5. Another coalition flashpoint?

New Zealand First MP Darroch Ball's member's bill that would introduce a youth demerit points system has not won the favour of the Justice Minister, or the ministry. Photo: Lynn Grieveson

A private member's bill waiting to be plucked from Parliament’s cookie tin could provide the next justice minefield for the coalition Government.

Drafted by New Zealand First MP Darroch Ball, the legislation would introduce a demerit point system for youth offenders that would see them sent to court, or offered the chance to attend a defence force boot camp to wipe their record clean, when they clocked up a certain total.

Several member’s bills are drawn from the ballot (an old cookie tin in New Zealand’s Parliament) every second Wednesday Parliament sits and are added to the order paper.

There are about 80 at any one time in the mix.

If Ball’s bill, the Oranga Tamariki (Youth Justice Demerit Points) Amendment Bill, was drawn it would force the Government to address the tough on crime proposal.

The legislation has little support from the Ministry of Justice, which poured cold water on the idea in a briefing to Justice Minister Andrew Little.

Released under the Official Information Act, the document is heavily redacted but indicates officials believe the measures are unnecessary.

“The Bill proposes there is a perceived lack of consequences for youth who offend.

“However, the current youth justice system delivers better outcomes and is working well for most young people. There has been a significant reduction in youth offending and in Youth Court appearances in recent years.”

The briefing also said the Bill raised issues under the Bill of Rights Act “on the face of it”, but the reasons why were withheld.

Youth offending rates have dropped substantially since 2009, falling from 5139 to 2109 in 2016/17.

Both minor and serious youth crime has reduced, but the proportion of serious crime was now higher and there remains a small proportion of persistent, hardcore offenders.

Ball told Newsroom that he remained strongly committed to the bill and New Zealand First didn’t believe the youth justice system was achieving what it needed to.

Almost half of the adults who ended up in prison had experience in the youth justice system and there was no accountability for young people and no “consistency of consequences”.

Making sure early offenders had access to wrap-around support services was important, Ball said, but repeat offenders should be in court earlier to face the consequences rather than being dealt with by police who were reluctant to prosecute.

“There needs to be a point where personal responsibility is taken by the young person for their decision … we can understand not thinking properly on the first time, perhaps the second time, but when you’re talking about a third, fourth, twentieth or fiftieth offence by a young person that frontal lobe development argument doesn’t stack up.”

Earlier this month, Little was forced into an embarrassing backdown after New Zealand First flexed its muscles and pulled its support for his plan to scrap the three strikes law.

It highlighted the friction between Labour and the Greens, who are keen to see radical reform to the justice sector, and their coalition partner who traditionally holds a much tougher law and order stance.

When asked about Ball’s comments, Little said he agreed with his point in principle that more options were needed for youth offenders.

“Whether that’s the best solution, I think even he would say he’s open for further discussion about that and we’re continuing those discussions.”

He understood the ministry had concerns that the bill’s consequences could be out of proportion given the age of some of the offenders but there was a possibility it could be tweaked and trialled somewhere.

“What [the coalition] share is an overwhelming desire to change what we’ve got at the moment because we think more can be done to reduce offending, particularly reoffending.

“We both share in that objective. We’ve got a variety of suggestions and views on how that might be done and it’s just a question of working through each of them.”