Thud And Blunder

There’s a scrap between the Mongrel Mob and the Road Knights in the deep South and the Mayor of Invercargill is calling for ‘Sheriff Joe’ style retributive justice. There’s a scrap between the Mongrel Mob and the Tribesmen in Whanganui and the Mayor of the river city wants the army on the streets. There’s a nasty and violent attack by the Mongrel Mob on a 21st at Bridge Pa and a series of indiscriminate and brutal beatings and home invasions in Flaxmere and the Mayor of Hastings says ‘enough is enough!’ and calls for a march of citizens this Friday.

These are the weeks of Maatariki, when the nights are longer than the days. As I started this edition of Nga Kupu Aroha it had been raining for a week solid. Late in the afternoon, when the rain generally eased, a misty fog would roll up from the Tutaekuri and a gloom set in. It seems a bit like that weather, glum wintry and dark, in my corner of the world at the moment. There is a sense of disquiet abroad in Aotearoa. It lurks around our streets and resides especially in the homes of the old and lonely, although it has even penetrated the gated citadels of the wealthy white. It is what, during the State of Emergency in Jamaica in the 1970’s, the Rasta in Kingston would call ‘Babylon on t’in wire!’ — thin wire, an incipient state of unrest caused by the disease of relative poverty. It is patently obvious to any sane person that no one in New Zealand — especially a child — needs to go hungry or be unhoused, and yet examples of the same abound. Despite available resources and services some people act a-rationally. It is equally extraordinary that in Australia, itself founded on the penal policy of transportation, Maori New Zealanders are a sought after workforce whereas in New Zealand Maori are imprisoned at a rate of 3:1 compared to other New Zealanders. In New Zealand the rate of growth in our prison population outstrips that of the growth rate of the population at large, and the costs associated with the criminal justice sector were growing at a faster rate than our GDP, even before the current ‘technical recession’. It makes no sense that this is so, and why such a state persists is something I wish to unpick and change.

Gangs out of control - The Dominion Post

For me, some of this malaise is close at hand both as regards people and place. Other cases, like the series of sad and awful events in South Auckland with Karen Aim, Marie Davis, Krishna Naidu, Pihema Cameron, Navtej Singh, Yan Ping Yang and Joanne Wang, whilst at a distance geographically, still have their own depressing impact. I sometimes wonder if I live on a form of darkside ley line, where I’m condemned to disproportionately deal with despair and crap. Yet my past experiences tell me that in confronting the bullshit, great light may arise. Whiti Te Ra! eventually the sun will undoubtedly shine.

Kaitiaki, poured glass lifesize tuatara by Russell Evenson and Sean Geenty. Waiohiki Creative Arts Village

I’m in a really reflective mood which has me re-examining the whole premise of our Mokai Whanau Ora initiative around the country – the substance of which is well documented in these blogs. Are we just tilting at windmills? As you may rightly conclude I’ve run into stormy seas and it’s a struggle to ensure that the actions of our broad team are consistent with our voices. I suppose awareness and the readiness to acknowledge our failings is the first step back from any counter-social behaviour. I accept that I am part of an offender community but I believe that good is stronger than evil and that all we have to do is to hang in there to see good emerge. But keeping ourselves honest and supporting each other to restrain or amend ourselves in our weaknesses is an ongoing challenge.

In one instance a local gang brother who stuck up for me in the face of physical threats when I first started raising consciousness about P in 2004 has just admitted in Court to dealing the dreaded after being found with 13 grams. At least he isn’t in denial but, Goddam G! It’s not a case of feeling betrayed or anything, just experiencing a deep sense of frustration that an otherwise good human being, who has already achieved national champion status in his sport, and is full of even more potential, has made a big big mistake that is going to cost him big time, anything up to a life sentence. Recently at a hui in Taranaki I was aware of some P usage. A brother came up to me. He said “I heard about your stance bro, but just to let you know, I’m still going to use”. My response was “Thanks for being straight up bro. It doesn’t mean the end of the world. You are still my brother, and I hope that is mutual. Let me tell you though that the dreaded will get you in the end”.

Joe Walsh Quote

That’s true for brother G too. I’m gutted, but he’s still my whanau. Lest you think that duplicity exists just on my side of the fence what about the case of Mark Standen, the Assistant Director of the New South Wales Crime Commission, who has been arrested for allegedly conspiring to import 600kg of P precursors into the lucky country. Relatively, the sins of my brethren are venial. In any case in New Zealand at the moment there is no platform for rational debate about crime and punishment no matter how hard anyone tries. And, slip ‘gang’ into the sentence anywhere and its all over rover in terms of go forward support. ‘Ye are cast to your caste’ and that’s the way it is. The zealots of Rogernomics seem to have morphed into the ‘nothing works’ cynical plutocrats of the criminal justice sector. These plutocrats provide persistently piss poor policy advice. An example is the crap being fed to the Minster of Police and Justice Annette King by her Justice officials as regards what’s actually happening on the street as regards youth gangs in South Auckland, and, actually what happened in the management of events following Jhia Te Tua’s murder — you read it here in Nga Kupu Aroha some time back. But Ron Marks has had to take recourse to the Official Information Act to find detail and had the Minster on the ropes after her denying that any gang members have been involved in instances of community resolution.

The Police Association Newsletter - Vol 41 No2 March 2008

The Police Association Newsletter (Vol 41 No2 March 2008) carries a really hopeful story about two Maori cops who have helped engineer a measurable reduction in offending amongst a previously really difficult to manage Wellington youth gang. Their partners were a community group readers will know well. It is our own CART, the Consultancy Advocacy and Research Trust. The community itself is in the electorate of the Minister of Police and Justice, one Annette King. Now you’d think that the Justice Department advisers would give the Annette a good news story in her own electorate, but no, they focus on feeding her a line objecting to CART’s project with Roy and Knockers in Auckland helping calm the South Auckland youth gang issue, despite an independent evaluation that found they were doing a great job. I suspect we are about to see a form of witch hunt and purge of gang related Govt funded projects and people regardless of efficacy or human rights. It’s like Corrections bureaucrats in Wellington also slagging off the Consultancy Advocacy and Research Trust’s initiatives with young gang whanau, such as the horse trek that Edge Te Whaiti organised.

This project took the sons of Mongrel Mob leaders and Black Power leaders and gave them a cultural voyage and horse trek way into the back blocks of Ngati Tuwharetoa. There, far removed from the distractions of the city they were offered the opportunity to test themselves against the elements and their own physical, mental and spiritual selves. They began to rediscover themselves as Maori, and thus discover the links of whakapapa that bind them. They had the chance to consider their own potential, and their future roles as parents and citizens. There were others on the trek too, tutors and mentors including one of the country’s top Maori policemen.

We got a similar knee in the balls in Wellington too from Corrections staff who were suggesting to local Police who we work with that CART was harbouring and recruiting gang members. If harbouring means engaging these guys then, yes, guilty. That’s what we do. But, recruiting for gangs? Nah -ah. The Darksyders in Wellington were counted in their hundreds in articles in the Dom Post a couple of years back. Now they might be seen to number 50 or so. In Auckland Police Intelligence previously listed over 85 youth gangs in South Auckland. Now the frontline team we have there speaks of 20 to 30 groups. In Parliament this week the Minister of Police Annette King revealed that the Police assess that there are 3,500 gang members in NZ of whom 40% are in prisons. The total number is down from an assessment of over 6,000 given by then Police Minister George Hawkins in 2002 although that number is still cited by Police intelligence officers. Some suggest that there is a multiplier of 5-10 affiliates and followers. The fact is we just don’t really know because we can’t accurately define what constitutes being a ‘gang member’. The difficulty is that many of the backroom policy pundits are not in touch with reality and perpetuate an ideology based on Mortinson’s (1978) “Nothing Works” hypothesis. You’ve only got to look at Ombudsman Mel Smith’s report on the Criminal Justice Sector.


Mel Smith found that in New Zealand the criminal justice sector is so confused that a Royal Commission is required. Smith concluded that rational debate on the sector is almost impossible. He pointed out that the growing prison population is neither economically nor socially sustainable. Omudsman Smith cited some worrying indicators including the fact that there has been a 70% increase in sector spend since 2001/02. Since 2004/5 the sector’s costs have grown faster than GDP and the prison muster is growing at a faster rate than overall population growth. Mel Smith said that an all party agreement of criminal justice would be the ideal situation but, as he conceded, sadly, I presume:

“This, I accept, is Utopian, and will not come about”.

Why not? Is this acceptable? Do we just lie down and accept this crazy status quo? We need what Kevin Roberts calls ‘upside down thinking’. Such an example is offered in a tome sent to me by Brian Sweeney. In (Sir) Louis Blom-Cooper’s book about the British criminal justice system ‘The Penalty of Imprisonment: why 60% of the prison population shouldn’t be there’, Blom Cooper contends that politicians from both sides of the British political spectrum have approached the problem of crime and punishment without rationality or humanity. He says that in Great Britain the present administration has adopted a programme of prison building instead of dismantling an institution which condemns more and more people to a system that doesn’t work.

The Penalty of Imprisonment: Why 60 Per Cent of the Prison Population Should Not Be There - Louis Blom-Cooper

Like Mel Smith concludes about New Zealand, Blom-Cooper states that the

“inexorable response of contemporary Britain in resorting to prison as the prime penal sanction is still morally and practically unsustainable”.

Blom-Cooper’s relatively radical proposition is that

“imprisonment for anyone other than those who must be kept out of circulation for fear of serious physical harm – much as in mental health – should cease”

He argues that criminal justice is in essence not an instrument of crime control, but rather, has a limited but important function in proceeding to punish the more serious miscreants in society, and thereby to demonstrate to its citizenry that serious misbehaviour may attract the consequence of punishment. He says that this is the ‘denunciatory function’. But, he argues, to engage in any wider purpose society will not only punish the wrongdoer, but also be punishing itself in going beyond its permissible function and directly injuring itself in managing and operating a prison system that is unsustainable in principle and in practice. He calls the current policies:

“a crude exercise in thud and blunder”

Not that the Poms have blithely accepted the “Nothing Works” proposition. In fact one of the originating author of “Nothing Works” (Mortimer) has had cause to review and revise his original findings and now considers that indeed some interventions do work.

Besides the excellent writings of Blom-Cooper, Brian Sweeney also sent, for my education, a pile of newspaper clippings, taken from the Sunday Times (May 11, 2008) and the Guardian (May 7, 2008).

The Sunday Times carried an article about Ray Lewis and his Eastside Young Leaders’ Academy in London. He has been so successful at turning lives around that Boris Johnson, the new Conservative London Mayor, appointed him as ‘deputy mayor for young people’. Lewis believes in talking to and working with violent gang leaders. He blames the current youth gang problem on the collapse of so many of the traditional structures including the family that supported young people in their passage through life. The gangs, Lewis explains, act as a kind of alternative family. Works the same here in my experience. Another article in the same issue of the Sunday Times dealt with the Aldridge Foundation established by ultra rich businessman Rod Aldridge. Aldridge supports a mentoring programme which links up older reformed criminals with young offenders to help them get back on their feet. He promotes seminars with former offenders to find ways to reform the justice system. He says:

“When you look at this process where 72% of offenders are re-offending within a year – or 84% in the case of young street offenders – you can see that the process is not right. Until now nobody has paid any attention to the views of the people who go through the process, to see what needs to change”.

Aldridge also thinks that prisons are full of entrepreneurs whose talents have been misapplied. He says

“Take a drug dealer – just look at how much business skill he has. He is managing cash flow, managing supply and demand, and coming up with imaginative means to transport his stock. Complete creativity – yet we overlook his talents, his real talents. We just need to find incentives. Why are we not looking at this?”

I agree with the sentiment in part, although it doesn’t really take into account the perverse drivers that are sometimes at play in these circumstances. The Guardian (May 7) also had a Prisons special “Exit strategies” series of stories about crime and punishment. One was about a programme funded by the Prince’s Trust that operates on the principle that

“ex-offenders can be some of the best-placed people to help prepare prisoners for life ‘outside”.

The scheme came out of a high powered meeting in December 2006 involving leaders in the criminal justice system – including the Home Secretary, Attorney General and the head of the Probation Service as well as young offenders. Hell can you imagine a similar imitative here? MSD officials have reportedly threatened to withdraw future funding if the organisors of the “Involve Relate 08” conference on youth to be held in Wellington next week allow Mongrel Mob member Edge Te Whaiti and Black Power Eugene Ryder to present their views. They just don’t want to consider an alternative to the dogma of the present. Barry Greenberry, former governor of Guy’s Marsh prison and now CEO of three prisons, says that this approach of consulting the actual consumer of criminal justice services

“helps deliver what the penal system is supposed to be delivering lowering re-offending rates and helping prisoners to turn their lives around and rejoin society”

Greenberry admits that some of his staff members had initial reservations that ex-offenders could abuse the system by carrying drugs or acting as a negative influence, but says that those fears have dissipated since the programme began – although, as my reality suggests it will require ongoing vigilance and occasional intervention.

In an opinion piece in the same Guardian supplement, Enver Solomon, deputy director of the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies at Kings College London argues that continually investing in incarceration makes no economic sense. In 2007-08 almost £23bn was pumped into the British criminal justice system. The MSD’s annual Social Report clearly demonstrates that Maori and Polynesian communities are also over represented as ‘victimes of crime’. The UK spends more proportionately on law and order than any of the countries that make up the OECD including the US. In 2002 the UK government calculated that recorded crime by ex-prisoners costs criminal justice agencies £11bn each year. Solomon suggests that there is a strong economic argument for an alternative approach. The UK’s Audit Commission, tracking real case studies, deduced that for every pound spent on social support for children who enter the criminal justice system at an early age due to low level offending could save at least £3 in the future. The challenge is to reallocate ‘justice dollars’ spent on communities over represented in the penal system to refinance education, healthcare, housing and employment schemes. With a scenario that you may recognise Solomon says that

“As the prison population races up a cost benefit review is needed. Already for one group in our society, Afro Caribbean young men, more of whom are thought to enter prison each year than university, the cost of incarceration exceeds the amount spent on university education. This alone should call into question the economic and social costs of continued mass imprisonment”.

Swap Aotearoa for Great Britain, swap Afro-Carribbean for Maori, the scenario is the same. At least there the rational debate seems to be starting. The Socialist National Party Government in Scotland announced in October 2007 that it would investigate the purpose and impact of imprisonment in contemporary Scotland. It will report back later this month, June 2008. It will make an interesting read. Meanwhile, the New Zealand Ombudsman’s recommendation for a Royal Commission has been well and truly buried by the Wellington criminal justice sector plutocracy. You’ve got to ask, “Whose interests are served by the status quo?” Well it isn’t the communities who are over-represented in the criminal justice system. It isn’t the taxpayer, and accordingly it isn’t New Zealand.

And the rich men pay the fuzz
And the fuzz arrest the poor
It’s nothing new I’m saying to you
It’s all been said before

James K Baxter

Here in the Bay, where we still happily pump shit into the rivers and where we have a big pipe pumping even more out into the beautiful azure blue bay named after Admiral Hawke, the public, media and judiciary have become incensed, apoplectic even, about the visual pollution of graffiti. A popular hero has arisen in the form of Judge Tony Adeane who has imprisoned two taggers, one a local Taradale kid, Randall Gray, 19 years of age, and another Ford Randell 18, from Hastings or thereabouts. Taradale is a blue rinse suburb where the most risky thing about going downtown is being run over by a mobility scooter. Gray defaced the Taradalae skateball bowl, hardly a popular haunt for the middle-class and the aged. However the Judge found that Taradale was a place “where people value orderliness and tidiness and where they don’t see anything fashionable about writing on the walls”. He said that people find graffiti “thoroughly culturally obnoxious”. That was all late last year. Although you’d never know it from the media beat up to follow, in my view the Judge gave the first bloke (Gray) a fair chance to clean up his mess and to put things right. But Gray hid and ran and didn’t do what he had been ordered to do. All things being considered the Judge didn’t really have much choice but to lock him up once the cops had tracked him down. Of course that all took time, so it wasn’t until this year that he was actually sentenced to jail. That set the stage for the second guy, Ford, to get the Big Huey as well.

This was all in early May, and Ford and Randell fed into a Sunday Star Times (NZ) (May 11) Mother’s Day headline scribed for a columnist who is considered by some to be something of a mother in his own right. ‘A Pakeha Fights Back’ the banner exclaimed, summing up the polemics to follow. Michael Laws’ opinion piece praised the actions of our good Judge in imprisoning these two young people as being a proud example of “desirable retributive justice”, and the commencement of a “Pakeha-counter revolution” against an “underclass who seek to deface, demean or defeat decent and good people”. According to Laws these decent people are “middle-class, middle-aged Pakeha”, whose culture “involves the accumulation of attractive property and creating a nice environment”. Unsurprisingly, claimed the columnist (generally consistent with his weekly themes) “both miscreants had significant anti-social histories and were Maori”. Well far from being an example of a ‘Pakeha counter-revolution’ (not in my name!) it’s just a case of good old rednecked rhetoric. I recalled comment on National Radio by Robert Lithgow QC, when, in November 2007, Judge Adeane sentenced two young mothers to prison. One, Brenda Keil, convicted of shoplifting and breaching community work, had a baby just three days old. Judge Adeane said that Brenda Keil

“had grotesquely thought she would not be sent to prison because she had young children”.

Lithgow commented that in considering of the Judge’s views there certainly had been grotesque behaviour but apportioning it to Brenda may well be misplaced. The other young woman, 19 year old Destiny Grebes was similarly accused by Judge Adeane of taking the attitude that

“I’ve got a couple of babies no one’s going to do anything to me”.

“And that’s where you’ve made your mistake” the Judge said.

An interested party sitting in the Courtroom, Cedric Ratima, yelled out to the Judge “You’re a fucking egg!” He was arrested. When he was brought before Judge Adeane to say sorry he didn’t do earnestly enough for His Honour and was asked to do so again, but this time with feeling. Ratima’s mum, Alicia Teau piped up and said that her son had already apologised – and so she ended up in the slammer as well. But that’s not all. This mums and sons aspect of this little vignette of NZ jurisprudence has another stanza. During the Parliamentary Debate on the Graffiti Bill Hone Harawira MP brought up Judge Adeane as well. Harawira was pointing out how futile this law was going to be – he wasn’t supporting people doing graffiti, just saying that trying to legislate in this way was a forlorn political exercise that even the lawmakers knew wouldn’t work. He worked his way round to the Hawke’s Bay example and referred to the man on the bench as “that dickhead judge”. Hone’s mum, the fabulous Titewhai, then came into the picture, telling Hone off for abusing the privileged protection of the House, because the Judge couldn’t respond to defend himself. So Hone apologised to the Judge, publicly and unreservedly. The moral? When it comes to Judge Adeane, mum’s the word. An alternative to jail for taggers has been the approach taken by Theo Gommans, a copper in Wellington, who dresses taggers up in pink tops with TAGGER printed on the vest, front and back. They wear this whilst Theo supervises them cleaning up their work.

Bright Deterrent - The Dominion Post

I think it’s a great idea and a much better alternative than locking someone up in prison. We work with Theo a lot in Wellington through CART and he’s a bloke who seems to strike the right sort of balance between enforcement and prevention. He’s got the nicest manner possible, and goes out of his way to ensure that people, especially young people, get to correct their behaviours before they end up in the criminal justice system. But when the rubber hits the road he doesn’t muck around. His pink tops display a rare and pragmatic understanding of the psychology of his particular offender community. What he wants is the graffiti to stop, and employs a range of tactics to get that end. In Whanganui as a response to invective from the Mayor and the offer of rewards to informants, the taggers have vandalised public buildings. There has been a similar reaction in Flaxmere, Hastings in response to an anti-tagging campaign by the local rag, Hawke’s Bay Today. After a ‘get ‘em’ campaign, reportedly 40 or so taggers assembled recently and ‘creamed’ the suburb. It is all really frustrating for property owners and enforcement agencies alike. Our threats and punishments are very costly – which is why Theo’s cheeky initiative should be appreciated. He goes out of his way to ensure that kids don’t get enmeshed in the criminal justice system because if that happens he knows the wasted years that will almost assuredly follow. But that outcome, imprisonment, seems to be what the NZ public and thus what our politicians want, regardless of the lack of efficacy. The fact that people are willing to punish the wrongdoings of others at a considerable cost to themselves without any obvious benefit cannot be explained by neoclassical economic analysis. And it’s in trying better to understand this paradox that I’ve arrived at the transdisciplinary doors of “Behavioural Economics”.

This approach proposes systems-dynamics and agent-based modelling in economics. In systems with feedback – where the output (the typical way people behave in a particular instance) affects the input (how people choose to behave) there is no single stable equilibrium (as assumed in neoclassical economics). Temporary equilibria occur ( think of Gladwell’s ‘Tipping Point) which depend on the history of the system. The implication is that policy makers may find it more useful to focus their efforts to create behaviour change on the specific types of people who will help promote wider change. The New Economics Foundation ( propose ‘Seven Principles for Policy-Makers’. These seven principles are:

1. Other People’s Behaviour Matters
People do many things by observing others (social learning) and copying, especially how people behave in ambiguous situations (social proof). People are encouraged to continue to do things when they feel other people approve of their behaviour. Social Identity Theory holds that identity comes from those groups with whom we associate. There are key influencers who we allow to exert persuasion because at the end of the day authority is less motivating than gleeful submission. This understanding underpins the approach I take in enrolling gang leaders into the Mokai Whanau Ora kaupapa.

2. Habits are Important
People do many things habitually without consciously thinking about them. These habits can are hard to change. The neoclassical assumption is that people act rationally to maximise their utility (happiness/satisfaction) but the reality is that we are driven by emotion and often act a-rationally. These hard-to-change counter productive habits need to be identified and then raised to a conscious level so they can be addressed and replaced with new habits which are then anchored into a new behaviour. This is pertinent when it comes to addressing our addictions and self defeating behaviours.

3. People are Motivated to do the Right Thing
There are cases where money is demotivating as it undermines people’s intrinsic motivation. The example given is that you would quickly stop inviting friends to dinner if they insisted on paying you. It would detract from the good feeling, the altruism. The neoclassical economics approach adds up costs and the benefits. The behavioural economist might say that extrinsic motivations can crowd out intrinsic motivations and this can be counter productive. In order to tap into ‘discretionary effort’ it is important to understand that when encountering higher perceived fairness people are willing to contribute more. Conversely if they feel it is unfair they will be opposed even if the result is of overall benefit. I fear that the proposed differential being proposed by the Government regarding the tariff in criminal penalties, if a person is a member of a gang, will end up being counterproductive because it is founded on an unfair and subjective proposition whereby we risk grouping innocent individuals alongside the guilty.

4. People’s self-expectations influence how they behave
This is based on the belief that people want their actions to be in line with their values and their commitments. Leon Festinger’s ‘Cognitive Dissonance Theory’ holds that people feel uneasy when they feel a clash between their actions and their values. Where we have expressed our beliefs openly we are more likely to change our behaviour to be consistent with our expressed beliefs. When a whole group with high levels of social capital publicly make a commitment this is likely to be more influential on the individuals than when an individual makes the commitment by himself/herself. (This is one of the underlying rationales over brining the P issue up at gang hui and getting leaders to take a public stand.) The more public the commitments are the stronger they are, and written commitments are stronger than spoken ones. The neo-classicist would disregard self expectations and commitments as these are expected to influence our preferences, but preferences are taken as a given. Promises are irrelevant in neoclassic economics unless they are backed by sanctions. Higgins’ Self Discrepancy Theory holds that there are three views of our selves: He calls them ‘Actual’, ‘Ideal’, and ‘Ought-self’ (How we have a duty to be). This reaffirms the belief that making commitments especially publicly strengthens the feeling of how we should behave, and the shame we feel if we fail to live up to them. Doug McKenzie Mohr has proposed eight themes for ‘Fostering Sustainable Behaviour”:

  • Emphasise written over verbal commitments
  • Ask for public commitments
  • Seek group commitments
  • Actively involve the person
  • Consider cost effective ways to obtain commitments
  • Use existing points of contact to obtain commitments
  • Help people to view themselves as environmentally concerned
  • Don’t use coercion (commitments must be freely volunteered).

5. People are Loss Averse and Hang on to what they consider ‘Theirs’
People will go out of their way to avoid a loss, but not make the same effort for a gain. Neo-classicist economists assume that people will have a preference for risk, but will be neutral to loss or gain. The ‘willingness to pay’ will be the same as ‘willingness to accept’. But behavioural economists say that people value losses more than gains – referred to as the ‘endowment effect’. This is why I’ve promoted the process of creating ‘future narrative’ and creating a compelling vision of the future. If we start by identifying the future rather than extrapolating from the present it becomes easier to identify and get buy in to what we are going to stop doing or ‘give up’.

6. People are bad at computation
In neoclassic economic theory the assumption is made that people act rationally and logically. Behavioural economists would say that we actually often rely on rules of thumb (that may be wrong) and are in fact driven by multiple motives. When making decisions we tend to put undue weight on recent events, and too little on far off ones. This is the salience or likelihood factor. We do not calculate probabilities well and worry too much about unlikely events. This is referred to as ‘discounting’, underestimating the importance of matters. We are strongly influenced by ‘framing’, how the problem/information is presented to us. We respond to our ‘default settings’ and it is this characteristic that gives rise to the possibility of what Thaler and Sunstein call libertarian paternalism. We are susceptible to ‘Fundamental Attribution Error -whereby we tend to assume someone must be at fault. Assumptions, as the shibboleth goes, are the mother of all fuck ups, and this bad computation factor is evident is our criminal justice system.

7. People need to feel involved and effective to make a change
Just giving people the incentives and information is not necessarily enough. There can be unintended outcomes arising from making decisions based solely on a neoclassical economic analysis. In part this can be due to information overload and too much choice. In neoclassic theory people are expected to rationally make the best choices.

“If you look at economics textbooks, you will learn that homo economicus can think like Albert Einstein, store as much memory as IBM’s ‘Big Blue’ and exercise the willpower of Mahatma Ghandhi” Thaler & Sunstein, Nudge.

Behavioural economic theory says that more choice and more information can be overwhelming and can lead to a feeling of helplessness or reduced self efficacy. Kaplan (2000) suggests that telling people what to do is de-motivating (reducing self efficacy) and is likely to encounter resistance. It ignores the possibility that the local knowledge that people have may yield better solutions to a problem. Instead, providing people with opportunities for understanding exploration and participation ‘engages powerful motivations for competence, being needed, making a difference, and forging a better life.’ For policy makers emphasis should be placed on helping people to believe that they have it within their power to change their behaviour in a desired way.

Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth

Finally, following through on the belief that psychology has a useful role to play in economic modelling I’ve picked up a copy of ‘Nudge: Improving decisions about health, wealth and happiness.’ Written by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein Nudge is the source of the concept of Libertarian Paternalism. It sounds a chunder inducing oxymoron but, after consideration I’m beginning to agree that it establishes a pretty smart framework for dealing with human irrationality and assisting people make decisions that are in their own self interest. Thaler and Sunstein promote the design of social policies that take into account people’s cognitive limitations. They define a ‘nudge’ as ‘any non-coercive alteration in the context in which people make decisions’. They argue that we are currently trapped in a debate between laissez faire types who believe markets solve all our problems and the command and control types who believe that when we experience market failure then you need a mandate to provide an alternative. Whilst this is an affront to neo-classical economics (which holds that if people are left alone they will effectively maximise personal gain) Sunstein argues that nudges can be executed while protecting freedom of choice.

Takaparawhau Invite

We’ve seen the 30th anniversary of the occupation of Takaparawhau (Bastion Point) by Ngati Whatua come and go. Back on 25th May 1978 my old mentor Rob Muldoon authorised use of over 700 troops and police to arrest 222 Ngati Whatua supporters in order to clear the land for private sector developers. The old bugger was stubborn as hell about this action and I argued with him hard and long about what he was doing. Ultimately, as we know, Ngati Whatua won the fight for Takaparawhau and in many ways paved the pathway for a decade of activism. God bless them all.

Pou on Otatara

I was delighted to read in a Listener AA Travel Guide Supplement Supplement “101 Must -do Weekends” that my our local Maunga Otatara is ranked up there in the top ten. The Guide describes it thus:

“One of the finest pa sites in the country, the sprawling 44 hectares hill complex with its upper and lower pa is of tremendous significance to the Ngati Kahungunu iwi. It is easier to ‘read’ than many such sites with its main features clearly visible and well served by informative signs, terraces, pits, gardens and defences can all be clearly seen. In the words of the Historic Places Register ‘it stands apart from other pa complexes such as One Tree Hill and Te Koru because of its sheer size and the complexity of its archeological features which have largely remained intact since the site’s abandonment.”

Works by Hugh Tareha Waiohiki ©

My lady Taape is currently working with others in her hapu to develop a tour of the site, so if you want a fantastic day out come on and pay us a visit

Helen Mason wanted me to pass on thanks to all those who have wished her well as she steams into the latter part of her first century.

Last Sunday the weather was fine and we gathered at the Blue House outside Boy’s whare for our Maatariki haangi. Tommy brought some lamb, Boy, chicken, and we pooled our Maori veges including the little Maori spuds that didn’t make the cut for seed. By the time the kai was ready the sun had dropped and the Maatariki sisters had come out to play. We sat around, warmed by the fire drum and silhouetted against the bright sky as we ate the sweet tasting feast. I had a little whiskey and smiled, content in the moment. Arohanui D.


I went across to the ‘Enough is Enough’ march in Hastings organized by Henare O’Keefe and Des Ratima. Henare has always helped me when I have asked him and it was only right to support him in his time of need. Henare acted as our kaumatua for Summer Hummer ( Blog March , 2007) when, you may recall, we ran a music event with Frankie Stevens, Goodnight Nurse and The Feelers in the middle of Flaxmere. At that point were concerned about the possibility of gang trouble so we went politely to each of the three Mongrel Mob chapters, pointed out the community nature of the event, and asked them not to wear their patches to the gig. Come as family men, fathers and family. If they couldn’t do that, we asked, then, would they please just stay away. Each group agreed to do their best: there were no outright guarantees, but there was a sense that as the organisors had consulted them respectfully as members of the community, then the intention and integrity of the event would be respected. On the day we had over 2,000 people enjoy a full on rock concert in the middle of what some people consider to be a war zone, without any trouble. I wondered as to what had gone so horribly wrong in the interim. After the attack on his daughter’s home I rang Henare and expressed my remorse. I felt for him and his family after their terrifying experience. At the same time there was a good deal of dialogue going on at a community level, not only from those in the mainstream and politicians who were outraged but also amongst those at the flax roots including Mongrel Mob members and former members who were similarly outraged. It has been said that one of the main alleged perpetrators of the Bridge Pa incident was actually ‘handed in’ by his own brethren. Similarly Henare was also directly contacted by various gang leadership and prior to the march a productive meeting was held with Henare and gang leaders even from across the Mongrel Mob Black Power divide. Some Mob members committed to march with Henare, unpatched, as a sign of solidarity. I had a busy morning but I thought I’d catch up with the march in Heretaunga St. On the way I heard Hugh Chappell from National Radio talking about the event and the wide support being demonstrated even from ‘members of the farming community who had come into town.’ I’d been to an ‘invite only’ (I wasn’t on the list, but prevailed) Sensible Sentencing Trust presentation at the Napier City Council the week before and on that basis and, with Hugh’s rather conservative cut on what was happening, expected a pretty well heeled older and generally white front row to the march. It was a mixed and diverse crowd but, the majority 2,000 or so people present, to my observation, seemed to be brown and on the slide side of the middle class. In the main these were the people of Flaxmere, people who supported Henare and his whanau, people who had their own whanau experiences of terror and their own stories to tell. These were people who have missed out on much of the prosperity of recent years and who are now quickly experiencing the first bite of the difficult times ahead. These are the friends and whanau of both sinner and sinned against. Yes, and there were Mongrel Mob members there too. It was good to see. The Mayor Lawrence Yule acknowledged it.

“I speak to the Mongrel Mob. You have been members of this community for 50 years”,

The Mayor said,

“Behave yourselves because we are not going to accept it anymore.”.

I think that, perhaps unknowingly, in that moment, the Mayor of Hastings constructed a helpful analysis and a workable model for the resolution of this issue, in Hastings and elsewhere in Aotearoa. In the first instance he acknowledged the group as being members of the community, people, potentially contributing citizens, and secondly he differentiated between group, population, and behaviour. Behaviour is the essential issue, and that is where we should concentrate our attention, and our language. The fading of ‘gang member’ as an individual identifier will occur at the same rate as a sense of community builds. The Mayor of Hastings is right. Enough is enough. Enough is enough of our current criminal justice plutocracy that serves only its own interests. We face a community development challenge. It is a challenge to realize the potential of the people of Flaxmere, of Hastings, of Hawke’s Bay and of Aotearoa. It is the challenge to build communities rather than prisons.

Tags: Denis O'Reilly  gangs  justice  Napier  police  

  • Awryly - 3:37 pm on December 31st, 2013
    I vaguely remember it was all "smoothed over", as these things inevitably are.
  • Awryly - 4:28 pm on December 24th, 2013
    I recollect that O'Reilly told me at the time that the gangs he advocated for were doing the Lord's work and that Robert Muldoon was his (well-endowed) disciple. But that he slept with a shotgun under his bed.
  • Awryly - 4:17 pm on December 24th, 2013
    These gangs have been out of control since I visited Timaru as a government official in the late 1980s to sort out one of their various messes. At the request of the local mayor and sundry highly startled national officials whose idea it was to give the gangs money to keep them quiet. My recollection is that so were the other gang involved. They wore funny uniforms with "NZ Police" written on them.
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