INDEPENDENT NEWS

Q+A interviews Judith Collins

Published: Mon 26 Jul 2010 10:34 AM
Sunday 25th July, 2010 Q+A's Guyon Espiner interviews Police & Corrections Minister, Judith Collins
Points of interest:
- Government to require owners of high-powered airguns to have a firearms licence
- High-power airguns have become "the criminals' gun choice"
- Law change will be made by Arms Order, not by legislation, so should be in place by the end of the year
- Government considering restrictions on internet sales to ensure buyers have proper licence
- No wider crackdown on gun use, but vital that police properly dispose of guns if people don't renew their licence
- Government rejects recommendations for a firearms register as "an expensive failure" overseas - "our licensing system is looked at by other countries as a model"
- Police Minister "quite positive" about having guns in every police car, but opposes guns on every hip
- New Zealand a "very safe country"; safer than when Sir Doug Graham was Justice Minister through the 1990s
- Guyon: "How can it be that we lock up people at double the rate of France? "
- Collins: "Well what we have for instance is we have say 15% of the population Maori, we have 51% of our prison population's Maori. That's a shocking statistic.... wherever you have a group of people who feel that they are not part of society, or not part of the society that the rest of us - you're going to end up with problems..."
- Minister 'not proud' to be overseeing a Corrections Department due to become the biggest government department, and growing prison muster doesn't signal success of government's tougher policies
- Police Minister wants to see more community drug treatment, rather than people coming to prison to get treatment
- The average cost for a prisoner per annum is $91,000 compared to about $32,000 for board and tuition at King's College in Auckland
The interview has been transcribed below. The full length video interviews and panel discussions from this morning's Q+A can also be seen on tvnz.co.nz at, http://tvnz.co.nz/q-and-a-news
Q+A is repeated on TVNZ 7 at 9.10pm on Sunday nights and 10.10am and 2.10pm on Mondays.
JUDITH COLLINS interviewed by GUYON ESPINER
GUYON Thank GUYON Thanks Minister for joining us we appreciate your time. Can we start with the issue of guns? Last month a man was found guilty of murder having killed an undercover policeman with an airgun back in 2008. That has led for calls to bring airguns under the licensing regime especially the powerful airguns. Are you proposing to do that?
JUDITH COLLINS - Police & Corrections Minister
Oh yes, only in relation to the high powered airguns. So we're not talking about the BB guns that I was brought up with on the farm, and that many people have in their homes. We're talking about the very high-powered pre-charged airguns, like the one that was used to kill Don Wilkinson.
GUYON And so what will happen to those guns? If you we're buying one of those now you need a firearms license under the changes that you're proposing?
JUDITH Yes it's actually to bring them in line with the power that they actually have the damage they can do, so that someone who wanted to buy them would need to have a firearms license, and I think that's a very sensible move.
GUYON How many guns are we talking about here, I mean is this a significant change for the people who use these guns for recreational purposes?
JUDITH Well what we've been told is that these sorts of guns have become the criminal's gun choice, because they're so easily obtainable, and they're very very powerful. But it will mean that some people for instance like people who do Olympic target shooting, that they will need to get a gun license, or they'll need to do their shooting at a gun club which most of them would do anyway. Those aren't the people, what we're very keen to make sure is that our hunters and our farmers and the people who do target practise that they're not criminalised, and they're not the criminals. This is very much focused on making sure that the right people can get access to these guns.
GUYON How will this happen, and when will it happen?
JUDITH Well what we've looked at is actually bringing in an amendment to the Arms Order from 1984, and we can do that relatively quickly, we can do it before the end of this year. That would actually mean that we could basically classify these guns as being treated like other guns. So as I say it's only these very high powered airguns, not the CO2 fuelled ones, not the brake action ones that we grew up with, but it's very much these ones.
GUYON Do you have a rough idea of how many guns that might mean, how many sales?
JUDITH Yes, the Police tell me it's really about 30 to 50. something round that. There's not that many of them, they're very expensive now, about two and a half thousand dollars, and they're not the sort of gun that people would go and buy because they want to go and do some rabbit shooting.
GUYON More broadly are you looking at restricting the access or the use of guns more broadly in the civilian population? Will you have a crackdown as such on gun laws?
JUDITH I think our gun laws are actually pretty sensible, and we can see it from the homicide rates from guns, is that we have already a very good licensing system for users of firearms. So I don't think there needs to be a crackdown as such, but I think what we do need to be doing is making sure, and the Police are starting this and continuing with it, is making sure that when people don't renew their firearms licenses, that they make sure that the guns are disposed of, that people don't have guns lying round their homes that they don't need. Because unfortunately criminals burgle places and they get those guns and they use them.
GUYON So there aren't other major legislative changes that you are looking at to restrict gun use?
JUDITH Well there certainly is. We're looking at the internet sales of guns. Because you know a few years ago we didn't have guns sold on the internet, but nowadays it's very easy to buy guns on the internet, and it's very difficult for the people who are selling them to check that someone's actually got a real license. So there's some work that's being done around that and the Police will be coming back with some discussions on it.
GUYON Yeah I think we've got some pictures of the sorts of guns that you can actually buy on the internet nowadays. You can look over at the monitor there you can probably see some of those guns. I mean you can buy some pretty serious weaponry on the internet. Are you saying that we shouldn't be able to buy guns at all on the internet now?
JUDITH No, but I am saying that in seven of the eight Australia jurisdictions they've got a method of actually having a licensed dealer having to sight the firearms license, for instance, or an Arms Officer from the Police. That's the sort of thing that we're looking at, to make sure that these weapons are being properly sold to people who have licenses.
GUYON Alright, so let's look at the practical effect of that. Say I bought a gun similar to what we just saw there, I would have to front up in person with the license, with an authority? Is that what you're saying?
JUDITH Well that sort of thing, and I think that makes sense. I mean we don't want to criminalise or make it more difficult for people who are hunters and shooters and law abiding people. But it is important to note that when criminals get hold of these guns they do it for a purpose, which is often to kill, or to protect their methamphetamine hoard. So those are the sorts of things that we're looking at.
GUYON Why not register all firearms? I mean we register the owners but not the firearms which means that Police have no idea how many guns a person has, and someone like Jan Molenaar had 18 guns on him. When the Police are walking into a home they have no idea how many guns the person in that place has.
JUDITH Well I don't think that the Police would have known even if guns were registered; that man didn't have a firearms license for a start. The fact is, is that criminals don't license things. They are the ones we're worried about.
GUYON So why is licensing the answer to the airgun situation then? If criminals don't license their firearms why would you bother changing the law to make them license their airguns?
JUDITH Oh because law abiding people sell the guns, and the dealers are law abiding people. They sell the guns legitimately, and they will actually like to see this change as well. But look, when you look at the licensing programme about licensing guns, that was done away with in the 1980s, and the reason was is that it had already fallen into disrepute, didn't work, and what we do know is that our licensing system is looked at by other countries as a model.
GUYON In Australia you have to license every firearm and if it's the answer to your airgun solution I can't see why it couldn't be an answer to your broader...
JUDITH Well it's not the answer to airguns, it's the licensing of people who can buy the airguns, or to use those airguns, except under supervision. So the Australian situation, the Canadian situation, where you license both the person and the firearms, hasn't led to fewer deaths from firearms. In fact the deaths from firearms have dropped much more significantly in New Zealand than either of those places. They've actually been quite expensive failures.
GUYON You need to be 16 to get a firearms license. It seems incredibly young. We're debating the drinking age whether it should be 18 or 20, 16 to get a gun license, is that too young in your view?
JUDITH Well you don't just roll in and buy a gun license, you've actually got to go through a programme to test. It's a pretty good system, and what you see from people who do misuse guns, you know for criminal purposes, they're not people with firearms licenses. The vast majority of New Zealanders who have guns, have them legitimately, and should be able to.
GUYON So no change there?
JUDITH No we're not anticipating change there.
GUYON Before I leave the subject of guns, there's been a lot of debate about arming the Police, and it seems that you're stopping short of putting a gun on every hip of every Police Officer. But there is talk about perhaps every front line Police vehicle having firearms locked away in the car. Is that the sort of move that you support?
JUDITH Well that's the sort of move that the Commissioner's working on, and I certainly believe that we've got to have very quick access to firearms for our Police Officers, because they don't know what they're going into in many cases. But I'm also concerned to make sure that they be free to actually take those weapons with them, if they feel that they're in any danger, or that they're going to be needed. I don't want to see a New Zealand where every Police Officer has a gun on their hip as they're going about doing their Cops in School programmes, or walking round the shopping malls. I don't think New Zealanders want to see that, and it's not something that I would be keen to do, unless I saw that it really did make our Police Officers safer.
GUYON Would you support the idea of every Police car having firearms locked away in there so they do have access to them?
JUDITH Well that's certainly something that I would be quite positive about, if that's what the Commissioner comes back with.
GUYON So that's potentially a likely scenario in the years ahead for New Zealand.
JUDITH It is.
GUYON Can I switch, and in the second half of this interview I want to talk about the government's attitude to crime and punishment, which I guess spans both your Police and Corrections portfolios. As we said in the introduction there we've got 8,500 people in prison, that's projected to reach 10,000 by about 2014. That's the inevitable consequence of tougher and longer sentences, your policy. So presumably you view that rising number of inmates as a success?
JUDITH No I think it's actually terrible that we have so many people locked up in our prisons. But let's put it into perspective. About 9% of people who go through our courts and are convicted end up in prison. It's not 80% of them. We've got about 45,000 community based sentences that Corrections are looking after. So these are people not going to prison. But what we do know is that crime is not something that the Police cause, it's not something that Corrections cause. There are major social issues around crime, and every country is trying to grapple with those.
GUYON Well you say every country, but we have one of the highest rates of imprisonment in the western world. We lock up about 200 people per 10,000 of population [correction: about 200 people per 100,000]. It's well ahead of Australia, it's double the rate of France or Ireland. Are we twice as bad as them? Or do we have an overly harsh regime? Which is it? It has to be one of those things.
JUDITH Well I actually think we're a very safe country. That's why so many people come here to live, and so many expatriate New Zealanders come back here to raise their children, is that we are actually a very safe country.
GUYON But how can those two things be true Minister, how can it be that we lock up people at double the rate of France?
JUDITH Well what we have for instance is we have say 15% of the population Maori, we have 51% of our prison population's Maori. That's a shocking statistic. It's also true for other countries, for instance Australia, there are some parts of Australia where they have 3% of the population is Aboriginal but 30% of the prison population is.
GUYON So that's the difference?
JUDITH I think the fact is, is that when we have a quite significant group of people who unfortunately often feel that they are not part of the system, not part of the social connections that the rest of us have, there is more of a likelihood towards crime.
GUYON So you seem to be saying that if it weren't for the Maori population, then we would be similar to those other countries, because that's the explanation you've offered me.
JUDITH No, the explanation is, is that when we have more crime, particularly violent crime, we will have people imprisoned, and you know we've made big roads over the last 20, 30 years, when it comes to for instance, family violence.
GUYON Okay we'll talk about family violence because you've raised the issue. You've given as the answer the Maori population, you pointed out that as a difference. What are you doing to mitigate that?
JUDITH Well I don't think the Maori population are the cause of crime. Not at all.
GUYON You gave that as the reason with respect Minister to us being different from those countries that I mentioned.
JUDITH No, but wherever you have a group of people who feel that they are not part of society, or not part of the society that the rest of us - you're going to end up with problems, and we've seen that with gangs, who have targeted Maori.
GUYON Are we doing something about that?
JUDITH We are actually.
GUYON What is it?
JUDITH Well for instance my Associate Minister, Dr Pita Sharples, is setting up his Whare Oranga Ake, which is really very much about focusing on Maori recidivism rates, and I have no problems with that. I am absolutely convinced that for instance the marae courts that have been started up in Gisborne and South Auckland, these are all about connecting people into society and not having them distanced from society. I think it's a real problem that we've had over the years, that many people who have come into the justice system have felt justice has been done to them, not done with them.
GUYON This sucks up an enormous amount of resources, this imprisonment incarceration. The Finance Minister recently said that on current projections your department's going to be the largest government department, bigger than the Ministry of Social Development, bigger than Inland Revenue. I mean are you proud to preside over the fact that you're gonna have the largest department?
JUDITH Well no, what I am proud of is the fact that public confidence in Corrections has gone up to 61% which is 20% more in percentage points than it ever was under any previous government. So what we do have is a system where we are doubling the amount of drug and alcohol treatment for our prisoners. We're increasing education and we're increasing employment opportunities. We've got half of our prisoners involved in employment and training any day, and I actually think that's a pretty good thing to have happened. But we're not going to see a turnaround over night. This takes a long time, and Corrections has to take the people the courts send to them. The Police have to do their job with keeping the country safer, and they do, they do a very good job. But actually we've got major social issues that actually have caused a lot of this imprisonment.
GUYON Okay, we've established it does cost a lot of money. Let's talk about what sort of value we get from that. The Justice Minister back in the 1990s held a different portfolio from you that Doug Graham - I want to play you a clip of what he said about whether all this was working.
Doug Graham: 'Four and a half thousand prisoners in jail when I was the Minister 15 years ago, there are now eight, you know so are we any better off?'
Can you answer that question are we better off with all these more people in prison?
JUDITH Well what we do know is that since Doug's day we've had methamphetamine come into this country in a major way, we've had a decade of it not being treated seriously as we're now treating it. So that's certainly fuelled a lot of crime, but also alcohol for instance. But I think we are safer. Just come out to Counties Manukau, you know I'd take Doug back out to South Auckland, I'll tell him it's a lot safer than it was years ago.
GUYON Do you really think we're safer with more people locked up?
JUDITH We're actually safer because we've got more Police on the streets, we'll have 600 more by the end of next year, and we are much safer in terms of how we actually deal with recidivist offenders.
GUYON The Chief Justice Sian Elias has been in the criminal justice system for 40 years. She said in a speech in July last year, that the more punitive sanctions for those who commit serious offences have not made our community safer. She says imprisonment does not reduce crime. Do you agree with that?
JUDITH Well I'm already seeing a big drop in crime in Counties Manukau.
GUYON But nationally violent crime, went up 9% as you saw in the introduction. Overall crime rates went up 4%. It's not working is it?
JUDITH Well actually when you look at what that violent crime is, and it's mostly reported family violence, what it does mean is that we've still got people who are very unsafe in their own homes, and we have massive problems with alcohol abuse and drug addictions.
GUYON But if it was working quite simply we wouldn't have seen a doubling in the prison population over the last decade or so, and crime rates staying about the same. It's not possible is it? If you were locking people up and that was rising and it was working you'd see the crime rate falling. There doesn't seem to be any correlation.
JUDITH Well it depends what you actually count in terms of crime. If you tell people don't call the Police if you're getting beaten up at home, because that's a family issue, then you're going to see your crime rates drop. That's not something I'm prepared to do. I think we have to take this very seriously. People are not leaving New Zealand because of crime, they're actually coming back to New Zealand because it's a much safer place than many other countries.
GUYON I wonder whether everyone who's locked up actually needs to be locked away. We look at who we're locking up, 40% of people have committed violence offences, 20% committed sexual offences. I think a lot of people would agree that they need to be locked away for safety reasons. But the other people, driver's license offences, those sorts of things. I mean are you not trying to build any support for non punitive sentences? Do we really need to lock all those people up?
JUDITH Well, the Corrections take the people who are sent to them by the courts and so when you look at the court decisions to send people to jail, it's often because of the massive recidivism, and the fact that people haven't learnt their lessons. But I would have to say I would much rather have people for instance being able to get drug and alcohol treatments outside of jail, than having to come to jail to get that treatment. I mean that frankly I think is something that is being looked at, and it's certainly something I'd much rather see. Prison is a very expensive place to send someone for us to give them drug and alcohol treatment.
GUYON Well it's a very very expensive place. Something like $90,000 a year to lock someone up. We are doing a comparison, it costs $32,000 a year to board and tuition at Kings College, the exclusive private school in Auckland.
JUDITH I don't know that Kings necessarily wants to be referred to ...
GUYON But it's a pretty gratuitous example though isn't it? That it costs three times that to send someone to prison. Aren't you looking to more community based sentences for lower level crimes, that don't endanger the community?
JUDITH We're already looking after 45,000 of those each year, and what we've seen is a massive increase in those community based sentences. One of the issues I have to deal with when I first became the Minister was a lack of confidence in the parole system. That is something that we have been turning around. But you know I have to employ over 300 more staff in the Probation Service to be able to get that working well, but you know the fact is if people commit the crimes and the Police certainly resolve them at the highest level of resolutions ever, now with almost 50% resolutions, people will in fact have to go through the court system. But there are ways that the Police are dealing with this too. Certainly in Counties Manukau they've been trialling an alternative resolution process for minor offences, particularly drunken offences, those sorts of things, public order ones, taking people home, making sure that they are out of the danger, and to stop other crimes coming along, much more serious crimes later in the night. But there are things that the Police can do and they are trialling it and that will be rolled out.
GUYON Right we'd better leave it there, we've run out of time. Thanks very much for joining us this morning, appreciate it.
ENDS

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