Bryce Edwards: National wants to brand the Govt as soft on crime

Bryce Edwards: National wants to brand the Govt as soft on crime

As Government politicians put the boot into National’s bootcamp announcement yesterday, Christopher Luxon would have been celebrating. His populist announcement wasn’t only designed to scratch an electoral itch, but to cynically trap his opponents into looking soft on crime. And it probably worked.

Soon after announcing his policy for bootcamps and electronic bracelets for youth, National received the desired condemnation from liberals and the left.

Green co-leader and Government minister Marama Davidson declared the policy to be “absolutely disgusting”, saying it was “harmful” and “deeply racist”. She argued that it was “classist” and that it was about “demonising and further stigmatising entire communities”. She added that the National Party “protect their own communities and stigmatise brown, poor, low income communities.”

Labour ministers weren’t as hard-line, but also expressed their deep opposition to the policy of targeting youth repeat offender with what Luxon called “tough love”. His policy would create a new category of repeat youth offenders (aged 10-17), placing them under intensive supervision, with some electronically monitored, and those aged 15-17 sent to military academies for a year.

Other commentators joined the condemnation – including Amnesty International and the Children’s Commissioner. On social media, some on the left labelled the policy as “fascist”.

In contrast, coming after much media publicity for a “youth crimewave”, especially in Auckland, the public are primed to receive a policy that is perceived to take the problem seriously.

Cynical move from National

National’s policy is designed for electoral calculation. Even if it is implemented, only a minuscule number of young offenders would qualify, and the military would have very little capacity to run this type of programme.

It is questionable whether National politicians even believe in their own policy. For example, Luxon himself had previously said he opposed using electronic ankle bracelets on children. Yesterday, he relented, saying “if that has to be the case, so be it”.

Similarly, MP Erica Stanford went on the record last month opposing Act’s ankle bracelet policy: “We’re going to whack an ankle bracelet on them? I mean, it just breaks my heart that we’re even talking about this.”

Criminologists have told National that such policies don’t work and bootcamps are particularly questionable. Today, University of Canterbury sociologist Jarrod Gilbert is reported as saying “The data is unequivocal – they have very little, or no impact” and that “In some instances, they make problems worse.” He is reported as preferring National’s more preventative “Social investment” approach to ward off the development of young criminals.

Labour and National are turning up the volume on law and order

Crime is becoming a key debate between Labour and National, and this is likely to ramp up as the election draws closer. In a sense, National is merely responding to Labour’s own attempts to up the ante on law and order this year.

Earlier in the year, the Government clearly started to panic on law and order issues, in response to polling. For example, an Ipsos survey showed law and order was ranked as the fifth-most important issue facing New Zealand, after many years of lower concern. And according to this, the public currently views National as the party most capable of managing the crime/law issue.

The Prime Minister then sacked Poto Williams as Police Minister after she developed a reputation for being soft on crime. Ardern put in the more conservative Chris Hipkins, who immediately started talking tough, and quickly announced more funding for police. Kris Faafoi was also shifted out of Justice, and new minister Kiri Allan announced a crackdown on gangs.

Labour also started spending big in this area, committing over half a billion dollars of extra funding for policing, crime, and prisons in the Budget. This meant that, for a while, Labour could claim to be more hard-line than National. Certainly, in terms of funding police numbers, Labour has become much more pro-police than National.

The need for a more sophisticated debate on law and order

In launching the new law and order policy during the Hamilton West by-election campaign Christopher Luxon made no attempt to disguise that this latest policy is about winning votes.

But the policy only has the chance of being electorally successful because there is actually growing concern about anti-social behaviour developing in New Zealand society, especially coming out of the last two years of Covid. Worsening inequality and poverty is clearly having a significant impact. Under-investment by successive governments in deprived communities has resulted in a propensity toward crime.

And the massive transfer of wealth to the rich under the current government, along with its failure to protect the poor, means we might expect crime and other social problems to continue to get worse. In particular, the Government needs to deliver solutions for the cost of living crisis, especially for those at the bottom of society.

Marama Davidson is absolutely right when she says that a preventative approach that deals with the root causes of crime is necessary – “young people and families need the basics, need housing, health, support, income and also community healing responses”. But the problem for her party and Labour is that they are not actually delivering this.

What’s more, the Labour Government, supported by the Greens, has its own increasingly tough-on-crime approach. National are quite right to point out that the Government already puts youth as young as 12 years old in ankle bracelets.

In lieu of the Government making any real progress on the causes of crime, they will rightly face an opposition that politicises the issue. The problem is that, in reaction, Labour is likely to counter National with its own cynical attempts to prove it’s not soft on crime. A sad escalation of “Laura Norder” politics is therefore on the cards for 2023.


Dr Bryce Edwards is Political Analyst in Residence at Victoria University of Wellington. He is the director of the Democracy Project.

This article can be republished under a Creative Commons CC BY-ND 4.0  license. Attributions should include a link to the Democracy Project.  


Further reading on National’s bootcamps, justice, and corrections

Luke Malpass (Stuff): Christopher Luxon reheats the Big Mac with his new boot camp announcements
Richard Harman (Politik): National ignores its own advice (paywalled)
Simon Ewing-Jarvie: Luxon’s 4th Circle of Hell-Boot Camps (Again!)
Adam Pearse (Herald): Law change needed to facilitate National’s plan to put ankle bracelets on 10-year-olds
Maxine Jacobs (Stuff): ‘Been there, done that, failed’ – Luxon’s proposed youth military boot camps doomed, lawyer says
Lloyd Burr (Today FM): Boot Camp déjà vu will get ticks for blue
Heather du Plessis-Allan: It might be worth hearing National out on the boot camp idea
John Minto (Daily Blog): Christopher Luxon – why not a boot camp for tax dodgers?
Bridie Witton (Stuff): National MPs stand by ‘dehumanising’ electronic bracelet for young offenders policy
Nathan Morton (Herald): National’s youth offender ‘military academy’ idea slammed by experts
Jenna Lynch (Newshub): Defence Force offered no policy advice to National on military academies crime idea
Anneke Smith (RNZ): Youth workers challenge National’s proposal to send teen offenders to boot camps
Russell Palmer (RNZ): National Party youth boot camps policy criticised as ineffective and populist
Jamie Ensor (Newshub): National’s military academy crime proposals skewered by Government ministers, Greens
Adam Pearse (Herald): ‘Fitter, faster criminals’: Wide condemnation of National’s youth crime policy
RNZ: ACT welcomes youth crime proposals, Greens label it ’embarrassing’
Jonah Franke-Bowell (Stuff): Crime-hit Hamilton businesses laud National’s youth crime policy
Russell Palmer (RNZ): Youth crime boot camps: National proposes military academies, electronic monitoring
Jamie Ensor (Newshub): National wants to send youth offenders to military academies for up to year
Jonah Franke-Bowell (Stuff): National would bring back military boot camps for young offenders
Maiki Sherman (1News): Year-long ‘military academies’ for young offenders proposed by National
Emma Hatton (Newsroom): Police take more DNA samples from young Māori
Anneke Smith (RNZ): Sentencing discounts benefit offenders while punishing victims, advocate says


Other items of interest and importance today

Claire Trevett (Herald): The implicit warning to PM Jacinda Ardern in China President Xi Jinping’s rebuke of Canada’s Justin Trudeau (paywalled)
Jo Moir (Newsroom): The differences with Xi that Ardern won’t raise
Sam Sachdeva (Newsroom): China envoy: ‘There is no red line redder than the Taiwan question’
Thomas Manch (Stuff): PM Jacinda Ardern says NZ must be able to raise issues with China without ‘retaliatory acts’
Claire Trevett (Herald): Ardern at Apec: PM Jacinda Ardern on Xi-Trudeau encounter ahead of meeting China’s president
Jamie Ensor (Newshub): Jacinda Ardern at APEC: What she plans to tell Xi Jinping, and why she plans to give Canada’s Justin Trudeau a ‘ribbing’
Amelia Wade (Newshub): Jacinda Ardern’s meeting with Xi Jinping confirmed as video shows Chinese President giving Justin Trudeau dressing down
RNZ: Jacinda Ardern and Xi Jinping scheduled to meet on Friday night
Josie Pagani (Stuff): Communiques aren’t much good in a gunfight
Nina Hall (Stuff): How New Zealand helped to shape racist world order
Newshub: Jacinda Ardern, Christopher Luxon react to Donald Trump’s latest bid for US Presidency
Tess Brunton (RNZ): ‘A lot of them should come back’ – Indigenous Australians celebrate return of taonga
RNZ: Tūhura Otago Museum return Indigenous Australian taonga

Gordon Campbell: On the case for universal free dental care
Hannah Martin (Stuff): Stress, sleep and smoking: How mentally and physically healthy are Kiwis?
RNZ: Daily smoking rates at all-time low but remain high for Māori, figures show
Jacob Johnson (1News): Smoking falls to lowest rate ever, but vaping’s on the rise
Aziz Al Saafin (1News): Booze you can use: How our alcohol laws are changing
Rachel Moore (Stuff): Infection experts to take aim at spreadable diseases through Te Niwha research network
Michael Daly (Stuff): The chances of being killed by a shark are tiny compared to major killers – cancer and heart disease
Mihi Blair (Herald): Are Māori voices finally being heard in health? (paywalled)
RNZ: More NZ babies born to unmarried parents for the first time, figures show
Ella Morgan (Stuff): Population rises despite falling birth rate in latest Stats NZ figures
Stephen Forbes (Local Democracy Reporting): South Auckland GPs back Pharmac’s planned meningococcal B vaccine roll-out
Ruth Hill (RNZ): Diabetic accuses Pharmac of faulty analysis of glucose monitors
Kaysha Brownlie (Newshub): New Zealand health services unable to keep up with demand of increasing dementia patients
Ananda Gillies (Newshub): Pancreatic cancer patient raising awareness of deadly ‘forgotten cancer’
Te Rina Kowhai (Newshub): Ancient Māori health treatments make successful comeback with no safety complaints despite 65,000 treatments

Lynley Ward (Herald): Covid-19 Omicron outbreak: Infection deaths behind New Zealand’s record 2022 mortality rate
Hannah Martin (Stuff): Only 35% of Covid cases being reported, ministry says, after earlier saying it was 75%
Jamie Morton (Herald): Covid-19: What epidemiologist’s CO2 readings reveal about public transport risk
RNZ: Covid-19: ‘Risk-based approach’ guiding decisions on vaccine boosters

Henry Cooke (Guardian): At the 2023 election New Zealand will face the starkest choice between left and right in decades
Martyn Bradbury (Daily Blog): 15.5% Green in new poll??? Let’s discuss how they leverage that
Mike Webster (The Conversation): Parliament is not a normal workplace – anti-bullying policy must start with ethical leadership and accountability

Glenn McConnell (Stuff): Here’s how Megan Woods’ $3.8 billion housing fund has been spent so far
Glenn McConnell (Stuff): Megan Woods announces more than half a billion spend on housing infrastructure
Dan Sheridan (Bay of Plenty Times): Tauranga gets green light for housing expansion
Tina Law (Press): Government appoints investigator over Christchurch’s refusal to implement housing density rules
RNZ: Govt’s investigator working with Christchurch council over housing intensification concerns
Oliver Lewis (BusinessDesk): Government puts Christchurch on notice over housing defiance (paywalled)

Anna Whyte (Stuff): Tree advocates ‘furious’ at planning overhaul, but Govt says protections on the way
Brent Edwards (NBR): ‘Wait and see’ whether RMA reform will deliver cost savings(paywalled)
Waatea New: Backlash to resource management change

Tom Pullar-Strecker (Stuff): BusinessNZ to represent employers in FPA negotiations ‘on case by case basis’
Phil Pennington (RNZ): Holidays Act fix: Cost of backpay for health workers balloons to $2b
Cameron Smith (Herald): Cost of living, inflation playing Christmas Grinch for businesses(paywalled)
Thomas Coughlan (Herald): Kiwis want fuel tax cut to continue after January – poll
Matt Skinner (Interest): The Commerce Commission emphasizes the importance of shopping around to help boost fuel competition
Greg Ninness (Interest): The number of overseas workers coming to NZ could be back up to pre-pandemic levels by the beginning of next year
Jem Traylen (BusinessDesk): Countdown increases fair pay with ‘unprecedented’ 19%
Brianna Mcilraith (Stuff): Will the office Santa leave a Christmas bonus for you under the tree this year?
William Hewett (Newshub): Cost of living: Transporting NZ calling for fuel tax cut to remain so Kiwis can have ‘certainty’
The initiative aims to change pattern of poor behaviour directed at women tradies

Miriam Bell (Stuff): Working to live: The office is here to stay, but it will feel more like a hotel
Andrea Fox (Herald): The big milk squeeze: Back to the future for NZ dairy industry and its players (paywalled)
1News: Bad behaviour on worksites – new anti-harassment guidelines coming
Ripu Bhatia (Stuff): Law profession making strides in gender equality
Leonard Powell (RNZ): Employers told to pinch a cobber’s idea and hire some grey power

Marc Daalder (Newsroom): Luxon’s climate policy ‘donut’ no anomaly
Bobby Banerjee (The Conversation): Why COP27 should be the last of these pointless corporate love-ins
Jane Clifton (Listener/Herald): Carbon stink: Tim Flannery on why NZ is barking up the wrong trees (paywalled)
Giles Dexter (RNZ): Groundswell group delivers petition calling for stop to farm-level emissions scheme
Rachael Kelly (Stuff): Groundswell NZ presents its food tax petition at Parliament
Linda Clark (BusinessDesk): Smell the blossoms while we still have them (paywalled)
Rod Oram (Newsroom): North and South far apart at COP27

RNZ: Enthusiastic response for govt plans to revamp special education
John Gerritsen (RNZ): Overhaul of the $1.2 billion special education system announced
Abbey Wakefield (1News): Govt acknowledges children with high needs being failed at school
William Hewett (Newshub): Principals slam Christopher Luxon for comments on truancy, saying he ‘doesn’t understand’ school attendance
Mark Quinlivan (Newshub): ACT leader David Seymour backs Christopher Luxon’s comments on principals amid criticism
David Farrar: A new low for school attendance

Simon Kingham (The Conversation): Lower speed limits don’t just save lives – they make NZ towns and cities better places to live
Melanie Carroll (Stuff): Have we fallen out of love with Air New Zealand?
Nile Bijoux (Stuff): Explainer: What the hell is the Clean Car Standard?

Steven Cowan: RNZ National: Where the facts go to die
Aaron Smale (Newsroom): Lake Alice victims file police complaint
David Farrar: The Te Urewera injunction
RNZ: Incremental changes needed to address supply chain issues – NZIER
Finn Blackwell (RNZ): Wayne Brown lays down law over makeup of Auckland Council committees
Dewi Preece (1News): NZ’s broadcasting history being preserved in three-year project
Herald: Racism & The Lipstick Counter: Jessie Gurunathan, Jess Molina, Siposetu Duncan & More On Why The Beauty Industry Needs Decolonising