Laws: Partners in crime should do the time

Last updated 05:00 24/02/2013
Sunday Star-Times columnist Michael Laws: The partners of all criminals should be held liable if they know of their spouse's illegal activities.

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One of the serious problems with the left and liberals in New Zealand is that their viewpoints often force them into defending the indefensible.

OPINION: Whether perverts like Stewart Murray Wilson being given parole, or gang members strutting their anti-social stuff, or parents denied the ability to physically discipline their kids, liberals often find themselves swimming against the mainstream.

That said, I've always regarded liberals as anything but. Because they are quite prepared to impose their minority views - against the democratic will - when it suits them. Scratch a liberal and you always find the hypocrite.

So it was this week when associate social development minister Chester Borrows unveiled the latest Government attempt to crack down on welfare fraud.

In essence, if a welfare cheat has a partner who knows they are cheating, then they are going to be held liable too. The response from the left/liberals was completely Pavlovian. It's just beneficiary-bashing, they uniformly claimed.

The facts are slightly different. Last year, more than 2000 people ripped off around $42 million from the taxpayer. And of that number, around three-quarters of those involved proved to be repeat offenders.

Borrows argues that in many of these cases, the offender had a willing partner who knew about the ripoff and shared in the petty profits. The proposed legislation will make those people financially and criminally liable for that awareness.

From a purely pragmatic viewpoint, one can accept such logic. In the main, most offending occurs with beneficiaries earning money in employment and not declaring it. That will continue despite the law change.

Many DPBs, in particular, earn extra money as cash jobs - whether as domestic cleaners or casual carers. They don't declare all of that money because it would abate their benefit.

I have some sympathy for their plight. And I sometimes wonder that if we were all in their circumstance, whether we might not do the same. They live on the financial knife-edge - the chance to earn just a little more for their families must be seriously tempting.

As a rule though, these folk will still evade the new law. The cash job always has.

Nevertheless, Borrows has introduced an important principle. If I gain from the illegal activity of my partner/spouse - and I know of their offending - shouldn't I also be held liable?

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This principle must surely be extended to white-collar criminals. How many spouses directly gained from the illegal activities of their husbands in the finance industry over the past decade? How many currently gain from the drug dealing of their live-in boyfriends? How many mothers are aware that their de facto is abusing their kids - but still walk free from Kiwi courts?

If one can be held responsible for a partner falsely claiming a welfare benefit, then surely all those gaining from any illegal activity must be held liable too.

Borrows opened a new door this week. The rest of Government now needs to follow.

- Sunday Star Times


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