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Labour’s crime crackdown promise met with cautious optimism – but not from National

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New law and order commitments from Labour have been met with a warm but ‘believe it when I see it’ reaction from police and justice advocates.

If re-elected, Labour is promising 300 new officers and legislation to crack-down on gang convoys, as well as a commitment to look at updating laws around stalking.

“We know that having more police on the beat means our communities will be safer,” Labour leader Chris Hipkins said. “It means people will see police on the beat more, and it means the police will have more resources and more people to deal with crime as it arises.”

The 300 new officers would deliver the largest police service in modern history, with a ratio of at least one officer for every 470 New Zealanders.

In 2017, the Labour-New Zealand First coalition promised 1800 new officers by 2020. But it was beset by missed deadlines and shifting of goalposts. An initial claiming of victory in 2019 failed to take into account officers who had left the service.

The target was eventually reached this year, but then it emerged not all of them were sworn officers.

Labour promised the 300 new officers would all be sworn officers.

Police Association president Chris Cahill said the number was both feasible and fundable.

“It’s a solid commitment to actually get a number around it. We’re pleased to see that, you can always have a debate on whether it’s enough or how long it will take, but at least there’s a clear number around this. At this stage, no other political party has put a clear number around what numbers they’ll be able to increase police by.”

Enter National, which agreed more officers were needed, but its police spokesperson Mark Mitchell was deeply sceptical about Labour’s delivery. He said an increase in officers was nothing compared to the increase in gang members, violent crime and retail crime.

“Numbers are important, in terms of a law enforcement agency like our police. But the point I’m making is that Labour have just got no credibility around public safety. I don’t pay much attention to what they’re doing at all.”

National Party MP Mark Mitchell

Mark Mitchell Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

Those new officers would also be given extra powers to crack down on gang intimidation, specifically gang convoys.

Police already have the power to impound vehicles, but new legislation could mean officers can seize a vehicle without conviction, when it was difficult to intervene at the time of offending. Labour police spokesperson Ginny Andersen said it would be easier for police to bring a case to prosecution.

“So, if there would be an intent to intimidate the public, and two or more driving along, committing some infringements, that would give the police the opportunity then to take those vehicles.”

Cahill admitted there had been a lot of promises, and wanted to wait and see what bills made it before Parliament after the election.

He said he wanted to see more detail on how Labour’s impound would work, but believed it had merit.

“If you can seize more vehicles with less red tape, that is something that really puts a gang under pressure. They don’t want to lose their vehicles.”

Labour’s policy document included facts and statistics on what it had already done, such as expanding police powers to execute search warrants, the introduction of legislation to make a new offence for ram raiding, and a recently announced mental health co-response model.

It also said it would look at legislative options to reduce gang leaders’ ability to operate, including going after prison recruitment and concealing assets.

National has already committed to gang crackdown measures such as banning gang patches in public places, warrantless search powers and dispersal notices.

Mitchell said more was likely to follow during the campaign, and said Labour was being cynical by taking the issue seriously this close to the election.

“We highlighted to the Labour government there was a growing gang threat in New Zealand. They needed to take some further action, which included a dedicated gang taskforce. And they mocked it, and they laughed about it, but they’re not laughing now.”

With her justice spokesperson hat on, Andersen said Labour would also look at making stalking an imprisonable offence. It would add stalking to the Crimes Act, in line with laws in the UK and Australia, which carry penalties of between 12 months and 3 years’ imprisonment.

Labour said it would work with legal experts and victim advocacy groups to progress changes. One such advocate, clinical psychologist and domestic violence specialist Dr Alison Towns, said it was a long time coming.

“Labour has made a commitment to look at it now from two previous ministers for justice. So that’s great, it’ll be really great that they’ll continue to consider it, but it would be really good if we actually got some action on this now.”

Dr Alison Towns

Alison Towns Photo: Laurence Smith / STUFF NZ LTD

Towns said stalking and harassment had been treated as a civil rather than criminal matter. Victims often have to get protection orders to stop it, which did not actually stop the stalking immediately.

“Real determined stalkers, they don’t respond very well to protection orders. They tend to continue to stalk. So, it’s hard actually to get criminal action to stop the stalking.

“The law is outdated, it’s very old. The Harassment Act was put into place in the mid-1990s, the Family Violence Act hasn’t spelled out cyber-stalking. The law is not great on this topic.”

Towns said she could not see any reason why it would take longer than six months to set the legislation up, and it could save lives.

RNZ

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Air NZ sorry for charging tourists $13,000 to change flight after terminal diagnosis

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Air New Zealand has admitted it made a mistake when it tried to charge two US tourists $13,000 to change their flights after one of them received a grave medical diagnosis.

Todd and Patricia Kerekes flew business class from New York to Auckland in January. The return tickets cost $37,500.

They intended to stay until April, but six weeks into their visit Patricia was diagnosed with cancer of the gallbladder. Their surgeon advised them to head home immediately, so Todd contacted Air NZ to have their flights moved up.

“Right away on the first call I told them my wife was gravely ill, and we were on holiday and we needed to go back home,” the 60-year-old told Checkpoint.

“And it was a whole series of long pauses, and I couldn’t tell whether they were conferring with co-workers or working at it on the computer, or what it was. But I would go through a whole series of 15- to 30-minute hold periods, and sometimes the people would come back and basically tell me something I didn’t want to hear, like it was gonna cost me NZ$13,000 to change my flight.”

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Housing Minister Chris Bishop sets ‘long-term’ price target of three to five times household incomes

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The new housing minister has set a target of having homes costing just three to five times household incomes – well below what they are now in most of New Zealand.

But Chris Bishop does not want too quick a fix to the country’s housing affordability crisis – saying a crash “tomorrow” would “cause enormous economic and financial instability to people”.

“What I want is for house prices to moderate over time, so that in 10 to 20 years’ time, we have essentially gone a long way towards solving our housing affordability problem,” he told Checkpoint on Tuesday.

Earlier in the day he outlined the first steps in his plan, saying most of the country’s biggest cities will be flooded with land for residential development.

In a speech delivered to Wellington’s Chamber of Commerce, Bishop confirmed councils will have to earmark 30 years’ worth of land for housing development.

They will be able to opt out of housing density rules that allow homes up to three stories high on most residential sites without the need for a consent – a bi-partisan rule that National signed up to in opposition. Instead, councils will be able to choose exactly where high density housing goes.

He also promised to make it easier to build granny flats or dwellings less than 60 square metres.

In his speech, Bishop said the status quo was costing the country the equivalent of 15 Transmission Gully motorways every four years “just on helping people to be housed”.

“The taxpayer subsidises rents for people in social housing, we pay for emergency housing grants, we pay for transitional housing, we help people with their bond payments and so it goes. A failure to reform housing has made it extremely expensive for government.”

And in a briefing to Cabinet, Bishop said housing affordability was arguably the single most pressing economic and social issue.

Speaking to Checkpoint, Bishop said New Zealand was not short of land, but rules “make it very difficult to use that land”.

“What we’re saying is we need to go out at the edge of our cities and we also need to go up inside our cities.”

Inside existing limits, Bishop said the coalition government would keep Labour’s policy of allowing up to six storeys “within walkable catchment areas of rapid transit stops”, and give councils more discretion over what areas had to allow up to three storeys.

Asked how councils would be prevented from pushing most of the intensification to certain suburbs and leaving others alone, he said: “There are natural limits on the intensification that would take place in suburbs. There are infrastructure limits, for example.

“But also, you know, over time suburbs will change and the nature of our cities will change. I mean, if you think about the Auckland CBD now, compared to say 50 years ago, it is much more dense, many more people live in apartments, they live in tower blocks in the CBD. The same is true to some extent of Wellington.

“But you know, the Wellington of today will look very different to the Wellington of 30 years’ time. Change will be gradual. It is not going to happen immediately, change will happen over many, many years.

“But what I am saying and what the government is saying is that we need more houses. We have an affordability problem in New Zealand and have done so for 30 years because we have designed a planning system that has made it very difficult to build more housing, and it is a social and economic problem we’ve simply got to grapple with.”

Pressed on how much he would like to see house prices drop, Bishop cited the internationally popular metric of prices to household incomes.

“In housing markets that we consider to be affordable, a house price to income ratio of between three and five is considered affordable. That’s not the case in most of our major cities right now.”

Current data shows that multiple nationwide is currently 6.6. In Auckland it is 8.1, Wellington 6.14, Christchurch 5.84, Hamilton 6.57 and Dunedin 5.7. In Queenstown-Lakes, the multiple is almost 15.

“Over time as you moderate house prices and incomes grow, [three to five] is what we would like to see things get to, but as I say, that is not going to happen immediately and it is not going to even happen in the next two to three or four years. This is something that has to happen in the medium- to long-term.

“And unless we do that, house prices will continue to go up and people will continue to be locked out of the housing market.

“I want house prices to be affordable, and a house price to income ratio of seven, eight, nine, 10, 11, 12, in some cases 13 to one in some parts of New Zealand is not affordable, entrenching inequality and poverty in our cities.”

He refused to give an exact timeframe, saying that would be making the same mistake the Labour-led government did in claiming it could build 100,000 houses in 10 years.

“Land markets and the economy is much more complicated than that. What I am saying to you is that we have [an] extensive and comprehensive work programme based on evidence to make housing more affordable in the medium- to long-term.”

rnz

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Everton punishment reduced to six points

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Everton have had their points deduction for a breach of the Premier League’s profitability and sustainability rules reduced to six points from 10 after an appeal, the club and the Premier League said on Monday.

Everton were docked points with immediate effect in November after being found to have breached profitability and sustainability rules (PSR) relating to losses.

“An independent Appeal Board has concluded that the sanction for Everton FC’s breach of the Premier League’s Profitability and Sustainability Rules (PSRs), for the period ending Season 2021/22, will be an immediate six-point deduction,” the Premier League said in a statement.

The original points deduction meant Everton dropped from 14th in the standings into the relegation zone with four points. The club filed an appeal against the initial deduction, which they labelled “wholly disproportionate and unjust”.

“Everton can confirm an Appeal Board has concluded that the points deduction imposed by an independent Premier League Commission in November be reduced from 10 points to six points, with immediate effect,” a club statement said.

The sanction was appealed on nine grounds, each of which related to the sanction, rather then the breach and two of those nine grounds were upheld by the Appeal Board.

Everton admitted to a breach of PSR for the period ending with the 2021-22 season, with their total losses for that period amounting to 124.5 million pounds according to an independent commission.

According to the Premier League’s Financial Fair Play regulations, clubs are permitted to lose a maximum of $216 million over a three-year period.

The Merseyside club recorded four straight wins after their deduction to climb up to 16th, but have been dragged back into the relegation battle following a run of nine league games without a victory.

The reduction means Everton move up to 15th in the standings with 25 points, five points above the relegation zone.

The club say they are still considering the wider implications of the decision and will make no further comment at this time.

Everton were then charged once again by the Premier League in January for a separate PSR breach, along with Nottingham Forest.

Everton players celebrate

Everton players celebrate Photo: PHOTOSPORT

Both clubs were referred to the chair of the Judicial Panel, the Premier League said, who will appoint an independent commission to determine the appropriate sanction, which may include a further deduction for the Sean Dyche-led club.

A second points penalty would increase risk of relegation and add to the uncertainty over the future of Everton, who are currently in the midst of protracted takeover talks with U.S. investment fund 777 Partners and also hoping to move to a new stadium ahead of the 2025-26 season.

BACKGROUND ON OTHER CLUBS

Last year, Manchester City were referred to an independent commission over more than 100 alleged breaches of finance rules since the club were acquired by the Abu Dhabi-based City Football Group in 2008.

No verdict has been reached in that case. Premier League CEO Richard Masters said last month that a date had been set for a hearing. City have denied any wrongdoing.

Clubs in England’s top flight have been docked points before.

Middlesbrough had three points deducted in 1997 when they failed to fulfil a fixture, while Portsmouth received a nine-point penalty in 2010 when the financially-troubled club entered administration.

-Reuters

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