Dr Michael Bassett

Dr Michael Bassett

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Child and Teen-age Criminal Offending


Have you noticed what an extraordinary number of children and teenagers have lately been pinching cars, fleeing police, driving the wrong way down motorway exits, and having to be tracked by the Police Eagle helicopter? They are almost always caught. Most seem to be south or west Aucklanders, although Hamilton and Christchurch have had their share. When arrested and charged, we seldom these days find out their names. Of recent times, name suppression seems to be being used to disguise the fact that all-too-many of the offenders are from our most-favoured racial group to which Jacinda's and Chippy's governments awarded special privileges.

I'm old enough to remember when the Court looked into an habitual young offender's background and would quiz parents over what they knew about their children's whereabouts at the time of the offence. It was all reported in the newspapers. No longer does this happen. These days, the Courts seem more interested in any Police transgressions against offenders. There's no mention of the parents who in most cases are being paid by the State through an array of benefits to bring up these children.

Why do we tolerate this state of affairs? After all, many peoples' lives are seriously affected by the actions of these young trainee crims. Working folk and little old ladies with Mazda Demios and Nissan Tiidas that are easily broken into, then used in ramraids or for joyrides down the wrong side of the road, seldom find their cars in prime and plummy order when returned to them. The shopkeepers whose stores have been broken into have always sustained damage, often injury, and usually lost stock as well. The Police risk life and limb to catch the offenders, but the parents escape scrutiny. Some turn up in Court to blow kisses to their offending progeny or to abuse the Police whose lives they have endangered by their parental neglect.

Society tolerates all this because of a misguided narrative that permeates the community; the young offenders and their families are the victims of colonialism, racism, poverty, and consequent neglect. In fact, the explanation for the steadily increasing juvenile crime wave can be laid at the doors of do-gooders and feckless politicians. The Royal Commission into Social policy of 1970-72 recommended the introduction of a monetary benefit that could enable a solo mother to bring up her child. Both National and Labour embraced the suggestion and a Domestic Purposes Benefit (DPB) became payable from 1974. It's a fair bet that Sir Apirana Ngata, had he still been alive, would have warned against its likely impact on Maori society, just as he had cautioned Micky Savage and Peter Fraser against paying cash unemployment benefits for Maori in the late 1930s. Ngata knew his own people well enough to realise that they would rapidly avail themselves of easy money that came without any requirement to work. And they did, along with lots of Pakeha as well. The number of DPBs quickly grew from around 17,000 in 1975 to more than 100,000 by 2000, with at least 40% of them Maori. This meant there was a huge increase in the number of children born to solo parents, and in practice with absent fathers.

For a time there were checks on recipients of DPBs. A woman had to name the father of her child who was then pursued by the Social Welfare Department for a "liable parent contribution" to the child's welfare. Gradually the department gave up that chase and the Minister (Carmel Sepuloni) who did more to destroy the reputation of the welfare system than any other, removed the requirement for the father to take any responsibility. Feckless sex, no parental accountability, and for boys, no father figure, or any meaningful sense of a father's role in a family or society. When mother has another child often by a different father, she gets a pay rise. If the children fail to attend school, and more than 60% of Maori children truant regularly these days, the mother's grant payable to her to look after the child keeps on being paid, no questions asked. It's an absolute recipe for social chaos. Schools can't do much for children who don't darken their doorsteps, and in any event, good behaviour has always started at home - where too often chaos reigns with a new de-facto in residence, and often drugs as well.

Parenting begins at home. These children are the real victims. They are being robbed of their futures while Ministers and District Court Judges who should know better, are wringing their hands and looking the other way.

Social chaos on the current scale will never reduce until politicians, who gave it such a boost in the first place, take steps to make welfare recipients realise that cash assistance comes with mandatory costs attached. Many schools now have daily registers and can identify which children are absent. With a little computer ingenuity, the identities could be linked to the welfare payment of the parent whose child doesn't get to school. Her benefit should then be reduced. Appropriate penalties for other antisocial behaviour like possession of drugs could also be devised. Government money doesn't grow on trees. Those who pay taxes earn their money. Until such time as welfare is viewed more strictly, the kinds of children's and teenagers' offences we have been witnessing of late are unlikely to diminish.

All the easy solutions to child and teen-age crime have been tried and have failed. To carry on paying welfare to people who regard it as an entitlement, no responsibilities attached, is the height of irresponsibility.