I have received letters from Keith Locke and Ron Mark seeking to debate under Standing Order 380 the release of the commission of inquiry report into police conduct. This is a particular case of recent occurrence involving ministerial responsibility, and I consider that it does justify the immediate attention of the House. I therefore accept the applications. The first application was received from Keith Locke and I therefore call on Mr Locke to move that the House take note of a matter of urgent public importance.
KEITH LOCKE (Green):
I move, That the House take note of a matter of urgent public importance. The Green Party will be splitting its time. I will speak for the first half and my colleague Sue Kedgley will speak for the second half.
On behalf of the Greens, I would like to congratulate Dame Margaret Bazley on a thorough report. She has exposed shocking behaviour in the New Zealand Police Force — a pattern of sexual offending against women by so many police officers that we as a Parliament have to take it extremely seriously.
In the complaints of sexual assault that Dame Margaret looked at, 141 were regarded as containing sufficient evidence on which to lay charges or undertake some sort of disciplinary action. She does report significant improvement since the worst days of the 1980s and 1990s, but that may be due, mainly, to changes in society, which has meant that sexual violence against women is much less tolerated and more often reported, and this modern reality is reflected more within the police force. The police still have a huge way to go to reassure us that complaints by women will be properly heard and to make it more acceptable for the police to tell on their mates when they cross the line into unacceptable behaviour or criminality.
At bottom is the ongoing problem of what Dame Margaret Bazley calls “the wall of silence” from colleagues when complaints are made. The starting point of the problem, as outlined in this morning’s Press in a quote from Victoria University’s Michael Rowe, is that everywhere in the world police officers have extraordinary loyalty to one another. This loyalty is forged on the dangerous frontline, where officers count on their mates to back them up and there is strong pressure to overlook the misbehaviour of a fellow officer on whom they might be counting to protect them the next day or the next week. That is precisely why police systems for detecting wrongdoing in their ranks have to be much stronger than other Government agencies, not much weaker, which is the picture that we get from Dame Margaret’s report.
The police must start right now to create a culture of openness, and, as Margaret Bazley points out, an effective whistleblower mechanism is an essential component of this. I think that the best judge of whether the police are really changing their culture for the better is their demonstrating in their future practice that police whistleblowers will be protected and their careers not stymied. Whistleblowers have to be protected by the police hierarchy and by a much better Police Complaints Authority than we have now — one that is fully independent.
The police can no longer be in charge of investigating complaints against themselves. The new Independent Police Complaints Authority, now proposed in a bill before Parliament, is an improvement, but it is not sufficient to deal with the problems we see in this report. It is not sufficient just to increase the number of appointees on the authority from one to three. Any new investigative body has to be given much greater resources, with its own staff sufficient to carry out all of its investigations without relying in any way on police investigators.
In fact, the Greens are in favour of a new body that combines the functions of the Police Complaints Authority and a new prison inspectorate, with considerable staffing in the joint agency and a wide range of expertise so that it can be effective and completely independent from either the police or prison management. We use the term “inspectorate” deliberately, because any new body should not only deal with individual complaints against, for example, the police, but also be able to initiate its own investigations when it sees any signs of systemic problems of the sort Dame Margaret has just investigated.
There is still too much of a cover-up culture in the police, as we have seen over the past couple of weeks. Last week the police tried to cover-up their exclusion of a press gallery journalist from a photo opportunity with the Chinese Vice-Premier. The police blamed the journalist, and they may have got away with that cover-up but for the fact that, perhaps unbeknown to them, their actions were being videoed. The previous week an unarmed man in West Auckland was “Tasered” while on the ground surrounded by four police officers. This again was action clearly beyond the police mandate in the taser trial, which was that tasers should be used only when there is a threat of injury, which there clearly was not in this case. Again, the police might have got away with their cover-up but for the fact that an onlooker filmed the event on his cellphone.
This police culture of “back your mates even when they are wrong” lies at the heart of the problem of the sex offending we are dealing with today. All kinds of police knew what was going on in Rotorua at the time and either said nothing or tried to cover it up. Inspector John Dewar, who handled the original complaint of Louise Nicholas in Rotorua, is now belatedly, and after huge publicity, being charged with attempting to obstruct or defeat the course of justice. In the Nicholas case, the Police Complaints Authority relied on the police to do the investigation, which was like putting foxes in charge of the chicken coop.
Dame Margaret Bazley has exposed a very rickety and deficient system of dealing with complaints today. She had to put forward very basic organisational changes, like the national commissioner’s office being informed of serious complaints against the police, which has not been the case up until now, and proper information being given to complainants about the progress of their complaints, which also has not been the situation up until now — either within the police or with the Police Complaints Authority. She also exposed a whole lot of other things, like the fact that some people, when they are subject to a serious allegation, simply slide out by resigning from the force.
I think we have to realise that with the police force we are dealing with a very powerful institution, particularly when it is acting collectively. Complainants can feel very vulnerable, so every opportunity and avenue has to be open for them to complain. At this point I will hand over to my colleague Sue Kedgley, who will explain the Green position further.