Election 217 Live: Nats propose early release with rehab for prisoners


National's Corrections spokeswoman Louise Upston has announced a plan to boost rehabilitation services for prisoners. Photo: Lynn Grieveson.

As we approach a single-digit countdown until the election, National has proposed boosting rehabilitation services for prisoners while NZ First wants a "flying squad" to crack down on crime. There are ten days to go. Shane Cowlishaw and Sam Sachdeva report.

Low-risk prisoners who complete training and treatment plans would be eligible for early release into the community under a new Corrections policy announced by National.

Louise Upston, National’s Corrections spokeswoman and the current Corrections Minister, made the announcement in Auckland this afternoon, saying the party wanted more prisoners to complete rehabilitation programmes, given evidence of their success.

“They help prisoners prepare for life outside prison, give them skills to get a job, and help stop reoffending,” Upston said.

The Positive Pathways programme would allow prisoners with sentences of two years or less who successfully completed training and treatment plans to become eligible for release 10 per cent earlier than currently allowed.

Prisoners serving more than two years would get an individual training and treatment plan, with successful completion triggering an earlier parole hearing (although early release would not be guaranteed, and minimum non-parole periods would remain unchanged).

“We are not making sentences shorter. Instead prisoners can serve a greater portion of their sentence in the community, subject to appropriate monitoring. They will be subject to immediate recall to prison if they breach their conditions or reoffend.”

Upston said National would also invest an extra $48 million in rehabilitation and reintegration programmes over the next four years, creating another 6000 places.

Winston wants crack cop squad

NZ First leader Winston Peters has announced a proposal for an elite "flying squad" of police to tackle "rampant outbreaks of lawlessness and organised crime".

With National and Labour scrapping it out at the top of the tree, Peters may be hoping his push on law and order can drag NZ First back into the spotlight.

Speaking at a public meeting in Whangamata, Peters said statistics obtained by NZ First showed there were 2545 burglaries but only 94 arrests made in Whitianga, Thames, Paeroa and Coromandel Town between 2008 and mid-2016.

He revealed plans to establish "a new 70-strong 'Flying Squad' targeting criminals and lawlessness all over New Zealand".

"It will be an elite police unit under the direct command of the Police Commissioner.

"Being self-contained and mobile, it will directly assist communities and police districts by offering a targeted but heavier level of policing when called for. "

Peters said the unit would focus on "rampant outbreaks of lawlessness and organised crime", as well as helping communities facing "crime waves".

The unit would work 24/7, with eight officers on constant duty.

Drag race continues

The country is likely becoming sick of the use of the words "drag race" during this campaign, but it's certainly true that the race is a tight one.

Last night Newshub's Reid Research poll, which political editor Patrick Gower described as "dramatic and devastating" to the amusement of social media, had National surging four points to 47.3 percent while Labour fell 1.6 percent to 37.8 percent.

Crucially, it also placed the Greens under the five percent threshold, raising the possibility of National governing alone. NZ First fell 0.6 percent.

In the past week the mood had favoured Labour, with a perception they were creeping ahead while National became increasingly desperate to close the gap.

But the reality was that the parties were much closer.

The Reid Research poll was taken between last Wednesday and Monday, a period that included coverage of the Stuff debate and repeated attacks by National regarding Labour's tax policies.

RNZ's poll of polls averages the three public polls (Reid Research, Colmar Brunton, and Roy Morgan) and last night had National at 41.3 percent, Labour on 40.5 percent, NZ First on 7.5 percent, and the Greens on 5.5 percent.

Labour leader Jacinda Ardern has ruled out any sort of electoral accommodation deal to secure the Greens' future.

NZ First leader Winston Peters is still shaping to be the kingmaker on September 23, while the mood of the country remains unsettled and could further change in the next ten days.

Tax is Labour's Achilles heel

Ardern's decision to push tax decisions to a working party after the election has been a boon for National.

Her refusal to rule out a capital gains tax has been hit upon again and again, and is one possibility for the latest poll results.

Prime Minister Bill English met with more than 300 people yesterday in Ashburton concerned about Labour's water royalty.

English was reported in Stuff and the NZ Herald to have received a rapturous welcome from locals concerned irrigators would have to pay a water tax under Labour.

"We want to achieve higher environmental standards and apparently no one's thought of this until about six weeks ago. It's all new, apparently, lifting the quality of water in our rivers – brand new idea," English was quoted as saying by Stuff's Charlie Mitchell.

"All that tells you is they [opposition parties] take no notice of you. They have no idea what you do, how you do it or why you're so good at it. We're backing you."

One member of the crowd told English he was preaching to the converted and urged him to fight hard against such a tax.

"If we are going to go down - and I hope we don't - we go down fighting. Because I can assure you, I am not going to be happy about paying a water tax," NZME's Isaac Davison quoted the crowd member as saying.

English responded: "We will do better than that. We are going to win fighting."

The water tax issue has clearly energised many in the provinces.

Here's an opinion piece in Newsroom from Dr Terry Heiler, an engineer and a former CEO of Irrigation New Zealand, arguing against such a tax.

New attack ad from Nats

National is trying to keep its foot on Labour's throat over tax, releasing a new 15-second attack ad focusing on the party's opaque tax plans.

National campaign chair Steven Joyce said the ad, "Let's tax this", highlighted the tax burden Labour would impose on Kiwis if elected.

“Labour wants to stall our economic success through heaping at least seven new taxes on New Zealanders just when they’re starting to get ahead.

“New Zealand currently has a broad-based fair tax system. We simply don’t need to impose a Capital Gains Tax, Land Tax, Regional Fuel Tax, extra Income Tax, Water Tax or an Inheritance Tax. We also don’t need to bring farming into an ETS when no other farmers worldwide are included."

Sticking to the party's script, Joyce said Labour had to "front up and be honest about its tax agenda".

Ardern fought back at a Grey Power meeting in Nelson, accusing National of running a campaign of "fear, scaremongering and straight-out lies".

"I am calling them out because they're doing a disservice to voters," Stuff reported Ardern as saying.

Greens want more student support

The Greens have announced a policy to provide a universal post-graduate student allowance and increase allowance rates for all students.

Green Party leader James Shaw said the party would increase the base student allowance rate by 20 per cent, as part of a move towards a universal allowance.

All post-graduate students under 24 years old and not living with their parents would receive $237 a week.

Shaw said the party would also implement a student "Green Card" with free off-peak transport, as well as quadrupling funding for student disability support services.

The Greens would also support Labour's plan for three free years of tertiary education, he said.

"New Zealand needs smart tertiary policy that values the contribution students make to our economy and society, and in Government we will make that a reality."

Coming up

English will spend the day in Auckland campaigning, visiting Auckland University, Vanguard School, AUT, and Fletcher Building in the afternoon where he will make an announcement.

Ardern is in the South Island campaigning in Nelson and on the West Coast. She will visit the Pike River Memorial and finish the day at the Blackball pub.

Tomorrow - TVNZ's youth debate

September 20 - The final leaders debate on TVNZ.

September 23 - The General Election.

October 12 - Winston Peters has said he will make a decision about which party he 'crowns' to be in Government by October 12, which is when the writs with the final election results are returned. That is assuming the current polling is replicated on election night.

Updated: 3.35pm