A war of words has broken out between the head of a Mongrel Mob chapter and National Party leader Simon Bridges.
Earlier this week, Waikato Mongrel Mob President Sonny Fatupaito invited Bridges to the chapter's November Mana Whānau event, which it says is an "opportunity to see first-hand the radical changes that are being made in our confederation" with a focus on the wellbeing of family.
- Government's 'soft on crime' approach leading to huge rise in gang numbers - Simon Bridges
- Female Mongrel Mob chapter members won't wear back patches
- Serious crime up because Govt is cutting prison numbers - Bridges
That was met with a sharp rebuff from Bridges, who has spent the last week blasting gangs in New Zealand, saying they "peddle misery in the form of drugs and violence".
On Tuesday night, the National Party leader shared his response to Fatupaito's invitation on Facebook.
"I believe people are capable of changing and of redemption, rehabilitation and reintegration. I also believe there will be individual gang members who do good for their whanau and community," Bridges said.
"However, I've also, as a Crown prosecutor and MP, seen first hand the misery caused by gangs, particularly in their crime and peddling of drugs and violence, not least to women. These are the overriding drivers of gangs."
He goes on to say that until the Mongrel Mob hands "over your guns and stops all involvement in drugs and violence I have no interest in meeting with you".
Now, Fatupaito has hit back, releasing a statement on Tuesday night saying Bridges was being hypocritical by saying he believed gang members could change, but then not taking an opportunity to see that.
"Bridges' 'dog whistle' politics are great at playing on people's fears and anxieties but not so good at solving any problems," the Mongrel Mob head said.
"He is seeking to blame instead of seeking to understand. Our people are experts on their own conditions, it's not the same notion as an expert in a western sense where it's through education, it's through lived experience."
Fatupaito also referred to a potential National Party idea believed to be included in an upcoming discussion document from the party. Newshub understands it will propose forcing gang members to prove they don't have illegal income before they get a benefit. Bridges has confirmed the party is working on a "crack down" on gangs.
But the Mongrel Mob President said the policy has the "direct intent to further discriminate against our families and loved ones".
"Not every gang member is a criminal and not every criminal is a gang member yet Bridges approach puts us all into the category that we are all criminals," Fatupaito said.
Fatupaito said he was looking forward to gathering at the November 9 event and prominent figures like Dame Tariana Turia, Sir Pita Sharples and Merepeka Raukawa-Tait were attending.
"These rangatira have spent the best part of their lives fighting for the equality and wellbeing of our people, and obviously recognise the good works and transformation that is happening within the Waikato Mongrel Mob Kingdom."
On Sunday, the National Party accused the Government of being soft on crime after saying it had received data showing there had been a 25.9 percent increase in patched and prospect gang members since it came into office.
Police Minister Stuart Nash dismissed that, saying a large part of the growth resulted from criminals being deported from Australia, but Bridges says only 22 people came back to New Zealand with gang links since November 2017.
Last week, it emerged that the Waikato Mongrel Mob chapter was setting up a female chapter. Fatupaito said the gang had long been "empowering women and children giving them a forum for their stories to be told and acknowledging their place in the Kingdom".