'They demonise themselves': National MP Mark Mitchell defends gang crackdown in heated debate

MP Mark Mitchell defended National's proposed crackdown on gangs in a heated debate with a media commentator who described the party's proposal as "garbagy brain-fart".  

Martyn 'Bomber' Bradbury, a New Zealand media commentator, joined National's justice spokesperson on Magic Talk radio Friday afternoon to discuss the party's law and order policy. 

Released earlier this week, the consultation document proposed an elite police force that would target and "harass" gangs in New Zealand, modelled off New South Wales' 'Strike Force Raptor' unit.  

National MPs have been posting videos on social media of gangs displaying disruptive behaviour. Mitchell posted one where he described the behaviour as "barking and screaming", saying Kiwis "have had enough". 

Bradbury said while he doesn't think Labour has any good ideas for cracking down on New Zealand's growing gang numbers, National's proposal is "intellectually bankrupt". 

"The problem with your ideas Mark; I'm glad that you've entered in the debate because Labour have no ideas whatsoever on how to deal with this," Bradbury said. 

"But I fear that this is just about throwing raw meat out to an angry and frightened electorate and it's not looking at solutions."

He said local gangs aren't the biggest problem and that National's policy should be focusing on gang members deported back to New Zealand from Australia. 

The law change in 2014 saw more than 1200 Kiwis deported from Australia as of last year, with 60 percent of them Māori or Pasifika.  

The deportees are nicknamed "501s" because of the immigration law created under Australian politician Peter Dutton. It meant Kiwis deemed "not of good character" could be sent back, many with little connection to New Zealand. 

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has confronted Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison about Kiwis being sent back to New Zealand with connection, describing it as "corrosive to our relationship".  

Bradbury told Mitchell the reason why domestic gangs are "suddenly trying to get as many gang members as they can and recruit is because the 501s turned up".

"Many of them left New Zealand when they were infants or children; they've got no whānau here, and now [they're] back in our system," he said. 

"What they've realised is that the local domestic gangs in terms of the violence they're prepared to use is nothing compared to the uber-violence that they are able to give out."

Figures provided to National in July by Police Minister Stuart Nash showed gang membership had increased by about 22 percent in two years, from 5343 in late-2017 to 6534 in mid-2017. 

"I'm not seeing anything in what you're suggesting that is actually going to have the nuance to be able to deal with this problem," Bradbury said. 

He said the influence of gang members from overseas has resulted in higher quality meth being spread through communities at cheaper prices.  

Mitchell, former Minister of Defence, told Bradbury everything he said was "absolutely 100 percent correct". 

"The 501s are coming back with new levels of sophistication and the police will tell you they bring in a new level of violence and brutality, [and] bringing resources from overseas."

But Mitchell argued that National - if elected in 2020 - would "respond using world-class police services along with other agencies". 

He also said it's important not to dismiss local gangs, telling Bradbury: "They're the intergenerational problem - we want to move kids out of gang culture.

"We're going to say to gang members, especially gang members with families, say 'we want to you to get out of gangs and we want you to re-join society'."

"But do you do that by demonising them?" Bradbury asked. 

Mitchell replied: "They're making those choices... they demonise themselves."