McVicar rejects “loopy” tag – and he may bridle at being called an “expert” too

The headline atop a press release from the National Party complained the Government had again showed a contempt for expertise:  “Govt arrogantly dismissing experts and academics”.

The Ardern-Peters Government continued to arrogantly show it didn’t want its ideas challenged and that it is willing to insult those who disagree with its ministers, National’s Deputy Leader Paula Bennett says in the statement

Point of Order was aware of some recent examples she referenced.

Housing Minister Phil Twyford scoffed at the ‘kids’ at Treasury who were ‘fresh out of university and … completely disconnected from reality’ when they produced a forecast which raised questions about the impact of the KiwiBuild policy on residential construction.

Economic Development Minister David Parker claimed the ANZ’s business confidence surveys were ‘junk’ and ‘you should throw them away’ because he didn’t like their findings.

Bennett also mentioned Justice Minister Andrew Little for saying constitutional law experts are wrong in claiming the Waka Jumping Bill breaches the Bill of Rights.

This was on top of other ministers like Stuart Nash and David Clark who have said they don’t even read official advice, she said.

She went on to demand:

“This arrogant dismissal of experts and people who don’t agree is wrong, it’s arrogant and it’s got to stop.

“For a Government that is outsourcing the vast bulk of its work to working groups and reviews – more than 120 and counting – it had better start considering advice, allowing its ideas to be tested and working in the best interests of New Zealanders rather than itself.”

Fair enough – but  what was the latest example of arrogance which prompted the statement?

She had seized on Justice Minister Andrew Little calling Sensible Sentencing Trust founder Garth McVicar ‘loopy’.

“That’s no way for a Minister of the Crown to act. He might not agree with Mr McVicar but he should have a thicker skin and respect the right of people to disagree with him – and refrain from insulting those who don’t. That stifles debate and will mean the Government’s bad ideas aren’t properly tested.”

Whether Little’s remarks about McVicar fits into a ‘pattern of behaviour’ marked by Ministerial assaults on constitutional law experts, Treasury forecasters and ANZ economists and a disregard for official advice is not so obvious.

Let’s start by considering what Little said:

“I have a problem specifically with Garth McVicar who has a bit of a track record of what I think are some pretty loopy views”.

He said examples which disturbed him included McVicar’s support for Bruce Emery who was 50 when he stabbed and killed a 15-year-old he caught tagging. McVicar said Emery should have got home detention, rather than the four years prison to which he was sentenced, and that the boy should not have been allowed to roam at night.

Then there’s the recent example of McVicar offering police “congratulations” over the shooting of a young man which meant ‘one less to clog the prisons’. Little said this

” … completely trivialised the position of police officers in that situation. I thought there’s something unhealthy about that set of views that I don’t think is helpful to a debate about criminal justice reform.”

Helpful or not, McVicar is a key player in the debate about criminal justice reform as the most prominent member of the Sensible Sentencing Trust, robustly lobbying for tough measures to deal with criminals.

But more important, McVicar may well take umbrage at being lumped in with academics and experts.  This report by David Fisher at the NZ Herald tells us why.

Fisher characterises McVicar as the science sceptic versus Sir Peter Gluckman, the scientist, in the debate over criminal justice policy.

Science in crime and justice is bunkum and politicians should discard “academics and those type of people” in favour of the public voice, says the Sensible Sentencing Trust’s Garth McVicar.

That’s his take on the heavily researched, deeply referenced report published by the Prime Minister’s chief science adviser, Sir Peter Gluckman, into our criminal justice system.

In an extraordinary interview, McVicar ridiculed scientifically backed evidence and told Minister of Justice Andrew Little he had his “ammunition ready” to bring the Government down after a single term if bail and sentencing changes were rolled back.

He rejects the notion the scientific research is correct and claims academics and scientists had led New Zealand into a crime-ridden society until the “evolution” of the Sensible Sentencing Trust.

Of the report, written with clinical psychologist and University of Auckland associate professor Ian Lambie, McVicar says:

“You can twist figures around to put the spin on that you want and that appears to us what he’s done.

“They listened to science for 20-30 years before the evolution of Sensible Sentencing, didn’t they, and you couldn’t say that worked any which way you twisted it.”

On the dogma versus data – public opinion versus science – to whom should ministers listen?

“The voice of public opinion. I don’t think Gluckman saying [going] back to producing scientific reports and graphs and whatnot … is proving anything at all.”

McVicar responded to Little’s dismissive remarks with a press release headed Who is the “nutter” – Garth McVicar or Andrew Little? In the statement he says:

“So Mr Little can call me a nutter for advocating what the vast majority of the public instinctively already know. I am happy to let the public make up their own minds.”

Unlike the Treasury officials, he can speak for himself.  And as he says in the statement, he has broad shoulders.

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