One Question Quiz
Prime minister Christoper Luxon (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)
Prime minister Christoper Luxon (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

The BulletinFebruary 8, 2024

Prime minister brings hammer down on Treaty bill

Prime minister Christoper Luxon (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)
Prime minister Christoper Luxon (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

Christopher Luxon finally issued National’s definitive position on Act’s Treaty Principles bill while confirming 100-day plan commitments on law and order, writes Anna Rawhiti-Connell in this excerpt from The Bulletin, The Spinoff’s morning news round-up. To receive The Bulletin in full each weekday, sign up here.

Absolutely positively not supporting Act Treaty bill beyond first reading

Yesterday, prime minister Christopher Luxon started the day on the AM Show by confirming the Act party’s proposed Treaty Principles bill was “a bottom line in their [coalition agreement] negotiation – it was one of the major sticking points in the negotiation, we came to a compromise.” By the end of the day, during which Act launched a campaign aimed at building public support for the bill, Luxon was even more definitive on National’s position. Speaking to media at his post-cabinet press conference, Luxon said, “The agreement is that there is a bill that will be drafted for a discussion in the select committee. We will support it to first reading, but we won’t be supporting it beyond that.” Asked whether a big groundswell of public support would shift National’s position, Luxon said it would not. Asked if removing the referendum element would change the party’s view, he again said no.  As AAP’s Ben McKay reports, Act party leader David Seymour responded, saying, “There’s never been a prime minister in history who really doesn’t care what the public think.”

No peace until bill truly dead

In a column for the Herald in late January (paywalled), Matthew Hooten suggested both parties could be in breach of good faith clauses in the coalition agreement over the bill. “Act’s strategy seems to be to offer fake Treaty principles to the public, generate a few hundred thousand supportive online select-committee submissions, hold six months of heated hearings, hope for civil unrest, produce polls showing a majority wishes the Treaty had been written by Mill, and then accuse National of siding with Māori radicals against “mainstream New Zealanders”. If so, National is perfectly entitled to accuse Act of breaching paragraph 21[of the coalition agreement],” he wrote. This morning, the Herald’s Claire Trevett writes (paywalled), “Luxon might be able to avoid the law change, but not the debate in the coalition government’s name. It is the debate that is divisive. Yes, National voting against it renders it a dead duck bill. But there won’t be much peace until that happens.”

Prison reduction target abolished (sort of, again)

The government also moved yesterday to crack on with the law and order commitments laid out in the 100-day plan. As the Herald notes, the clock runs out of the government’s time to tick off the 49 actions in the plan in the first week of March. The government confirmed legislation would be introduced to remove funding for section 27 cultural reports from the legal aid scheme. You can read an explainer on what those reports are here. One of the other 100-day plan commitments was to “abolish the previous government’s prisoner reduction target”. Labour binned its commitment to the target during last year’s election campaign as it went toe-to-toe with National on law and order. As The Post’s Thomas Manch reports, the target is actually a goal that was part of Corrections’ 2018 “statement of intent”. Justice minister Paul Goldsmith confirmed it was a target that had filtered through the justice system, and no policy advice on dismantling it had been sought.

Prison population rising, Corrections staff shortages ongoing

As the Herald’s Michael Neilson reported in December last year, the Corrections union has warned the government of a growing staffing “crisis” as well-documented staff vacancies persist. The country’s prison population started to rise again in the year to September 2023, increasing by more than 10% ahead of Ministry of Justice projections. The department’s briefing to incoming corrections minister, Mark Mitchell, also identified “significant recruitment and retention challenges” that go beyond hiring prison officers. The department is experiencing the same challenges as the health sector in recruiting nurses and psychologists to work within the system. RNZ’s Felix Walton reported yesterday that the number of prisoners kept in intervention and support units (ISUs) is increasing after a slump during the pandemic. (ISUs) are often used to house mentally ill prisoners. As Walton reports, prisoners in ISUs are isolated for up to 23 hours a day for an average of six to seven days at a time. The United Nations’ definition for solitary confinement is 22 hours or more without meaningful human contact.

Keep going!