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PoliticsOctober 13, 2023

Election 2023: The crime and justice policies in two minutes

a blurry police car with an election 2023 sticker on it
(Image: Getty Images)

Polling shows that crime and justice are a major concern for New Zealanders. Use to explore the policies parties are offering in greater depth, and read this for the fast version. 

Everyone wants to stop crimes from happening, but approaches vary widely. In an electoral term where crimes have allegedly been increasing (although that is debatable because crime data is very complex) and ram raids have been in headlines a lot, crime and its punishments have been a focus for most parties on the election trail. 

Of course, crime doesn’t occur in a vacuum. It’s linked to myriad social factors, like poverty and access to education – and pre-existing inequalities contribute to the fact that victims of crime are much more likely to be Māori. 

After a crime has happened, the justice system kicks in, where people are sentenced through the courts (and, if necessary, tried). If the result of the legal process is that someone gets sent to prison, then that will cost the public system about $150,000 a year

Crime coverage tends to focus on violence and gangs, but so called “white collar crime”, including fraud and tax evasion, often takes much larger sums. This was the focus of a question at a recent TVNZ multi-party debate – where Winston Peters couldn’t help bringing up the Winebox Inquiry

A photo of Korowai Manaaki from Google Street View, with a red filter over the top and a string of barbed wire across the image
Youth justice facilities are a focus of policies from several major parties (Image: Tina Tiller)

Ram raids and youth crime 

National would tackle youth offending by creating military academies (aka “bootcamps”) for young offenders and fund community organisations to work with repeat young offenders too. Act would make young offenders the responsibility of the Department of Corrections rather than Oranga Tamariki, and has a variety of other policies that broadly allow more of a role for the private sector in the responsibilities usually covered by Oranga Tamariki. New Zealand First would create a demerit points system for young people who commit crimes. 

Act would make the age to enter adult criminal jurisdiction 17 (it’s currently 18). That’s in sharp contrast to Te Pāti Māori who want to raise the age of criminal accountability to 16 (it’s currently a minimum of 10, although children of this age cannot be convicted unless they knew that what they were doing was illegal).

The Labour Party would make “ram-raiding” a separate category of offence and give Corrections staff at youth justice facilities more powers, as well as building two new youth justice facilities. It would disincentivise young people from being involved in crime by making it an aggravating factor to encourage youth to carry out crimes. As a form of justice and accountability, it would allow victims of crimes committed by young people to attend family group conferences

The Green Party would ban placing young offenders in detention with adults. Te Pāti Māori would aim to remove all youth justice facilities by 2030

Domestic violence is one of the fastest-growing categories of crime (Photo: Getty Images)

 Types of crime

Labour wants to continue its elimination strategy of family and sexual violence, where it is in agreement with the Greens. Both parties want to revisit the law on consent. Labour would also reduce the waiting period for divorce in situations of abuse and strengthen laws against stalking and harassment, where it is joined by TOP

Te Pāti Māori wants to decriminalise all drug use; the Greens also want to revisit drug laws and legalise personal use of cannabis

New Zealand First would discourage low-level offences like texting while driving or shoplifting by increasing the fines for these types of crimes. 

Sentencing and the legal system

National and Act both want to bring back the three strikes law, which means that if someone commits three serious offences, they are placed in prison without the possibility of parole, a policy that Labour repealed in this government term. National would also make being a gang member an automatic aggravation factor in sentencing, where it is joined by New Zealand First, which would lead to harsher punishments for gang members; National would limit reductions of more than 40% to sentences. 

Te Pāti Māori proposes creating a Māori justice system based on tikanga principles, and establishing Māori-focused legal aid services. It would remove attachment orders, a debt payment mechanism, from beneficiaries and those on less than $50,000 a year, which it says would reduce crime. 

Act would require Inland Revenue to examine gang finances to make it fair, since wealthy New Zealanders’ finances have also been the subjects of study; it also wants clear targets set for the Gang Intelligence Centre. The party wants harsher sentences for violent crimes committed against retail workers. Act would rule out judges taking cultural factors into consideration when sentencing; National would prevent legal aid funding being used for cultural reports. New Zealand First would increase sentence lengths for those convicted of murder and mandate a six month prison sentence for assault of first responders like paramedics.

an old brick building on a sunny day
Auckland High Court (Photo: Fiona Goodall/Getty Images)


National, like Act, doesn’t want to aim to reduce the number of people in prison, which both say the current government has done to ill effect. In fact, Act wants the government to create more prison placesNational wants rehabilitation programmes to be extended to remand prisoners. Act wants there to be minimum literacy standards prisoners have to achieve before they can be released, a similar policy to New Zealand First, which would give more prisoners access to driving training

New Zealand First wants to create a separate prison for gang members, which it says will prevent gangs recruiting people in prison. It would provide free tattoo removal for ex-gang members in prison and increase the amount of space in prisons by making prisoners build portable prison units

The Green Party says that voting rights should be extended to all prisoners (currently, those serving three years or less can vote). 

a red tinted photo of a prison with barbed wire (it's mount eden prison I think, all gothic old stone)
Image: Tina Tiller


Labour says it wants more police officers – 300, specifically, after adding 1,800 police while in government. The National Party would give police more powers, specifically to make gangs less visible, like banning gang patches being displayed in public and being able to prohibit gang members from associating. Act would review the Independent Police Conduct Authority, which has oversight of how the police have acted in different circumstances, 

Te Pāti Māori says that police should be required to have a just cause before denying bail to defendants

Other forms of justice 

The Green Party, broadly in favour of non-prison responses to crime, would focus on kaupapa Māori responses to violence and fund specialist services to help both the victims heal and perpetrators of crime reckon with their actions. To respond to some of the damage caused by violent crime, Act wants the government to pay reparations to victims – a system that Labour already wants to review. New Zealand First wants to increase non-custodial (ie not simply putting someone in prison) types of justice, like taking away property or long-term reparations. 

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