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           Home >  Community  > Letters  :

Letter To NZine - Election Referendum
Margaret Clarke - 17/12/99

Was the referendum on punishment for violent offenders just badly worded or was there deliberate loading in the wording?

This was the question which voters had to answer.

Should there be a reform of our justice system placing greater emphasis on the needs of victims, providing restitution and compensation for them and imposing minimum sentences and hard labour for all serious violent offences?

On Election day when I went to the Polling Booth I had decided how I would vote on the referendum on minimum sentences and hard labour for violent offenders. I have listened to the views of Cecilia Lashlie who has had firsthand experience at working with offenders, both male and female, and I now believe that much of the offending has come from the lack of support given in recent years to disadvantaged families. I am convinced that instead of taxpayers' money being spent on locking people in gaol for longer periods it should be spent on helping offenders to rebuild their lives and fitting them for an eventual return to the community. Locking violent offenders away from society for even longer than happens at present would not ultimately improve the safety of the New Zealand public.

The poll presented voters with real difficulties. Many people have not been aware of the meaning of minimum sentences, thinking that it means lighter sentences. This terminology should not have been used without explanation.

When I saw that to vote against minimum sentences and hard labour was to vote against increased support for victims I was faced with a real dilemma. Of course victims need all possible support. I am sure that a lot of New Zealanders were surprised that two issues were combined in one vote. Was it a form of blackmail to ensure a heavy poll in favour of harsher sentencing?

In the end I voted against such a badly constructed referendum and was profoundly grateful that such referenda are not binding.

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