It has been a momentous week for the country’s justice system and old-fashioned notions of “law and order”.
First, the Ardern government has said it is considering a report which recommends the abolition of prisons. A Maori-led review of the justice system is also urged by this report.
Second, the PM has intervened in a land dispute in Auckland and thereby over-ridden the role of the courts.
Getting rid of prisons is the remedy ingeniously proposed to reduce the high ratio of Maori inmates in our prisons.
The proposal is contained in the Ināia Tonu Nei: Māori Justice Hui report (here) released during the week.
Justice Minister Andrew Little says the report provides important insights into Māori attitudes toward the justice system and ideas on how to improve “justice outcomes”.
“I acknowledge there is work that we must do to improve the justice system, and the Ināia Tonu Nei report contains many recommendations that this Government will take the time necessary to examine,” says Andrew Little.
“It is clear that New Zealanders from across the country are calling for the criminal justice system to be overhauled. It is also clear that we must do better for Māori, who are over-represented in nearly every stage of the justice system.
The report has a chapter dealing with the call for the abolishment of the current prison system.
This records hui participants saying prisons are continuing to fail Māori.
The current corrections system does not focus on rehabilitation and is purely based on a
punitive approach, it says.
It glibly overlooks penalties such as fines, home detention and community service in noting:
The system at present relies on incarceration as the only means to hold people
accountable for criminal behaviour. This approach must stop.
The second challenge to our system of law and order came after Jacinda Ardern said the Government would not intervene in the Ihumātao land dispute.
Speaking to media, Ardern said although the Government would not intervene “it was falling on the side of local iwi and their position”.
“They are not the ones leading the protest here, so if we come in over the top it really would be undermining the local iwi in this case.”
Māori Crown Relations Minister Kelvin Davis similarly said it was not the Government’s place to intervene.
“That would disrespect the rangatiratanga of Kawerau a Maki. This is their land, their assets and their plan for their people.”
Protesters are against the land at Ihumātao being turned into a housing development by Fletcher Building.
While protest groups say the 33.8ha area was unjustly confiscated from mana whenua in 1863, Fletcher Residential has a consent to build 480 homes on the site.
But as the NZ Herald noted, this isn’t a Māori versus Fletcher issue – on both sides are members of the same iwi, hapū and whānau.
When the eviction notices were served yesterday, well-respected kaumātua of Te Kawerau a Maki and Te Akitai accompanied police and asked for the occupation to end and for them to leave Ihumātao peacefully. They even performed a karakia.
Matters last year were taken to the Environment Court which declined to overturn the permission granted to Fletcher Building to build the houses.
News of the stoush reached Britain, where the Guardian reported Jacinda Ardern, is being accused of a “lack of leadership” over the escalating land dispute.
And yesterday – lo and behold Ardern announced a halt to building work at Ihumātao until the dispute is resolved.
She then departed for a three-day visit to Tokelau.