Top Australian judiciary leaders experienced their first taste of Maori culture when they arrived at a marae yesterday to hear about the challenges facing Hastings, and initiatives to turn the tide.
The group of Australian district and county chief judges included Michael Rozenes (Victoria), Terry Worthington (South Australia), Reg Blanch (NSW), Patsy Wolfe (Queensland) and Peter Martino (Western Australia).
They were guided by some of their New Zealand counterparts - Judge Heemi Taumanu, Chief Judge Jan-Marie Doogue, and Hawke's Bay District Court Judges Bridget Mackintosh and the now-retired Richard Watson.
The group was welcomed on to Te Aranga Marae in Flaxmere where programmes by the community and the U-Turn Trust have included those aimed at reducing recidivist offending, and improving education and health opportunities. The judges were invited to share their experiences, in particular of young and indigenous people, with their marae hosts, which included the police, politicians and the trust.
Judge Doogue said judges were the "ambulance at the bottom of the hill" and often felt they could not influence change.
"However there have been some major steps recently and some of these include the work by Russell Johnson, a chief district court judge who has passed on. He was always thinking about what judges could do better.
"It was his vision with Judge Andrew Beecroft and Heemi Taumanu that the Rangatahi court be set up.
"There are now 10 Rangatahi courts operating."
Another of Judge Johnson's initiatives was the Matariki Court first used in Kaikohe, which allowed the whanau, hapu and iwi of the offender to address the court at sentencing.
"It's about calling the offender to account."
Judge Watson (Havelock North) said he retired in 2008 but still retained a licence to work as a district court judge when needed.
"But when I retired in 2008, the principal of the youth court took away my youth court licence. That was sad because I enjoyed it. That was where I felt we really made a difference because you are helping people, mixing with social workers and the parents."
Chief Judge Rozenes of the County Court of Victoria, said Koori Courts had been set up in the state to allow indigenous elders to work side by side with a judge.
"The elders talk to young people about family, about being a good role model, responsibility. The rate of recidivist offending is now much lower since the Koori Court was established."
There was now more of a focus for Australian judges to be educated to understand Aboriginal culture.