I begin by greeting everyone in the languages of the realm of New Zealand, in English, Māori, Cook Island Māori, Niuean, Tokelauan and New Zealand Sign Language. Greetings, Kia Ora, Kia Orana, Fakalofa Lahi Atu, Taloha Ni and as it is the evening (Sign)
I then specifically greet you: Your Honour Sir David Carruthers, Chair of the New Zealand Parole Board; Sir David Latham, Chair of the Parole Board of England and Wales; Harvey Cenaiko, Chair of the Parole Board of Canada; Judge Oliver Saksak, Chair of the Vanuatu Community Parole Board; Frances Nelson, Chair of the South Australian Parole Board; Grahame Delany, Chair of the Australian Capital Territory Sentence Administration Board; Justice Steven Southwood, Chair of the Northern Territory Parole Board; Justice Simon Whelan, Chair of the Victorian Parole Board; Judge Ross Howie, Alternate Chair of the Victorian Youth Parole Board; Ian Pike, Chair of the New South Wales Parole Board; Justice Narelle Johnson, Chair of the Western Australian Parole Board; Peter McInnes, President of the Queensland Parole Board; Andrew McKee, Chair of the Tasmanian Parole Board; Barry Matthews, Chief Executive of New Zealand’s Department of Corrections; Distinguished Guests otherwise; Ladies and Gentlemen.
It has been a great delight for my wife Susan to accept the invitation to attend a part of the Australasian Parole Board Conference.
As Governor-General, it also gives me great pleasure to welcome the overseas guests to New Zealand. I trust that as well as attending the conference, many of you will make the most of the opportunity to explore some more of our beautiful country.
By way of introduction, I first register myself as a continuing, (some might even say recidivist), member of the legal community. During the more than 40 years since I started studying towards a law degree I have been able to experience the law from a number of perspectives—as a student, law clerk, and then lawyer, Judge and Ombudsman.
During the late 1980s and early 1990s for six years, I became closely acquainted with a number of the issues with which you deal, serving for three years as a Regional Prison Board Chairman and for another three years as Deputy Chairman of the then National Parole Board under the leadership of Sir Thomas Thorp. As an Ombudsman for 10 years from 1995, I also dealt with complaints from prisoners about matters related to their imprisonment and release.
As current Governor-General, I am located at the titular end of New Zealand’s constitutional arrangements where, on the advice of ministers, I am expected to sign laws into effect, to make appointments and to respond to pleas for application of the royal prerogative of mercy, each of which can impinge on parole territory. Some of the appointments made, on the recommendation of the Government, have been for membership of the Parole Board.
In the ceremonial aspect of the role I have had the privilege, on behalf of The Queen, when holding investiture ceremonies, to confer honours on a number of people who have been or are serving on the New Zealand Parole Board.
Last year, I had the pleasure of redesignating Conference Chair, David Carruthers, as a Knight Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit in August last year at a major ceremony at Old St Paul’s in Wellington. This year, I have had the honour of investing Dame June Jackson with her Queen’s Birthday honour and Judge Bill Unwin as a Companion of the Queen’s Service Order. They have each given distinguished service to the community and particularly in their services to the Board.
For completeness, I mention the community aspect of the Governor-General role, as to which, I have variously chosen to accept being Patron of the New Zealand Prisoners’ Aid and Rehabilitation Society and to be a sponsor of a recruit wing of the Royal New Zealand Police College.
Hopefully this brief “bio” has established a place for me to stand before you as an audience, as one who maintains a continuing interest in the law and justice more widely. I readily bring to mind three abiding impressions of parole work—first, the numbing amount of reading that is necessary, secondly, the intense difficulty there is often encountered in communicating with prisoners, even for people skilled in that regard – “the sand in the throat” moment can afflict the best of us you may agree - and thirdly, the considerable satisfaction that arises from seeing people who have taken positive advantage of chances given to them.
I would now like to speak a little to some of the themes of your conference.
I have been interested to observe that today Hon Dr Pita Sharples, Māori Affairs Minister and Associate Corrections Minister, spoke on public and political expectations of how parole boards will acknowledge diversity. I see too that your afternoon forum then focused on what was termed “being effective, being fair, saving money.”
Within the parameters of those words—“public and political expectations”, “diversity”, “effectiveness”, “fairness” and “saving money”—are a host of competing interests that anyone working within the criminal justice sector has to grapple with on a regular basis. Each could be the subject of a lengthy lecture but given that our dessert and coffee awaits, I will contain any temptation in that regard.
As one whose professional life has been closely connected with the justice system, I am acutely conscious of many of the issues you face. Your work is at the intersection of the principles of fairness and responsibility, and is underpinned by an imperative of understanding.
It is important that you reflect (if not resound) the plight of victims and have, as a paramount consideration, the safety of the community. Alongside this, you must also be cognisant of the welfare of offenders and their transition back into society.
At the intersection of competing interests such as these, judgments are difficult, and scrutiny by the public and media are very often intense. I know well enough from my own experience, that clear thinking, careful deliberation and well-considered decisions can be easily portrayed as otherwise by those who want to take a different view.
While I have no precise knowledge of the legal framework under which each of our overseas delegates operates, I would not be surprised if similar considerations did not also colour your work. Certainly an internet search that included the words “parole board” and then inserted the names of the jurisdictions represented here tonight has quickly confirmed how universal and intense parole work can be.
Through my time in the law, there has come about emphasis being placed on the rights of victims. The Criminal Justice Act 1985 made no specific reference to the rights of victims as a matter to be considered when making decisions regarding parole. Rather, there was called for a more generic consideration of “the safety of the public, and of any person or class of persons who may be affected by the release of the offender.” Of the matters to be considered, this was given no greater emphasis than the nature of the offence, reports from prison and other officials, the welfare of the offender and their representations to the Board.
In 1987 the New Zealand Parliament passed its first victims’ rights legislation. More recently, the 2002 Parole Act specifically requires the Board to uphold the rights of victims, as defined in the companion Victims’ Rights Act 2002, and says that “submissions by victims (as so defined) and any restorative justice outcomes are given due weight.”
I believe that the people I worked with in Parole work were always conscious of the rights of victims. The more recent changes in the New Zealand context, placing community safety as a “paramount consideration” and giving specific statutory opportunity for victims’ concerns to be heard have been welcome initiatives and have been mirrored in many jurisdictions.
The reference to victims’ rights dovetails with another societal shift, namely diversity. It is a word that is bandied about, often without any explicit definition. In New Zealand’s case, it reflects greater religious, cultural and ethnic diversity and reflects also the speed at which changes in these regards have occurred. It also can also equally refer to wider social changes, such as the way in which many New Zealanders structure their personal and family relationships.
As one example of diversity, the last census, in 2006 found that about 23 percent of New Zealanders were born overseas. A century ago, most overseas-born New Zealanders would have hailed from Britain or Ireland, which has historically been the major source of migrants to this country. In 2006, that figure – of people from Britain or Ireland had dropped to 28.6 percent—exactly the same proportion as those New Zealanders born in Asia.
To that end, it is also a matter of note that Sir David Carruthers in his preface to this year’s Parole Board Annual Report noted the appointments of Judges Margaret Lee, A’eau Epati and Eddie Paul, adding that they will add enormous value to the Board, providing a range of insights of Chinese, Samoan and Māori cultural values and approaches.
Many people will agree that these appointments were a welcome move but, as I am sure that you may all be very aware, diversity also needs to be seen through the eyes of victims. Victims from different cultural backgrounds bring to the criminal justice system differing expectations and very often differing experiences of criminal justice from the countries where they came from.
For some new migrants, the experience of the criminal justice in their home countries—where the processes of police, courts and prisons may be corrupt or the enforcers of state repression—may be quite different from the experience of dealing with authorities such as the New Zealand Parole Board. That history may colour responses to processes here and require Parole Boards to work even harder to earn their trust.
There are then the inevitable misunderstandings that occur for those for whom English is a second language. For example, it is estimated that for the 500 most common words in the English language, there are 14,000 possible meanings. For a person for whom English is a second language, even if they speak it very well, it is very easy to misunderstand information that is sent to them if, for example, it is about something as portentous as a parole hearing.
A good example I think is the verb “to flag” – to flag something. In the Northern Hemisphere "flagging" something means to positively identify the item and to emphasise it. In New Zealand to flag something means the opposite – to diminish or dismiss it. Communication and the avoidance of misunderstanding thus continue to be important.
In conclusion, the work of those who make decisions related to parole, regardless of the jurisdiction, is never easy and your gathering and your agenda seem such a good opportunity for people from different countries doing similar work, to share insights. In each of the countries where you work there are so many competing interests and expectations, not all of which can be met easily within the confines of what the law requires.
However, in sharing your expertise, experience, understanding, commitment and integrity to your work, you have a unique ability to make a crucial difference in the lives of many people. And for that, our community and yours should all be grateful.
And on a note that conveys admiration, respects and thanks, I will close in New Zealand’s first language Māori, by offering everyone greetings and wishing you all good health and fortitude in your endeavours. No reira, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, kia ora, kia kaha, tēnā koutou katoa.