Police feel 'disempowered', 'disrespected' but Government wants to 'give criminals a hug' - Judith Collins

Judith Collins has claimed police feel "disempowered and disrespected" and accused the Government of wanting to "give criminals a hug" during a fiery speech in Parliament. 

The Opposition leader made the remarks during her response to the Governor-General's Speech from the Throne, in which the Queen's representative reads a prepared speech outlining the Government's agenda for the term ahead. 

The Speech from the Throne outlined the Government's plan to tackle climate change, boost infrastructure through $42 billion of spending, create new jobs and rebuild the economy post-coronavirus. 

COVID-19 featured heavily in the speech, with 16 mentions. Collins joked that the Government simply "blew off the dust" of the 2017 Speech from the Throne, added a COVID-19 section, and deleted the KiwiBuild section. 

"The hardest thing for me today was to keep a straight face as I listened to it."

Not everything in Collins' speech was negative. She congratulated the Prime Minister on a "remarkable" election result, acknowledging Labour has a "clear mandate to implement her agenda" - but Collins said there are "no excuses" this time. 

"At a pivotal time in our country's history, the role of the Opposition is more important than ever. It is critical that the Government be held to account on its decision-making and spending. National will do just that," Collins said. 

She said Labour has failed on law and order. 

"Under this Government, frontline police feel disempowered and disrespected. More police are being shot at. Gang numbers are up by a third since Labour took office and, with all the soft-on-drugs rhetoric, meth-related charges are up by almost as much."

Police data shows that as of March this year, more than 7100 people were recorded as a patched gang member, up from 7027 in December 2019. 

But the Government has reduced the prison population as it intended. It peaked at 10,800 in March 2018 and dropped to around 10,000 in October 2019. In September, it fell below 9000 for the first time since August 2015.   

"Prison populations may be coming down, but at what cost? The Government isn't keeping communities safe - it wants to give criminals a hug," Collins said. 

She also attacked the Government's record on housing as recent data shows house prices have soared by 20 percent on last year, with the median house price in Auckland now $1 million. 

"This Labour Government promised in 2017 to address New Zealand's housing, child poverty and transport issues. And what has happened? They all got worse - even before the COVID-19 pandemic," Collins said. 

"In the three years since Labour was elected, the median house price has gone up by more than $200,000 - and in that same period a worker on the median income has earned about $160,000. It's a sad state of affairs, and it needs fixing right away."

Ardern hit back at Collins on housing by referring to the previous National-led Government selling off state houses, which the party has since admitted was wrong.  

"I will forever find it galling to be lectured by the leader of the Opposition, who left us a housing crisis, denied it was a housing crisis, and I have to say whose major response to that housing crisis was to sell state houses, to cut the public housing waiting list, and on the one thing that would apparently make all the difference - planning - they did absolutely nothing."

Ardern was referring to the Resource Management Act (RMA), the complex piece of planning law blamed for holding back housing developments. Collins led early calls to repeal it and Labour is planning to do so next year. 

Collins criticised Labour for letting the state house waiting list balloon. It increased from 5844 households on the wait list when the current Government was elected in 2017, to more than 20,000. 

Ardern pointed out that Government had boosted the construction of state houses. The latest housing dashboard showed that 3708 state houses have been built since June 2018, with 2506 under construction.  

In her speech, Collins also questioned the Government's debt pile thanks to COVID-19. 

"At the start of this year, New Zealand had $65 billion of debt, now we have $94 billion of debt, and by 2024, it is forecast to be $200 billion of debt."

Ardern said she "absolutely" understands the Opposition has a role to play in holding the Government to account on its COVID-19 response, but she said National cannot expect it to come cheap. 

"The one thing I will ask them to remember is the alternative. There is no such thing as a cost-free response to COVID. No country in the world has experienced a response that is not coming at a cost in some form.

"Our view is that we have chosen the path that allows us to avoid the greatest cost - and that is the human cost."