Winston Peters labels National Party NZ's 'number-one lemon suckers' in gangs and guns debate

Winston Peters labelled the National Party New Zealand's "number-one lemon suckers" during a debate with Paula Bennett in Parliament about guns and growing gang numbers. 

The quarrel began when Bennett, the National Party's deputy leader, held up a chart in Parliament on Thursday showing there has been 1594 new patched gang members since the Government came to power. 

The chart was made to look similar to the one Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern held up in Parliament the day before, representing the more than 4258 new public housing spaces created since the Government took office. 

"Is her Government's greatest achievement increasing the number of patched gang members by 1594?" Bennett, MP for Upper Harbour, asked Peters. 

The National Party deputy leader was referring to figures released by Police Minister Stuart Nash in July and December last year, showing a 29 percent increase in gang members. 

The data showed as of October 2017 - around the time the Coalition Government was formed - there were 5343 gang members in New Zealand, compared to 6937 as of December 2019. 

Peters, the Deputy Prime Minister and leader of New Zealand First, hit back at Bennett describing her use of the chart in Parliament as "sad". 

Paula Bennett's chart held up in Parliament.
Paula Bennett's chart held up in Parliament. Photo credit: Supplied

"Holding up a chart like that is actually rather sad because what that chart represented yesterday was the highest house-building rate in this country since 1973," Peters said. 

"This fantastic news, that should be celebrated, [and it] has been. The number-one lemon suckers in the country turned around now to a chart about gangs. 

"We've changed the laws, and there are laws we have changed with respect to the use of guns, which, dear I say it, is being supported over here but not by them. So let's have a little less of the crocodile tears and a bit of on-the-ground common sense."

Jacinda Ardern holding her chart up in Parliament representing new public housing places since the Government took office.
Jacinda Ardern holding her chart up in Parliament representing new public housing places since the Government took office. Photo credit: Parliament TV

It comes as gang disputes heat up across the country, with gunshots fired during a gang altercation near a Napier shopping centre in January, and a fatal shootout with police in Tauranga on Thursday night. 

Tauranga Mayor Tenby Powell is blaming gangs for a recent spike in violent activity in the Bay of Plenty city, as well as what he's described as an escalating methamphetamine problem. 

"It's a drug turf war and the sooner we cut the head off the meth monster the better," he told The AM Show the morning after Thursday night's shootout.  

Peters defended the Government's record in Parliament by pointing to the increasing number of police officers across the country. More than 1900 new police have been deployed since the Government took office. 

"We have given a commitment to go to 2000 by March of this year. That's the greatest number ever, and 700 of them are going to be consigned to taking on the gangs in this country."

Peters said Kiwis can "expect to see more armed police on the streets of Hawke's Bay and the Bay of Plenty in response to this gang tension. Expect to see police openly carrying their rifles and pistols where it's required".

He added, "Expect them also to be enforcing the new laws that we are about to pass with respect to their gang access or the provisioning of gangs with guns, which that Opposition party there is opposing."

What's happening with gun laws?

The Government prohibited assault rifles and semi-automatic weapons following the March 15 Christchurch terror attack, in the first tranche of gun law reforms - and the National Party supported the changes.  

The second tranche, announced in July, included a firearms register, a tighter licencing system and stricter penalties for breaking the law. National did not support it, because they felt law-abiding gun owners were being targeted.  

The Police Minister announced in November the Government was considering introducing firearms prohibition orders (FPOs), an idea first put forward by National, which would essentially prevent high-risk people accessing guns. 

But FPOs have not been included in the second tranche of gun law changes. The select committee process for feedback on the second tranche has just wrapped up. 

The Police Minister's office told Newshub that officials are still looking through feedback on the consultation document the Government put out in November on FPOs. 

The minister's office said he will receive an update within the next month, and if the feedback is positive, it's likely a separate piece of legislation will be put forward. 

The second tranche of gun law changes will go to its second reading in Parliament next week.