When it feels so inclined, the Key government can put its foot down hard on the accelerator. Time and again the period for public submissions (and the scrutiny of them by MPs) has been drastically shortened, supposedly so that a busy government can press onwards and get things done. Yet when action is called for by government on a politically divisive issue… then time will bend and clocks will melt, like Camembert in the sunshine. Reportedly, it will be March 2017 before we get any substantive explanation as to what may possibly have poisoned the water and sickened the 5,000 residents of Havelock North.
In the same fashion, it will take many more months before Social Development Minister (and acting Youth Minister) Anne Tolley and Justice Minister Amy Adams finally get around to taking a proposal to Cabinet on whether to re-classify 17 year old youthful offenders as juveniles, rather than as adults. At his post Cabinet press conference yesterday, Prime Minister John Key confirmed that neither Minister has yet reported back to Cabinet on this issue. Reportedly, Adams has been considering the proposal since at least mid 2015.
No, Key told Scoop, he didn’t know when the Ministers might report back, and no, he didn’t think this delay signified a lack of interest in the issue by government. Would it come before Cabinet this year? Probably, Key indicated.
As has already been pointed out, New Zealand – and about nine US states – are outliers in the developed world in treating 17 year olds as adults under the criminal law. People who are 17 can’t drink in a pub but they can be charged and jailed as adults. Perhaps to avoid alienating its tough on crime supporters, the National government really is dragging its feet on this one.
Children’s Commissioner and former principal youth court judge Andrew Becroft said New Zealand, as a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, should have raised the age at which offenders were treated as adults a long time ago… “We are just entirely out of step and we just can’t go on simply ignoring it year after year – it’s just unacceptable and it represents really an enduring stain on our otherwise good justice record. It’s got to be fixed, it’s got to be addressed and it’s got to be done now.”
“Done now” being a pretty fluid concept, obviously. The rationale for speedier action is (a) the social and economic cost of this country’s high incarceration rates (b) the ample medical evidence that adolescent brains are less developed than adult brains. This is one of the reasons commonly given for the delay on cannabis reform, on the grounds that the demon drug may damage undeveloped brains. Yet we don’t regard that same undeveloped brain as a mitigating factor in criminal culpability, sentencing and incarceration. How come?
After all, there is plenty of evidence that treating 17 year olds as juveniles is likely to reduce public costs over time, because the interventions that then swing into play will lessen the likelihood of a transition to hardened adult criminality. The data indicates that such interventions succeed in reducing crime.
The youth court process also prevents the accumulation of an arrest record that can seriously damage the chances of future employment. If – as Key suggested yesterday – Adams and Tolley are also working on a range of complex related matters, surely they can carve this age issue out and get a proposal for change to Cabinet. According to Key’s timeframe, they’ve been working on it since April, and yet there’s still no sign of a recommendation from these Ministers – who, lest we forget, are each being paid in the vicinity of a quarter of a million dollars a year, in order to get things done.
As mentioned, it will be March 2017 before the inquiry headed by Justice Lyn Stevens reports back on the animal originated, water borne illness outbreak in Havelock North. Six more months before causes can be identified and remedial/preventive action is taken. Here are the inquiry’s terms of reference:
• The causes of the incident including, but not limited to, engineering, catchment and infrastructure management, containment and process management, aquifer management, district and regional consenting processes, and monitoring and enforcement activities
• The timing and adequacy of steps taken by Hastings District Council, Hawke’s Bay District Health Board and any other party, with regard to testing and diagnostics, reporting, public communication and ensuring a safe water supply in the short and long term
• The practices used at each stage, from identifying that a contaminant was present to (and inclusive of) the response and recovery stages of the public health incident, including but not limited to timeliness, adequacy, effectiveness, coordination and information sharing, readiness of systems, and triggers for action
• The response by central government agencies and the adequacy of support provided by them at the local level
• The actions that should be taken in response to any identified and confirmed contamination source, and actions to ensure a safe water supply can be provided to Havelock North
• Practices and strategies to ensure the prevention of future such occurrences
• The implementation of contingency plans for responding to water contamination and public health outbreak incidents by the relevant agencies
• Any lessons and improvements that can be made more broadly in the management of the water supply network in Havelock North and/or more broadly across New Zealand
• The regulatory regimes under which various agencies operate and any lessons and improvements that can be made to local and central government systems or practices to expedite and deal effectively with the identification of public health outbreaks
• Any improvements that can be made in any future response to emergency events of this nature
That first item – ‘causes including but not limited to’…could conceivably include any contribution by intensive dairying. There is a plausible sequence whereby the products of intensive dairying are borne by the flood occurring ten days before the outbreak. Given that the inquiry conclusions are unlikely to be definitive, it will then come down to how willing the government will be to take the inquiry findings and join the dots. Not very willing, one suspects, given the government’s past record on water management.
In the meantime… perhaps central government should be announcing a freeze on any moves by local authorities that are likely to intensify farming activity in the catchment area – at least until the inquiry reports back. Arguably, it should also (via the local DHB) be carrying out a crash programme of medical advice to the Havelock North community, to alert them on how to recognise the symptoms of the serious, enduring medical problems that they may now be facing.
Seymour the beneficiary
Like many other state dependents, I’m sure Act Party leader David Seymour works hard and makes a contribution to his family and community. Yet he’s the very last person in New Zealand who should be depicting himself in public as the champion of the virtuous high income battler groaning under the tax burden of the socialist state. As Guyon Espiner pointed out to him on RNZ this morning, the top tax rate has actually been reduced under the government he serves.
More to the point, Seymour would have to be the highest paid beneficiary of state largesse in the entire country. He’s in government – and raking in a ministerial salary – as a result of government largesse. People pay tax in order to receive public services. Maybe – instead of bemoaning taxation – Seymour should be arguing (on behalf of the middle class) for the provision of more and better public services. After all, he’s doing pretty well out of his own array of government perks.
Prince Buster R.I.P.
Prince Buster, the King of Ska – and the inspiration for Britain’s ska revival in the 1980s – died a successful businessman last week in Miami, Florida at the age of 78. A former boxer and security guard in the 1950s, Buster was mentored by the legendary sound system/music industry mogul Coxsone Dodd. As Jamaica’s Daily Gleaner newspaper said in its obituary last week, Buster went on to produce the “Oh Carolina” track by the Folkes Brothers, the track commonly regarded as the entry point for Jamaican music into the modern pop era. Ska, rock steady, reggae… Buster was involved in all those epic transitions, and when bands like Madness (named after a Buster song) The Beat and the Specials revived ska in the early 1980s, it was clear who they regarded as the pioneer.
Choosing tracks is difficult. Here for starters is “Al Capone Guns Don’t Argue”:
His rocking “Ten Commandments” is a fine novelty dance track, but ‘Ghost Dance’ is the bomb, a track he co-produced with the young Lee Perry, complete with duppy (ghost) sound effects.
And finally, here’s the great “Shaking Up Orange Street…”