This National Government is very predictable. When it senses a need to prop up flagging support it goes into one of two modes, either it bashes beneficiaries or it goes tough on crime. With either policy it will taunt Labour, and challenge the parliamentary party to take a principled stand against what National is proposing in the hope that it can then paint Labour as being soft on crime or benefit fraud or benefit dependancy. If Labour acquiesces then National celebrates its impotence, if Labour opposes then National claims they are tougher on crime or on beneficiaries. It is evidence of the most cynical abuse by National of some of our most marginalised members of society purely for political gain.
If you need proof there is the habit of Paula Bennett announcing on two different occasions the same policy. Or the use by the Government of really dodgy statistics to support changes to the criminal law which will take away the civil rights of members of gangs.
It is a well choreographed game. Go to the absolute edge of what a civilised society should tolerate, take three big steps over, and then challenge the opposition to take a principled yet politically damaging position in response.
The only possible threat to National in this game of charades is if through incompetence it should help someone really evil. After all it promised to have a public service function just as well as it did under Labour with less resources. If there are clear failings then National now needs to own these. Claiming that it is all the fault of the Fifth Labour Government is wearing thin. National has now been in power for six years.
This is why the unravelling story of Phillip John Smith is going to hurt National big time. The story is huge and the loopholes and gaps exposed in our justice system are deeply troubling.
Mr Smith is someone even a die hard liberal would struggle to feel sympathy for. He was convicted in 1996 of the murder of the father of a child he was sexually abusing after he tracked the family to Wellington. He was also convicted of aggravated burglary, sexual violation and kidnapping all related to the same family.
The latest Parole Board hearing decision thought that his chances of reoffending were high and it noted that despite having the ability to do so he had not paid reparation that had been ordered.
His expression of regret is trashed by the news that through an intermediary he approached the family of the victims a few years ago.
And he was able to conduct a business behind bars which netted him a significant sum of money. And he was able to obtain a passport. And he was able to get through Customs after declaring that he had over $10,000 in cash to take with him. And this is the real kicker, the Government knew about the passport loophole two years ago but did not close it up.
Stuff reported yesterday:
A 2012 ministerial inquiry into the employment of a sex offender as a teacher found Customs, Immigration, and the Passport Office at the Department of Internal Affairs were not informed when a person holding a passport under a particular name changed that name.
The inquiry report warned that the name change process could be used for the purpose of obtaining a passport in a new name to leave the country without being detained at the border.
It recommended that appropriate protocols be put in place to notify those relevant departments of any registered change of name, as the only notification of a change of name was made to the Registrar of Electors.
The report the article is referring to is the report to Hekia Parata on the employment of a convicted sex offender in the education sector. The person who was the subject of the report had used a passport he had obtained in a different name to the name that he was convicted of various offences to obtain employment.
The report recommended (page 122) to Parata that the issue be referred “to the appropriate Ministers with the proposal that urgent consideration be given to require [Births Deaths and Marriages] to notify any registered change of name to the Passports Office, Customs Department and the Immigration Office of the Department of Labour and that appropriate protocols be put in place to govern that process.” If this change had been made then it is possible that Smith’s passport application may have been stymied.
There are the reputations of a number of Ministers on the line here. So much apparent incompetence involved in one single case is hard to imagine. The Government knew about the problem two years ago. This is going to hurt the Government in an area it has mined for political support for years.