Not much new can be credibly proposed by a three-term government. National's military "boot camp" detention for young serious offenders is not even new. It is reminiscent of the party's showpiece policy on law and order when bidding for power in 2008. The policy did not come to fruition then and its revival now looks like desperation in the National camp. With all the attention on Labour's new leader, and so much discussion of policies she has announced, National will be anxious to change the subject.

A "red meat" announcement on law and order would be one of the first ideas that came to the minds of National's strategists. The proposition should be easy to understand, appeal to the great majority of voters and be a policy Labour is likely to oppose. National has come up with two law and order proposals that fit the bill. One is boot camps - though the Prime Minister does not call them that - the other is a law allowing the police to impose instant $200 fines on the parents of children under 14 found on the streets unsupervised after midnight.

The second deserves more discussion. The extent to which parents can be held responsible for what their children do unsupervised is a difficult question. But the fact that a child is unsupervised can be held against the parents. The law already places some reasonable demands on parents to ensure children are not left at home alone late at night without supervision. A young person must be aged 14 before they can babysit for younger children, and must be 16 before they can be solely responsible for younger children overnight.

It seems reasonable, therefore, to extend that supervision rule outside the home. If a child under 14 is found on the streets between the hours of midnight and 5am without the supervision of someone older - many would say considerably older - it is fair to hold the parent(s) responsible. The main objection to National's proposal may be the idea of allowing the police to punish the parent with an instant fine.


For irresponsible parents a $200 fine might be a small extra price to pay for a night out neglecting their kids, for others, especially conscientious but struggling sole parents, an instant fine would bring additional stress and hardship of the household.

It would be better if each time police discovered a child outside at night unsupervised they reported the fact to the Ministry of Vulnerable Children and if it occurs repeatedly in a short time, the police ought to bring a prosecution. It is better that a judge consider the parents' circumstances when corrective steps must be taken.

Both the children's curfew and the military detention for serious offenders aged 18 or over are in line with early intervention social programmes favoured by Bill English when he was finance minister. English says judges could send young offenders to the Defence Force's junior trading academy at Waiouru where they could get help to recover from addiction and improve their literacy and numeracy.

It sounds fine in theory, just as it did nine years ago. But it did not eventuate then and it is unlikely to excite voters now.