Wednesday, February 20, 2013

National spins the wheel again


The government is in trouble over Novopay, Christchurch school closures, and John Key's dodgy deal with Sky. So it must be time for another crackdown on beneficiaries. The latest measures? Collective guilt for partners of beneficiaries who lie about their relationship status, greater information sharing (again), and use of the Criminal Proceeds (Recovery) Act to recover WINZ debt.

The latter is particularly concerning. The Criminal Proceeds (Recovery) Act (passed by Labour at the behest of Phil Goff) allows assets to be seized even from those acquitted of a crime. It creates a "guilty until proven innocent" regime with Ahmed Zaoui standards of evidence and a lower standard of proof. When introduced, it was targeted at "significant criminal activity" - people suspected (but not necessarily convicted, or even acquitted of) offences with a penalty over five years imprisonment. Now the government is planning to use it against welfare fraud, an offence which will have a maximum penalty of one year in jail. Its a massive lowering of the threshold for asset forfeiture and a massive expansion of the law. What next? They'll use it for littering?

The non-conviction-based asset forfeiture regime is an affront to our justice system. We should be repealing it, not expanding it to minor crimes.