Labour, Greens under fire for voting down law to make notifying schools of nearby sex offenders mandatory

Labour and the Greens are under fire for voting down a law that would make it mandatory to notify schools when there's a sex offender nearby.  

Informing schools when a sex offender is being placed in the community is not a new practice for Corrections. National MP Matt Doocey's Member's Bill sought to make it mandatory but it was voted down on Wednesday night. 

"While Corrections does inform some schools when placing a sex offender in the community, it isn't mandatory, and in developing this legislation I heard from a large number of principals who said they had never alerted to a sex offender being released near to their school," Doocey said.

"In fact, Newtown Primary School principal Mark Brown found out through social media that a convicted paedophile at 'high risk of reoffending' had moved in up the road from his school, 100 metres from a day-care and near a playground."

Doocey said his legislation was "sensible" and would go further to protect our vulnerable students and help ease the minds of parents across New Zealand, "but Labour voted against it". 

National MP Simeon Brown hit out at the Greens on Wednesday night after Green MP Golriz Ghahraman labelled the legislation "callous" for giving people the impression children would be safer because of the law change. 

"This might be the kind of thing that makes us feel good, because we all do care so deeply about child sex offending, but it doesn't work," Ghahraman said. 

Brown responded: "I reject the Green Party calling this a callous piece of legislation. I'm sick and tired of them standing up on their side of the House, standing on the side of the people who are offending in our community and not on the side of victims."

National MP Simeon Brown.
National MP Simeon Brown. Photo credit: Newshub / Zane Small

Ghahraman said it felt like déjà vu to be speaking on the legislation after the Greens last week opposed retrospective changes to a law that means nearly 600 child sex offenders will be put back on the national register.   

The Greens opposed that legislation citing concerns mentioned in former Attorney-General Chris Finlayson's 2017 report. It raised human rights implications and highlighted lack of evidence around the effectiveness of child sex offender registers.  

Labour passed the legislation under urgency, but voted against Doocey's Bill, which Ghahraman suggested was hypocritical. 

"It's a little bit surprising to hear Labour Party colleagues acknowledge the research and what we know about the way that child sex offending works, the way that it is rarely prevented through publicised registers of offenders implemented after people have served their sentences," Ghahraman said. 

"It can lead to hysteria... to isolation of entire families, to harassment - and all of that without having actually any kind of a measured or effective response to child sex offending any other kind of offending."

Green MP Golriz Ghahraman.
Green MP Golriz Ghahraman. Photo credit: Newshub / Zane Small

Brown said he found "it absolutely abhorrent" the Greens have the "audacity to come in here, week after week, and vote against legislation which protects our children from sex offenders". 

He accused the Greens of "apologising for offenders" and said he found it "offensive". 

Labour MP Emily Henderson said her party voted in favour of strengthening the child sex offender register last week because it was "proportionate... unlike this one". 

"This Bill, with its blanket requirement of notification to schools, is not evidence-based. It may make us feel good; it does nothing to protect children," Dr Henderson said, going on to describe it as a "knee-jerk reaction". 

She said the legislation is flawed because it doesn't differentiate between recovered sex offenders and those who still pose a threat to society. 

"There will be no judgment. There will be no flexibility. There will be no rationality in the regime proposed under this Bill. It is disproportionate. It is one-size-fits-all. It is inappropriate."

ACT MP Karen Chhour said while there were "issues" and "concerns" with the legislation, the public should have had the opportunity to have their say.

ACT and National voted in favour of the legislation. Labour, the Greens and the Māori Party - who together hold a majority - voted against it.