Police Complaints Authority (Commission of Inquiry into Police Conduct) Amendment Bill – Second Reading

The Green Party will support this bill but like previous speakers, including Stephen Franks who has just spoken, we are concerned that the principle of privacy in the deliberations of the Police Complaints Authority should be upheld where at all possible.

This is a very exceptional circumstance. We have a commission of inquiry into police misconduct where some of the information disclosed to the Police Complaints Authority is very relevant to the deliberations of that commission of inquiry.

The initial complaint in Rotorua that led to other evidence coming out, and to the setting up of this commission of inquiry, related very much to what appeared in the media reports to be the mishandling of the case by the officer, Mr Dewar, who provided information in the report to the Police Complaints Authority. I think, in that regard, we definitely do have to allow the commission to look at material from the Police Complaints Authority.

That being said, I think that Stephen Franks raised some important points, and his suggestions for amendments deserve some consideration. However, I think we can trust the commission in this case to consider very seriously the questions of privacy, and when the commission holds its deliberations and makes its final reports it should be very careful not to disclose the individual circumstances of people or information that could lead to their identification.

I think the commission would be very aware of what Mr Franks talked about — that we do not want people identified who confidentially provide information. Stephen Franks used the term “nark”. They could be seen as narks if they are members of the police who say something about the wrongdoing of other police officers. We do not want that information getting out but, as a general principle, we do not want to stop people rightly whistle-blowing to the Police Complaints Authority, just as we encourage whistle-blowing in other areas of the public service.

We actually passed a law recently. It was not a fully adequate law but it did provide some protection for whistle-blowers. That is one of the principles that lies behind the secrecy provisions of the Police Complaints Authority — that we will not get proper understanding of wrongdoing unless we have that provision for police officers and other people to come forward in confidence and say: “Well, hold on. This is wrong.”

It is particularly important in the police because sometimes there is that sense of camaraderie that one officer does not want to upset another officer. It is a particular problem with any police force. When they are out in very difficult situations they rely on each other. There is an automatic tendency to cover up to an extent the activities of other officers. So unless we provide that secure option for whistle-blowing then we will be in trouble. It may be that there will be useful amendments in the Committee stage that Stephen Franks proposes. However, I tend to trust the commission to understand the tenure of the legislation and keep to privacy at all times.

With that, I just repeat the Green Party’s support for this legislation.