ACT on ‘Labour-lite’ housing policy

Yesterday the Government announced plans to build about 25,000 extra houses in Auckland over the next ten years – see National’s Auckland housing policy.

This looked a lot like a partial Labour ‘Kiwibuild’ policy. Despite this Labour MPs slammed it.

Andrew Little belittled the policy:

Breaking news – National admits there’s a housing crisis

National finally admits there’s a housing crisis, but today’s belated announcement is simply not a credible response to the problem it’s been in denial about for so long, says Leader of the Opposition Andrew Little.

“National can’t now credibly claim to be tackling the housing crisis four months out from the election when, for nine years, they’ve ignored the plight of first home buyers and families in need.

“This Government has long rubbished the idea of building houses. Time and again it’s failed to deliver any significant increase in housing supply.

“National cannot be trusted to do anything meaningful for the thousands of first home buyers in Auckland who have been denied their shot at the Kiwi dream.

“Amy Adams has fudged the figures. How many of these houses will actually be affordable? What does ‘affordable’ mean? How will that give hope to first home buyers when speculators can buy these houses too?

“It’s just more smoke and mirrors from a Government that’s failed miserably. It’s a mish-mash of old and new housing programmes. Many of these houses have already been announced.

“Auckland currently has a shortfall of 40,000 houses and growing. This plan won’t address the shortfall, let alone build the extra houses needed to keep up with demand.

“This last minute announcement just won’t do enough. National has had its chance. It’s time for a fresh approach.

“Labour will build 50,000 houses in Auckland people can afford to buy and we’ll increase the supply of state houses; we’ll crack down on speculators; and we’ll invest in warm, dry homes.

“National hasn’t a shred of credibility left. The evidence keeps mounting:

• It promised a big increase in emergency housing beds in the last six months, and hasn’t delivered.
• It’s Special Housing Areas promised an extra 39,000 homes, fewer than 2,000 have been built.
• Housing New Zealand has failed meet its building targets and reduced the number of state houses by 2,500.

“This cynical announcement by National should be seen for what it is – an election year fudge to paper over the cracks of its failure in housing. It’s time for Labour’s plan,” says Andrew Little.

However it was ACT’s David Seymour who went into detail with his criticism.

National need to think bigger than Labour-lite

National needs to do more than just adopt tunnel-vision Labour policies, says ACT Leader David Seymour.

“If the goal is to close the housing shortfall, this is a step in the right direction, but it won’t be enough. The proposal will add 25,000 homes when what we need is another 500,000.

“We can only achieve this by fixing the underlying problem: that regulations and infrastructure pressures prevent private developers from building homes.

“The Government will have to loosen up land use rules if it wants to get 34,000 homes built on a few scraps of Crown land. Why not just follow ACT’s plan to replace the Resource Management Act for the whole city, letting private developers do the building for us?

“The Government will also struggle to build houses at an affordable cost under current construction regulations. ACT has a policy for this: we’d replace construction red tape with an insurance requirement, letting developers cut costs in risk-free ways.

“The other problem the Government will face is pressure on infrastructure. Fortunately, ACT has a plan for this too. ACT will allow Councils to use half of the GST from construction projects to fund local infrastructure.

“The Government is right to say we need more homes. But if we want to see these homes built on anywhere near the scale required, we’ll need a stronger ACT to make the government enact substantial reform, instead of Labour-lite tinkering.”

National has failed in it’s attempt to substantially reform the RMA this term and even if they get the chance and try again next term that would talk some time, they would probably need the support of NZ First or Labour, and in the meantime Auckland’s (and New Zealand’s) housing shortage will get worse unless a lot more houses and flats are built.

ACT response to Labour’s housing policy

David Seymour has responded to Labour’s housing policy.

Labour puts Envy Politics over Economics

“The Labour Party’s policy of ring fencing and negative gearing will only pass costs onto renters in a tight market,” says ACT leader David Seymour.

“As renters well know, the rental market is a tight one, it is a landlord’s market.  Renters have few options, so landlords can pass costs on to tenants easily.

“Labour’s policy is unbelieveably stupid, because it pushes up costs without generating more homes. It is a recipe for rent hikes, putting the most vulnerable out on the streets.

“Unfortunately the Labour Party is still driven by envy first and economics second, it is highly disappointing.

“The only way to improve conditions for renters to increase the overall supply of housing, creating a renter’s market where it is the renters who have the options.

“ACT advocates serious policy reform that would do just that. Replace the RMA in cities, and fund infrastructure by giving councils half the GST on construction that they consent. This policy would get homes built and improve tenant’s options, whereas Labour’s policy will only price more people out of the market as landlords pass costs on to them.

Controversial RMA reforms passed into law

Yesterday the third reading vote passed the controversial RMA reforms into law but 1 vote.

National have been determined to get the RMA through this term. When David Seymour (ACT) and Peter Dunne (UF) had objections to some parts of the bill National turned to the Maori Party to get it over the line.

But RMA reforms causing tensions over race relations

Tensions over race relations have been to the fore as the Government’s managed to pass its RMA reforms into law thanks to backing from the Maori Party.

ACT leader David Seymour said the reforms won’t do nothing for housing affordability, nor will it do nothing for land supply and the building of new dwellings, but it will be close enough to nothing.

“It will be close enough to nothing that he has wasted two and a half years of his ministerial time and much of this houses time bringing a bill that is two steps backward for each one step forward.”

Labour MP David Parker’s slammed the Government for using the housing crisis to drive its RMA reforms, calling it dishonest.

“Blaming the RMA and planners for the tax biases and the inequality that’s driven home ownership in New Zealand to the lowest level since the 1950s for over 60 years is just wrong.”

I thought it is widely understood  that the housing shortage is in large part due to RMA restrictions on new subdivisions and building. It has become too easy for people to oppose building, and getting resource consent can be time consuming and expensive – and at risk of failing.

Most parties supported RMA reform, including Labour, but didn’t support the full package that National wanted.

New Zealand First’s maintained a vocal opposition to new iwi participation measures in RMA rules with party deputy leader Ron Mark arguing one law for all should apply.

“We are all created equal in God’s eyes and nothing in legislation will ever change that no how many flip flops Mr Nick Smith makes.”

An odd comment from Mark that was smacked down by Maori Party co-leader Marama Fox:

“I find that last contribution quite ironic from the man who was the chief treaty negotiator for Ngati Kahungunu ki Wairarapa.”

National have defended the result of their collusion with the Maori Party by slanging back.

Environment Minister Nick Smith has accused those of opposing the Bill of doing the country a disservice.

“They quibbled at the edges, they tried to manufacture myths, but they’ve been unable to amount any credible argument against the substantive reforms in this bill, in fact they barely mentioned them.”

But, although reform was widely supported, others had serious concerns about some of the quibbly edge bits.

Smith would have to be one of the worst Government negotiators ever.

While the RMA reforms may or may not bother most voters (more likely not) the deal making done by National is likely to be used to slam the Maori Party in the election campaign,

English (National) opposes cannabis law change

Bill English has confirmed that he and National by association oppose cannabis law reform, speaking to Duncan Garner this morning on Newshub’s morning programme:

NZ doesn’t want ‘marijuana industry’ – English

“We don’t want an official marijuana industry. We’re not going to be legalising it.”

The headline says ‘NZ doesn’t want’ but I think the ‘we’ that English is referring to is the National led Government, which means the National Party opposes any law change.

English is less staunch in his position on medical cannabis.

Speaking to The AM Show on Monday, Prime Minister Bill English said there’s already a “compassionate” and legal route for patients to get cannabis products – if they need them.

“The minister’s just changed the rules so that’s a little bit easier, with the Ministry of Health now approving it instead of each one going to the minister.

“As far as we can see, that’s going to work pretty well and we don’t want to take it any further.”

He fears increasing access to medical products based on cannabis will increase recreational use.

“We just think the long-term damage of large-scale use of marijuana is pretty bad.”

The ‘we’ again I think meaning ‘National’ – or at least a  majority of the National caucus. Younger National MPs like Nikki Kaye and Chris Bishop are likely to have a more pragmatic and progressive view.

The minister that English refers to is not a National MP, it is Peter Dunne, who has pushed medical use as far as he probably can within the current laws. And…

Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne says he would welcome trials of other products here in New Zealand, but our market is too small.

“We need manufacturers with product to say ‘we would like to trial these formulations in New Zealand’, and the sad truth is that for many of those manufacturers they do not see New Zealand as a sufficiently large market to make it worthwhile,” he told The Nation.

“It’s the same story we have for clinical trials generally, but there’s no prohibition for sourcing cannabis for medical trials in New Zealand.”

That’s all he is able to do, promote possibilities under current law.

English and others in National won’t allow any law changes.

It will require either a change of Government or a change of generation in the National caucus to get any cannabis law changes.

Unless Dunne and David Seymour are able to negotiate a coalition deal with National that sorts out a mess of a cannabis situation

Literacy leap for prisoners – non-partisan leap for MPs

Mike Williams is Labour ex-president and a staunch party supporter. He is now CEO of the Howard League and is a staunch promoter of penal reform.

In an unlikely alliance he has joined with ACT MP David Seymour in suggesting a policy that should improve dire prisoner literacy rates and potentially improve the prospects of ex prisoners and reduce recidivism.

And Seymour’s suggestions have also got some support from Prime Minister Bill English and from Labour’s Justice spokesperson Kelvin Davis. Whether Seymour retains his Epsom electorate or not this year, and whoever forms the next government, it would be good to see his policy make some progress.

Williams writes: Literacy leap for prisoners. Some background:

 Howard League president Tony Gibbs and I have been running a long-term programme of raising awareness about the inability of a majority of prisoners to read and write sufficiently well enough to function as a normal human in modern society.

To this end we have been inviting politicians and other influential public figures to attend our Howard League prisoner literacy graduation ceremonies.

Many of our political leaders have never visited a jail or talked to a prisoner and most have no concept of the malign results of illiteracy.

Last year we had a graduation at Rimutaka jail and were very fortunate to attract Bill English, then deputy prime minister, as guest speaker.

Tony Gibbs has known former Act party president John Thompson for many years and through this connection, we also invited David Seymour, the sole Act party MP.

The Seymour experience:

At the Rimutaka graduation he chatted with a number of prisoner graduates and talked to the tutors who were there to see their students get their certificates.

Rimutaka jail is one of New Zealand’s largest prisons and can accommodate more that 1000 inmates, and David Seymour asked me why, if two-thirds of the men there were statistically likely to be illiterate, were we graduating only eight prisoners.

One answer to this question is that many prisoners have such negative self-images that they do not seek to improve themselves when there appears to be no reward for doing so.

The Seymour response:

David Seymour suggested that if prisoners were offered a discount on their sentences this might be the circuit breaker that not only inspired prisoners to get the basic skills needed to get work and “go straight” on release, it might eventually reduce prisoner numbers and start addressing the serious overcrowding problem that bedevils our jails.

These thoughts plus a lot of research turned into a new Act party policy which Seymour announced at the conference I attended.

He said: “It’s called Rewarding Self-Improvement in Prisons. This proposal would provide incentives, in the form of reduced sentences, for prisoners to complete basic programmes in literacy, numeracy, and driver licensing.

“Those prisoners who are already functionally literate, numerate, and licensed to drive, can still benefit from Act’s policy. They would earn credits for training as a mentor, and then teaching other prisoners.”

Seymour didn’t just learn from his prison visit, he researched solutions and looked for success with similar approaches overseas:

In the US, states that have Earned Credit Programs in prisons report a lower recidivism rate than states that do not have one. New York saw a 20 per cent lower recidivism rate among prisoners who earned early-release.”

Such a strategy is also likely to be financially attractive as David Seymour went on to point out.

“They save money. A model student serving a two-year sentence could, under Act’s proposal, shave 12 weeks off their sentence and save the taxpayer $14,000. And if their learning prevents future imprisonment, the saving could enter the $100,000s, which could be reinvested in educational programmes.

“And that’s just for one prisoner.

“The New York Corrections Department saved $369 million in a decade thanks to their earned credit policy. A proportionate saving for New Zealand’s population would be $113m for Corrections.

“The savings would be far higher if you include individuals, families, and businesses that would no longer have to face the costs of crime.”

Non-partisan support:

The Prime Minister said that it was worth considering and Kelvin Davis MP endorsed the idea on behalf of the Labour Party. Even the “tough on crime” Sensible Sentencing Trust supported the policy.

This amounts to a great leap ahead and a triumph for common sense.

It’s also a good example of how politics can work positively in a non-partisan way.

But why has it taken so long? Peter Dunne issued this media statement in 2006: Literacy another failure for Corrections

United Future leader Peter Dunne has called on the Government to address the issue of illiteracy amongst New Zealand’s prison population.

“One of the most effective ways of preventing inmates from re-offending is to teach them the necessary skills to get a job and make a contribution to society when they get out. That is a hard thing to do if they lack the most basic literacy requirements.”

Literacy education is provided within prisons; however only if a prisoner is motivated enough to address their own illiteracy issue can that prisoner be referred for literacy tuition.

The larger parties are unlikely to make addressing prisoner illiteracy a priority, so it may take an election win for Seymour and some vigorous lobbying to get some progress on his proposal.

ACT could make it a bottom line for supporting a National led government again – and National should be receptive to accommodating the policy.

If Labour lead the next Government it may take some pushing from Seymour and some help from Davis.

What to do about obesity?

The obvious answer to what to do about obesity is to eat less and to eat better foods. But many people obviously have difficulty with this, to the extent that obesity is being called an epidemic. There have been claims that due to obesity the trend of increasing life expectancy will reverse.

Stuff: For our Food for Thought series, we asked each party currently represented in Parliament how to improve Kiwis’ diets.

David Seymour: Obesity ‘an epidemic of choice’ but we must help poor

One in three Kiwis are obese.

New Zealand’s biggest problem is our ease of access to cheap, delicious, high-calorie food. We’re a victim of our own success.

The strange reality of obesity is that it’s an epidemic of choice.

The problems start when kids are affected, when the poorest communities suffer disproportionately, and when healthy taxpayers have to fork out for other people’s heart surgeries.

Some suggest removing GST from fruit and veges.

Another popular idea is advertising restrictions.

And that brings us to the real issue: shielding people from real-world decisions sends them the message that they are dumb, and government is smart. “Don’t take responsibility for yourself, or your kids. Nanny state will handle that.”

So what can politicians do?

ACT’s solution is the same as our solution to other social problems: empowering people with greater opportunity. That includes, but is not limited to, a useful education, an engaging job in a growing economy, and a realistic shot at a place of your own for every single New Zealander.

There is no “solution”. There could and should be more done to reduce the problems of poor health due to overeating. But it is a very very difficult thing to deal with in practice. Going cold turkey isn’t an option.

Peter Dunne: Education the key to improving Kiwis’ food habits

The answer to attaining healthier eating habits is not to have the Government become the parent of our nation’s parents. Rather, UnitedFuture endorses education as the pathway to empowering New Zealand consumers to make choices that are the best for their and their family’s circumstances.

UnitedFuture has three key policy areas we want to see changes to ensure that information is both freely available and publicised:

* We would develop a national fund to sponsor programmes to promote better nutrition, particularly for children and youth;

* We would use the tools of Government to facilitate public education campaigns that emphasise the importance of nutrition and exercise and the consequences of poor nutrition, such as diabetes, heart disease, stroke, cancer, and premature aging;

* We would support stronger consumer information rules by encouraging more information about food products to be published that are easily accessible by consumers (such as calorie count);

UnitedFuture has confidence in New Zealanders that they can make decisions that are right for them and their families when they are equipped with full information.

I see two major problems.

How do you educate the many people who are beyond school age? Compulsory night classes? Teaching kids at school is one possibility but for many school age is already too late, eating habits have already been established.

And education and knowledge doesn’t stop people from eating too much and it doesn’t stop people from making poor choices about what food they eat.

Many people know full well that scoffing junk food and gutsing too much is not good for their physical or mental health – depression and lack of self worth is a major factor in overeating, and it has a snowball effect as people approach the shape of a snowball.

Can growing obesity be stemmed? I really don’t know what would be effective.

It is very difficult to have any success telling someone not to eat as much.


After writing this I found more:

Jonathan Coleman, National: Tackling obesity is a priority for the Government
David Clark, Labour: Food labelling flaws make healthy eating hard for Kiwis
Julie Anne Genter, Green Party: Government must help kids, not food corporations to tackle obesity
Barbara Stewart, NZ First: Healthy eating a struggle for Kiwis
David Seymour, ACT: Obesity ‘an epidemic of choice’ but we must help poor
* The Maori Party did not take up our invitation to participate

Bishop versus harawira

I missed this part of last night’s debate at Auckland University. Newshub managed to get a headline out of their efforts.

Hone Harawira swears, threatens National MP during Auckland University election debate

Patrick Gower did quite a bit of swearing too, but that didn’t make their news.

At the Auckland University debate on Thursday night, Mr Harawira was defending his policy that immigrants should buy a newly-built house when moving to New Zealand.

Newshub political editor and debate MC Patrick Gower asked Mr Bishop what he thought.

“It’s the worst sort of politics to blame foreigners for our problems,” Mr Bishop said, when Mr Harawira interjected.

“Nobody over here is blaming foreigners,” he said.

Mr Bishop fired back, taking the debate on a different tangent: “Hone, you said before you worked hard. The last time you were an MP, you turned up to Parliament so little, we had to pass a special law to make sure you got fined for not turning up.”

He won cheers from the audience, before Mr Harawira raised his voice. “You don’t have the courage to get up and speak for yourself, and that’s why you’re in the National Party, because you let yourself be told what to do.”

Mr Harawira said an MP should fight for his people, “and if you won’t do it, get the hell out of Parliament!”

Does Harawira not understand that different MPs fight for different people? Bishop is credited with working hard in the Hutt South electorate and looks a good bet to win it off Trevor Mallard’s successor, having pushed Mallard close in 2014.

Bishop has also been successful getting a Members’ Bill through Parliament and this is also helping some people. See Chris Bishop delighted at record number of live kidney donors

Chris Bishop MP is delighted at the increase in live kidney donors reported, just months after his Member’s Bill, Financial Compensation for Live Organ Donors, passed into law.

The numbers reported by Organ Donation New Zealand on World Kidney Day show that the number of living kidney donors continues to increase, having a massive impact on the lives of patients and their families.

Back to the debate:

Mr Seymour chipped in to defend Mr Bishop: “That’s right, Bish does what he’s told – when he has to be in Parliament, he’s actually in Parliament.”

Mr Bishop then accused Mr Harawira of a taxpayer-funded trip to Paris.

Gower tried to bring order back to the fiery tit-for-tat, but Mr Harawira wasn’t having any of it.

“Paddy! If this is a housing question you should have f*cking slapped him down the minute he started making a personal attack. He’s turned it into a personal attack and if he wants to go down that track, let’s do it.”

But Mr Harawira then got back to the issue.

“This is not an attack on foreigners.”

As he talked, Mr Bishop continued to interject, until Mr Harawira threatened him.

“Sit down Chris Bishop, or you could end up in a place you don’t want to be.”

That’s a vague sort of threat, and Harawira isn’t the only one who swore during the debate, Gower had legitimised it through his own ‘colourful language’.

But I don’t think the prospects of Harawira working with a National government if both Harawira and national succeed in this year’s election.

Did any good come out of the debate? Most people will never know.

Debates have become another media tool to create news and headlines. As usual the worst little bits of the debate get the media coverage. Is it any wonder people are turned off voting?

 

Seymour v. English on employee drug use

Bill English has been widely criticised for his comments on drug use being an impediment to employment of New Zealanders – it is an issue but English has not communicated it well (and of course media and opponents have highlighted narrow parts of what he has said.

See PM accused of telling ‘stories’ to justify immigration

ACT’s David Seymour suggests that English and some of his opponents “missed the point”.

Drug and alcohol use and lack of incentive to take on jobs that may be ‘less than optimal’ is more a symptom than a cause of entrenched unemployment problems.

Seymour has put out this press release:

Unemployment not caused by employers OR drug users

The government and opposition have both missed the point by blaming unemployment on drug users and immigration, says ACT Leader David Seymour.

“Employers are turning to migrant workers not because Kiwis are drug addicts, and not because migrants are cheaper,” says Mr Seymour. “The real issue is a fundamental lack of basic life skills among local available employees.

“The most obvious issue is literacy. 2016’s Half-Yearly Employers’ Survey from the EMA showed a massive 43% of respondents voicing concerns about poor completion of workplace documents. And the most recent Employers’ Survey showed that 36% of respondents are dissatisfied with the work readiness of school leavers. And 65% say there is, or will be, a skills shortage in their industry.

“ACT has always sought to address these fundamental issues through education. Partnership Schools have the potential to upskill those students let down by the state system, which is why we’ll be pushing to open more after the election.

“This is also why ACT announced over the weekend that we would give prisoners discounts off sentences if they gain functional literacy. 60-70 per cent of prisoners lack the literacy ability to understand the road code or an employment contract, so it’s no wonder 48 per cent are back inside within four years.”

There’s a bit of political opportunism trying to turn the issue into something that coincidentally ACT policies can resolve, but Seymour does have a point.

A lot of people who take up seasonal work in agriculture, horticulture and viticulture can in fact be better educated young people wanting to fund further education.

One of the biggest problems with the long term unemployed is that some of them couldn’t be bothered or didn’t fit in with available education and have gone on to not be bothered with or fit in with available work.

This can be due to a lifetime of mis-learning.

Perhaps the focus should be less on drug testing of prospective employees and more on the drug (and alcohol) use of prospective parents who become responsible for intergenerational education and employment problems.

But this won’t be an easy election campaign fix.

Criticism of ACT prison policy

ACT has succeeded in attracting attention to the prison policy they announced at their conference in the weekend – see ACT: reduced prison sentence for education – with critics claiming flaws.

RNZ: Flaws seen in ACT’s new prison literacy policy

The ACT Party’s new policy aimed at reducing prisoners’ sentences does not match up with its previous hard-line policies, the Labour Party says.

Labour’s corrections spokesperson Kelvin Davis said the policy had merit on the surface because too many people were being imprisoned.

But he said the ACT Party also introduced the three-strikes policy, which was about locking people up.

“It’s sort of counter-intuitive for them to be saying ‘well let’s reduce prison sentences’ but again without any real detail around the policy it’s really hard to measure whether this policy is actually going to make a difference or not.”

It’s not counter-intuitive. Davis should read David Seymour’s speech and read the policy explanation before criticising it.

It’s not difficult to understand that it’s possible to be tough on the worst recidivist criminals while also trying to improve the non-criminal prospects of first time and petty criminals.

Author and researcher Jarrod Gilbert said the idea of cutting prison sentences should be applauded, but the hard-line three-strikes policy fuelled high incarceration rates.

“We’ve got to balance prison policy between a punitive approach which punishes people for what they do wrong but also assists those that require help to change their lives and obviously that’s not just in the individual’s benefit to change but in wider society’s benefit, not only through cost but through reducing victims of crime.”

Gilbert understands that it’s possible to be both punitive and rehabilitate.

Kim Workman, a former head of Corrections who is a research associate at Victoria University’s Institute of Criminology, said any effort to teach literacy and numeracy to prisoners should be supported.

But he said the policy would be unfair on prisoners who can’t join in lessons.

An odd comment. You shouldn’t try and help some prisoners learn to read and write because some can already read and write and some others are too sick to learn?

“Twenty percent of the prisoners for a start, have brain and head injuries and are incapable of taking part in those programmes, 40 percent have mental health issues. So you’re really only looking at a small proportion of the prison community who are able to leave the prison early.”

I don’t believe that all 20% of prisoners with head injuries can’t be helped by education.

Nor all of the 40% with mental health problems. In fact self esteem is a factor in some mental health problems, so better education could help them overcome mental health problems.

But even if only the remaining 40% can be taught to read and write, or even just a half or a quarter of them, that must surely be a very good achievement.

Kelvin Davis said the programmes already running in prisons needed more funding.

Jarrod Gilbert said support for those coming out of prison was urgently needed to help reduce recidivism.

Funding and resources are crucial if ACT’s policy is to succeed.

Mr Seymour said the rehabilitation of prisoners was crucial and the policy would be part of any coalition arrangement, if ACT were in a position to be part of the government after September’s general election.

He said he had spoken with the Prime Minister about the policy and Bill English was open to the idea.

This policy is a good candidate for consideration as a social investment. Putting more money and resources into rehabilitation and education should fairly quickly save costs through reducing the number of people in prison.

ACT: reduced prison sentence for education

Policy announcement: Rewarding self improvement in prisons

“Prisoners should be able to earn a reduction in their overall sentence by successfully completing literacy, numeracy, and driver licensing courses. This would provide an incentive for prisoners to upskill and ready themselves for a normal, non-criminal life outside of prison.”

Stuff: ACT to reward prisoners with reduced sentences for learning to read in prison

Offenders who study basic numeracy and literacy courses in prison should be rewarded with time shaved off their sentences, ACT leader David Seymour says.

Prisoners who entered prison with a higher level of education should also be eligible for incentives if they act as mentors to other prisoners and help them learn.

Seymour announced the policy at the party’s annual conference at Auckland’s Orakei Bay on Saturday, where he told a packed room of about 120 of the party’s rank and file, prisoners needed “positive incentives” to better themselves.

The ACT policy would see prisoners rewarded with a sentence-reduction of up to six weeks per year, for attaining literacy and numeracy skills in line with National standards, as well as driver licensing courses.

So a prisoner on a three-year sentence could earn up to a capped rate of 18 weeks off their time in prison, if they completed courses of sufficient value.

The policy would not apply to the worst violent or sexual offenders, and it would not help white-collar criminals to study diplomas or degrees. ACT was also proposing to cut red tape to make it easier for some volunteers to gain approval to carry out work in prisons.

According to Seymour, 48 per cent of prisoners had been returned to prison in the past four years. Of all prisoners, about 70 per cent had low levels of literacy and numeracy, and of the more-than 10,000 people in prison, 3240 participated in a programme in 2016.

There was no incentive for prisoners to take responsibility for their own success, said Seymour.

And guest speaker at the conference, Mike Williams supports it.

The Howard League for Penal Reform chief executive Mike Williams said it was a welcome policy, that would make a difference.

The league is an organisation that works for a more “humane” prison system, and already runs literacy courses in prisons.

Williams – a former Labour Party president – spoke to the conference about the work of the league and the cases it deals with.

“Our course is 12 weeks [to teach someone to read]. In 90 per cent of cases that works – we have had occasions where it’s taken a lot longer, and once we’ve had to teach the alphabet.”

The league carries out its work with the help of volunteers, and Williams said it could be done relatively cheaply. The chance of a reduced sentence, combined with force of their peers learning to read and work with numbers would “inspire” many prisoners.

“Illiteracy is particularly important to them, but what we know is that every one of them wants to get out of jail. It’s not a motel, they don’t want to be there.

“So the possibility of a shorter sentence is a very strong incentive to improve yourself, and I understand that it’s been tried and proven in California.”

Positive incentives make sense. More education = shorter sentences seems a good idea.

See in brief: ACT will reward self-improvement in prisons