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Crimes Amendment Bill (No 2)

Third Reading

Thursday 15 September 2011 Hansard source (external site)

PowerHon SIMON POWER (Minister of Justice) Link to this

I move, That the Crimes Amendment Bill (No 2) be now read a third time. This bill reflects the Government’s, and I hope Parliament’s, determination to prevent the abuse of the most vulnerable in New Zealand’s society: our children and vulnerable adults. In addition to work in other portfolios, such as the recent Green Paper for Vulnerable Children, one of the goals of the Government when it came to office was to develop an appropriate response from the criminal justice system to violence against children. Consequently, in 2008, in the course of carrying out a review of Part 8 of the Crimes Act, which is about offences against the person, I invited the Law Commission to give specific regard to how the provisions of Part 8 could better protect children. In response, the Law Commission recommended that the scope of the offences and duties relating to care of children be broadened, that an objective standard of care be imposed, and that penalty levels be adjusted to better reflect the gravity of offending. As it eventuated, the Government has decided to give priority to these specific measures over and above the wider reforms that sought to tidy up Part 8 of the Crimes Act.

This bill will strengthen the ability of agencies to hold individuals to account for harming the most vulnerable in our community. It will ensure that not only will the perpetrators of these acts be held accountable but also, significantly and importantly, those members of households who witness those incidents and turn a blind eye to the abuse or fail to take measures to stop ongoing incidents will be held accountable. The changes to the Crimes Act will also mean that those who have responsibility for children and who ill-treat or neglect a child can no longer use ignorance or thoughtlessness as a defence. They will be held accountable according to more objective standards of conduct that are to be expected of parents and caregivers.

The bill also makes other important changes to the criminal law. The scope of the sexual grooming offence is clarified in order to support active policing and the protection of children from the predatory behaviour of those using the internet as a medium. A property right criterion is added to the definition of “claim of right”, to ensure that use of this defence conforms to common law and comparable overseas jurisdictions. The bill also increases the penalty for the offence of possession of an offensive weapon. But it is my hope that the biggest impact of this bill will be to help to encourage those in day-to-day contact with endangered children to come forward if they know that abuse or neglect is taking place. We all know that the price of silence in such cases may be the perpetuation of abuse and neglect over an entire childhood or, in some cases, the savage loss of a young, blameless life. I commend this bill to the House.

PrasadDr RAJEN PRASAD (Labour) Link to this

It is a pleasure to take a final call on the Crimes Amendment Bill (No 2), which, as the Minister has said, is important legislation. I hope he is satisfied that the Opposition has treated it as such, and that at every stage, including the select committee deliberation, we ensured that the interests of children were at the forefront.

This legislation does address some aspects of the history of child abuse in New Zealand. The abuse is awful, and there is a level of public disquiet about it, in particular about a number of recent cases, and this is an attempt to address that. Citizens also feel a level of frustration about the inability of some parents to keep their children, and the vulnerable people in their care, safe. It is important for those reasons. Expectations of parents have been codified, particularly with respect to children and vulnerable adults. It is a good response to that; it is also a response to public expectations that these matters will be addressed, and we have supported that.

The bill makes it a legal duty for caregivers to keep their children safe, and that is no bad thing. Those who do not do so commit a criminal offence, and the penalties for that offence are quite severe; 10 years of imprisonment is a severe punishment. So at least it will be in the minds of parents, and that is to be supported. Parents and caregivers now have a duty to provide a level of care, to provide the necessaries, and to take steps to protect those whom they are caring for from injury and harm.

The thought does go through our minds that in the way the bill has addressed the problem there is an assumption that this was the problem—that there was a lack of willingness of parents and caregivers to provide for the safety of people in their care. That, I believe, is debatable. Why people do this is actually a much bigger question; certainly, the bill does not address it. Those closely connected with taking care of children and vulnerable adults will now have to take reasonable steps to protect the victim. No reasonable person will find any of these provisions troublesome, especially if they are focused only on holding those who abuse accountable to be appropriately punished. That was the view.

The other point I will make is that it would be a mistake to believe that these provisions will actually solve the problem we have before us or eliminate the problem of abuse and neglect of children and vulnerable adults. I do not think on its own it will do that, although it goes some way. The Children’s Commissioner in this case made perhaps the most valuable point: if these provisions are to work, they must be complemented with an investment in preventive and other responsive services for those children and families who find themselves in vulnerable positions. Many of those who have been abused and neglected have had terrible lives, and whether there are issues with mental health, depression, lack of confidence or self-respect, poor education, etc., those issues need to be addressed as well. That is the other part of this issue that has not been addressed here.

We have reminded the Government throughout that those issues need to be taken into account, especially where it comes to the effects of poverty. Many of these people—many of those who abuse in identified cases—are poor, and those issues have not been addressed. Certainly, over 2 weeks of questioning from this side of the House we have not been satisfied that the Government speakers—and, indeed, the Ministers—have answered that question fully for us.

I just wanted to also say very briefly—and it is the last point I will make—that it was perhaps a mistake and an error to have the claim of right issue embedded in this particular bill. The way that has been done, there are, as Charles Chauvel was saying in the Committee stage, unintended consequences. That is that those in cases in which a claim of right appropriately applies now do not have that defence before them.

With those last words, I am pleased to support this bill, and now that it has come to this point, we look forward to seeing its effectiveness. Thank you.

SepuloniCARMEL SEPULONI (Labour) Link to this

Thank you for the opportunity to speak on the Crimes Amendment Bill (No 2). Over the course of the time that we have debated this bill, it has been a rigorous debate, and we have debated the merits of the bill. Labour, of course, supports any measure to prevent and mitigate harm or abuse against children. However, we have reservations about certain provisions and their ability to be effective in combating the actual problem. I will not go on for too long; I will point them out just very briefly. I feel that my colleague Rajen has done a good job of discussing them, and we discussed them fully yesterday when we were debating the bill.

Firstly, the lack of urgency demonstrated by the National Government with regard to child abuse and family violence is of concern to this side of the House. National members put up legislation like this, and act as though they are taking it seriously, but we know that they are not. The bill is not being pushed through under urgency, like some of the other legislation that really should not have been urgent at all. I refer to legislation like the fire-at-will bill. I will say it over and over again: the Domestic Violence Reform Bill continues to languish at the bottom of the Order Paper, despite the fact that it was widely consulted upon and the sector is waiting for this Government to implement it. The lack of urgency demonstrated by the National Government with regard to child abuse and family violence is of concern to us.

Second is the National Government’s continual emphasis on the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff approach. Although Labour is supporting this bill, that is what it is. It comes after the fact; it will not stop a child getting abused. This bill is about what happens after abuse has occurred. We have heard many speakers on this side of the House talk about the correlation between poverty and abuse, and we have seen nothing from the National Government that responds to the poverty that we as a country are facing. If that problem is not addressed, how can we possibly pretend that we will be addressing the issue of abuse at all?

Thirdly, the issue that was raised by my colleague Charles Chauvel last week was the proposed modification of the defence of claim of right. He discussed that proposal in full last night. Those are the reservations that we have. Although Labour supports this bill, I think it is very important that we note those concerns. Thank you very much.

FlavellTE URUROA FLAVELL (Māori Party—Waiariki) Link to this

As we approach the closing of Parliament, the heat and speed increases as the Government rushes to push particular priorities through. This is one area: proposals to further protect children from assault, neglect, and ill-treatment have been put on a faster track than I think was originally intended. Although the Māori Party has not supported much of the justice-driven agenda of this Government, we do support the concept of creating a new offence to deal with the failure to protect a child or vulnerable adult from the risks of death, grievous bodily harm, or sexual assault as a consequence of an unlawful act by a third party. This is about failure of legal duty—taking reasonable steps to protect a child or vulnerable adult, knowing that they were at risk. It is good that the Crimes Amendment Bill (No 2) is not just about those in the household but, more broadly, covers a staff member of a hospital, an institution, or residence where the victim lives. The thing we should all realise is that violence is not colour-blind or class-specific in any way, or confined to any suburbs or any particular population. We must be broad in our thinking and we must universally condemn any attacks made on our most precious tamariki, our children.

The Māori Party supports the prevention of ill-treatment, neglect, and violence against our tamariki and those who are vulnerable, including those who are in care because of mental incapacity and those sorts of things. In one of my earlier speeches I raised the importance of recognising the need for a defence when the adult accused of failing to protect is a battered woman, and also our concern that criminalisation and increased penalties are used as a means of addressing serious social ills. These are expensive responses, with no evidence to show they work, but we are in a no-win situation with this particular bill when the health and safety of our tamariki is at stake. In that regard, the Māori Party supports absolutely this bill.

ShanksKATRINA SHANKS (National) Link to this

It is my pleasure to take a call on the Crimes Amendment Bill (No 2) in its third reading. It is good to see that the majority of the parties in this House are supporting this bill. I think it will certainly make a difference to the lives of our most vulnerable people: our vulnerable adults and our young children. It is disappointing to see that the Green Party cannot support this bill and I really have problems understanding what part of this bill it does not like in terms of protecting our most vulnerable from abuse and neglect.

I thank the officials who worked on this bill in the Social Services Committee. We worked well as a team. I also thank my select committee members. We do not normally get bills like this in our select committee, but we are a select committee with an absolutely huge heart, and we have, as members would expect from the Social Services Committee, the interest of the vulnerable always at the forefront of what we are doing. I think we asked the right questions, and we held the officials to account either when we did not understand what we were being told or when we disagreed with some of the reasons we were given. We challenged them, and we sent them back and back and back again. I think that shows members that we, as a select committee, took this very seriously. We think we have put together legislation that will protect our most vulnerable.

This bill has four main objectives. It clarifies the claim of right defence, aligning it with the original purpose of the defence at common law. That was spoken on at length in the select committee, and in the House it has been debated pretty thoroughly, especially last night. It toughens the law around sexual grooming. It seeks to protect our most vulnerable from abuse and neglect and to bring those who are accountable for those horrific offences to justice. And it increases the penalty for possession of an offensive weapon. The bill is an essential component of National’s work to tackle violent crime and to make communities safer. It is also an important move to ensure that New Zealand children and vulnerable adults have a future free from assault, neglect, and ill treatment.

Throughout the debate we have heard that New Zealand has one of the worst instances of child neglect and abuse in the OECD. It is not good enough that these children and vulnerable adults are forgotten. Every single one of these children and vulnerable adults could have had a future, and this National-led Government wants them to.

The bill makes three key changes to ensure they are adequately protected. It creates a new offence of failure to protect a child or vulnerable adult from the risk of death, grievous bodily harm, or sexual assault as a consequence of an unlawful act by a third party, or failure of a third party to perform a legal duty. It doubles the maximum penalty for cruelty to a child from 5 years’ to 10 years’ imprisonment. It extends the offence of neglect or abuse to include vulnerable adults, and it extends a legal duty on parents and caregivers, who have a duty to provide the necessities of life, to take reasonable steps to protect a child or vulnerable adult from injury also.

This bill is about responsibility, it is about protection, and it is about justice. We know that this one piece of legislation is not a silver bullet to protect our children and vulnerable adults from abuse or neglect, but we hope that it will send a clear message that it is not OK.

It was my pleasure to chair the select committee that had this bill before it, and I commend this bill to the House. Thank you.

BeaumontCAROL BEAUMONT (Labour) Link to this

Of course Labour supports any measures to prevent and mitigate the harm of abuse against children. We therefore support the Crimes Amendment Bill (No 2).

We do have some reservations—in particular, about the link between poverty and violence, which is one that is being ignored by this Government. Thank you.

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A party vote was called for on the question,

That the Crimes Amendment Bill (No 2) be now read a third time.

Ayes 109

Noes 11

Bill read a third time.

Speeches