represented.

The next hurdle will be to get this through Parliament itself when the Bill is reported back in the near future. I can assure you I will be pushing very hard for the views of the Police to be reflected in the legislation when it finally becomes law.

I use this example to show you that a lot of work is going on behind the scenes in government, and that even within the coalition, the New Zealand First members are constantly working to make the Police's job in enforcing the law more logical, straightforward and more likely to result in real benefits for community safety.

I must pay tribute to the work of the chairman of the Justice and Law Reform Select Committee, who is probably better known to you as Superintendent Waitai. His practical knowledge of policing is worth any number of hand-wringing academics when it comes to ensuring robust legislation is passed.

Making progress politically is not like posturing dramatically on the barricades, or a blitzkrieg of rapid gains: it is more like trench warfare, working day in and day out for a bit of extra ground and then trying to hold on to it.

So now, one year since the election, the police are looking at 700 new constables to graduate from the Police College, to both cover disengagements and to provide an extra 200 frontline officers. This is the highest number of graduates in a year for at least a decade. The Police have received their highest ever budget, we are well on track to meeting the Coalition Agreement targets, and disengagement levels are falling.

So why is the public fed a constant diet of doom and gloom stories about policing and law and order?

Partly this is because the media is driven by negatives. That a bad news story will always get the jump on a good news story. The Opposition too, does its usual job of telling the country we are sinking in a sea of crime.

They fail to realise the unremitting diet of negativity being served up to New Zealanders only serves to corrode Police morale, destroy public confidence in the Police and increase the fear of crime in the community.

And I have to say that some police officers contribute to this message of doom in their dealings with the media. I cast my mind back to the reaction to the draft treasury paper with touched on the perf scheme. A rash of disengagements followed, and I have been told that some of those officers subsequently regretted the move.

My message to police officers, and to the Association, is do not always accentuate the negative and eliminate the positive.

There are never going to be enough taxpayer dollars available for everyone in the public sector to get their wish lists. Everyone has always had to compromise and always will.

Crime is not out of control in this country, despite what some people would have us believe.

In the five years to 1992, reported crime rose by 20 percent. In the five years since then it has increased by only 3.5 percent.

It is very ironically that the Police and the Government should now be criticised by the Labour Party. The people who really run the Labour Party have never supported the Police.

Over the past year, the Labour opposition's answer to any problem in society is to say more money must be spent. So far this year the gross national product would have been spent many times over if all of Labour's bright ideas had been followed.

In fact, if you ignore the empty political rhetoric, the only practical difference Labour has made in the last year of opposition has been a stream of inane parliamentary questions that has wasted police time and police money.

I want to conclude by emphasising my support for the Police community oriented policing philosophy. This policy involves working in partnership with communities, not imposing solutions on them.

It does not mean police are avoiding responsibility for the enforcement of laws, but rather it works to the strengths of the relationship of the New Zealand Police with the public and approaches law enforcement in way appropriate to the unique New Zealand situation.

This country is blessed with having an essentially corruption-free police force and a very high level of public trust in the police.

I do not want to see anything happen to jeopardise this level of public trust in the police. For me, this is an absolute. Many other countries have police that do not have the general support of the public, and I am not talking about banana republics - I am talking about modern western democracies similar to New Zealand.

New Zealand is a very lucky country, despite what the very well developed complaining industry here would have us believe. While we can always learn from international best practice, I support the Police working for New Zealand solutions for New Zealand problems.

I urge everyone who is serious about promoting improved community safety to support the work of the police, and their strategies for tackling crime in our society.

I hope everyone here has a very constructive conference, and that the serious issues facing the police are addressed in a practical and common sense manner.

You can be assured that I, the New Zealand First party and the Coalition Government, take the issues regarding community safety very seriously, and will continue supporting the Police in Parliament.

I now declare the 62nd annual Police Association conference open.