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Dr Muriel Newman

Crime – it’s about demography not race

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The Maori Party is claiming that New Zealand’s justice, police, courts and corrections processes systematically discriminate against Maori. Co-leader Pita Sharples says that he has based his stance on a series of top-level reports. But it is clear that he is ignoring overwhelming evidence that show his claims of prejudice to be not only blatant electioneering, but blatant racism as well!

Last week’s release of Police crime statistics show that in the year to June 30, recorded offences across the country have fallen by 25,636 to 416,324, a drop of 5.8 percent. The number of recorded murders fell by almost 50 percent, from 65 last year to 34 – the lowest level since fiscal year reporting began in 1986. With recorded crimes presently at 947 per 10,000 head of population, down from the peak of 1,325 per 10,000 in 1993, there is no doubt that overall crime rates have been trending downwards for some years.

This same downwards trend is evident in the Ministry of Justice’s Justice Sector Forecast 2011-2021, which has just been released. It shows a continuing fall in all justice-related areas. This includes the rate of imprisonment which is expected to fall by 6.2 percent over the next decade, reducing the prison population from the current 8,708 to 8,165. This will lower the incarceration rate per 100,000 people from 198 in June 2011 to 170 by June 2021 – a fall of 16 percent over the decade.1

In addition to the improvements in policing and rehabilitation practices that have been made over the years – as well as advancements in personal and property security – the fall in crime can be largely attributed to demographics.

The most crime prone group in any population is young people aged from 15 to 24 years old. That means that the number of young people in this age group is a key determinant of crime. The more of these young people there are, as a percentage of the population as a whole, the higher the crime rate. Put simply – the fewer the number of 15 to 24 year olds in our population, the lower the crime rate.

Following World War II, the rise of the Baby Boomer generation dramatically increased the number of young people in this crime-prone age group. As this Baby Boomer cohort has aged, so the number of young people in the 15 to 24 year old age group has reduced – and with it crime.

According to Census data, in 1971, young people in the 15 to 24 age group made up 17.3 percent of the general population, but by 2006, the number had fallen to 14.4 percent – a 20 percent decrease. However, the proportion of Maori in that 15 to 24 age group, which was 8.5 percent in 1971, had more than doubled to 19.2 percent in 2006. That obviously means that Maori will feature much more often in crime statistics than they used to. This does not in any way suggest Maori are being discriminated against by our policing and justice systems as Pita Sharples would have us believe.

But while demography explains some of the disparity, it clearly doesn’t tell the whole story.

According to Statistics New Zealand, a key determinant in the way official information involving Maori is reported was altered in the mid-seventies when government definitions were changed from being based on ancestry and blood quantum (someone had to be half-caste or more to be classified as Maori) to being based on ethnic affiliation and self-identification.

In his seminal work, Maori Socio-Economic Disparity, Simon Chapple, a Senior Research Analyst with the Department of Labour used census data to explain the implications of this change: “In the 1996 census there were 273,693 New Zealanders who identified ethnically as Maori and Maori only. In addition to this, there were 250,338 New Zealanders who identified as members of another ethnic group, usually Pakeha/European, and also as Maori. Currently Statistics New Zealand’s official policy is to arbitrarily classify mixed ethnicity individuals who have Maori as one of their ethnic groups as Maori and not as the other group or groups to which they also belong. This sole plus mixed group is the Maori ethnic group as officially measured. In addition the 1996 census reveals another 56,343 New Zealanders with Maori ancestry but who do not identify ethnically as Maori. Adding these ancestry-but-not ethnicity people gives around 580,374 Maori in 1996.”2

He suggested that a more accurate reflection of the real situation could be obtained by retaining half of those classified as Maori as part of the Maori ethnic group, with the rest allocated to a non-Maori groups using their other primary stated ethnicity.

The bottom-line impact of all of this is that official statistics relating to Maori massively overstate their numbers. Given the high rates of intermarriage that have always been a major feature of New Zealand’s population mix, the notion that Maori are a distinct and growing population is not based on reality, since the number of ‘true’ Maori under the old blood quantum definition is in serious decline. Instead it has become a political construct aimed at fulfilling elite tribal ambitions for power and resources.

Clearly, under the current classification, where almost one in five of the young people in the high risk 15 to 24 year old age group are classified as Maori, it is inevitable that a large proportion of the young people who are arrested and imprisoned are going to be Maori. If the classification was changed to better reflect the true situation – as was suggested by Simon Chapple – the number of Maori falling foul of the law would drop sharply.

But there is another story here, and that is the huge influence that family has on crime. New Zealand’s Chief Youth Court Judge Andrew Beecroft has described the majority of the serious youth offenders that he deals with in his court as boys who have had no contact with their father; 80 percent do not go to school and have chronic drug and alcohol addictions; most have psychological or psychiatric issues; 50 percent – up to 90 percent in some courts – are Maori; and all of them have been seriously abused as a child. He explains, “14, 15, and 16 year-old boys seek out role models like ‘heat seeking missiles’. It’s either the leader of the Mongrel Mob or it’s a sports coach or it’s a Dad. But an overwhelming majority of the boys who I see in the Youth Court have lost all contact with their father”.

In light of these comments the statistics on birth rates paints a rather bleak picture for the future. In 1971, Statistics New Zealand data shows 31 percent of Maori children were born to unmarried mothers, compared to 11 percent for non-Maori. However, by the end of June 2011, a massive 79 percent of Maori children were born to unmarried mothers – compared to 35 percent for non-Maori.

This collapse of marriage signals a tragic start for many Maori children. While the causes of crime are complex, in reality it is a story of family. Children growing up in strong families with a mother and father who provide for them and are fully committed to helping them achieve their potential in life, are unlikely to become involved in crime. On the other hand, children growing up in unmarried families – especially where their mother is dependent on welfare – where there is no father to protect them, where violence and abuse are commonplace, and where there is no role model of a breadwinner who works for a living, are disadvantaged from the day they are born. They are far more likely to eventually find themselves on the path to criminal offending.

In light of the reality of what is going on it’s surely time for Maoridom to turn its back on grievance as the path to power and privilege and instead concentrate on doing what others do – help to grow strong and caring families that cherish their children and place a strong focus on education as the path to the future.

Pita Sharples does not address these issues of demography, statistics and family in his call for reform. Instead he prefers to slur the Police and the criminal justice system with accusations of racism. He says he wants to remove the so-called bias against Maori by adopting the ideas of Moana Jackson, “restructuring the Justice system upon the basis of the Treaty of Waitangi and the foundation of partnership”. He also wants to indoctrinate the whole of the public service “to cover every ministry and department across the whole of government” with his race-based ‘cultural competency’ propaganda.

This week’s NZCPR Guest Commentator, Garth McVicar, is the founder of the Sensible Sentencing Trust, a voluntary organisation that has changed the crime and punishment landscape in New Zealand over recent years by tirelessly campaigning for victims’ rights and tougher penalties for violent crime. Garth is appalled at the Maori Party’s claims of racism and in his article Tough policies reduce crime explains:

“For Pita Sharples to suggest that the Police have an ‘ethnic bias’ or pick on Maori is an insult to Police and every law-abiding New Zealander – no matter what race. Most Maori – like most other people do NOT commit crime – to suggest the Police are to blame for the high level of Maori offending is typical of the tactics used by opponents to discredit any threats to their agenda. So what is Pita Sharples’ agenda? The answer can only be that they do not want criminals caught.”

Claims of racism against the Police and the justice system are politicking of the worst kind. This slur is being used by the Maori Party as a political ploy to justify their attempt to take control, not only of the criminal justice system, but the whole of the public service as well. Not all at once, of course, but incrementally: a cultural competency programme here (to ensure that all public servants embrace the ‘Maori World View’), and a claim of Treaty partnership rights there – to give Maori privileges that other New Zealanders don’t have.

It is all, of course, a self-serving agenda. Dr Sharples believes that the ultimate solution is to have a Maori Justice system – one land, two peoples, two laws. Everything the Maori Party and other Maori activists do is designed to advance Maori privilege and power. The self-serving manipulation of crime statistics and the orchestration of the notion of racial prejudice when there is none, is just another example.