Marama Davidson defends gang meetings as 'important and vital', calls on Simeon Brown to visit women 'at forefront of harm'

Marama Davidson believes meeting with gang members is an "important and vital" part of her role in the family and sexual violence prevention space and is calling on National's Simeon Brown to also hear from them. 

Appearing before the Justice Select Committee on Thursday morning, Davidson, the minister responsible for the prevention of family and sexual violence, faced questions about her meetings with members of the Waikato Mongrel Mob Kingdom.

Davidson met with the gang's Wāhine Toa group in April and, in her role as Greens co-leader, attended a gang hui in May where subjects like human rights and discrimination were up for discussion. Human Rights Commissioner Paul Hunt also spoke at the event. 

The minister told the committee that community-led solutions were important to transforming the family and sexual violence sector.

In light of that, Brown asked Davidson if she would continue to engage with the mob. 

"It is really important and vital to the transformation work," Davidson said. "If we are serious about preventing violence and restoring the harm from violence, we must engage across a range of communities. Violence is not solely applicable to only one community. It happens across a range of communities.

"We will continue to engage across a range of communities, specifically for the whanau-led and community-led solutions [that] can only come from engaging across a range of experiences."

Davidson said the women she's been meeting with "have been at the forefront of the very harm that all people should be accountable to". 

"It would be great for you to be able to come and meet with those very women," she said, in response to Brown.

"I am not interested in meeting with people who deal with meth," the National MP replied. 

Davidson said it was a "shame that you aren't wanting to meet with the communities who are at the forefront of the solutions". 

"For all users of violence and perpetrators of harm, which is not solely confined to any one group, it is important that we also provide support to prevent further harm from happening," she said. "The Budget 2021 includes support for a work programme to provide support for users of violence and that is from any community, whoever wishes, and needs that help."

Brown asked the minister if she regretted her meetings with the Waikato Mongrel Mob, considering three members were arrested as part of a global organised crime bust this week.

"It is important for the transformation required to engage across the community, especially and including perpetrators of harms and violence and victims, and often they are the same groups of people, to make sure that we are hearing and listening about what are the things that will support people to live safe and violence-free lives, which is exactly what people like in gang-related families want from themselves and their children," Davidson said. 

Following those arrests, Waikato Mongrel Mob Kingdom leader Sonny Fatupaito said his organisation "has zero tolerance for the importation, selling, supply and possession of methamphetamine, MDMA, and cocaine in our confederation".

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was also questioned on Thursday about ministers' meetings with gang members in light of the arrests.

"We have always maintained that confronting issues head-on, including confronting issues head-on with gangs and gang leadership, doesn't preclude us from also cracking down on illegal behaviour and illegal activity from gangs. You have seen that over the last couple of days." 

Simeon Brown and Marama Davidson.
Simeon Brown and Marama Davidson. Photo credit: Parliament.

The National MP put it to the minister that she hadn't met with Victim's Support since becoming the minister. While Davidson said it may be correct that she hasn't had a specific meeting with the police-led Victim's Support, she has met with agencies that help victims. 

"Every single agency in the family violence and sexual violence sector that I have met with are all victim's support agencies," she said.

"All of them have key, frontline, coal-face information and insight about what is needed for victims of harm, about what is happening around the whole person and whanau of victims of harm and are massively informing the entire transformation."

ACT's Nicole McKee asked the minister if she had met with any other gangs. 

"I meet with people by invitation. I would be happy to meet with a range of groups and communities at their invitation," Davidson said.

"It takes a lot of trust for me as a minister to be able to put myself in front of communities who are very different from the background that I have had the privilege to live."

She also said she may not be the right person "to engage across a full range of gangs".

"But I wish someone would and really get in there and have robust conversations about positive change and prevention of further harm and violence."

Davidson said she meets regularly with the victims of sexual and family violence that aren't affiliated with gangs. That includes victims of "harm and violence that gangs have to be accountable for". 

"They are very clear about the positive, safe, violence-free lives that they want their families, their gang community to lead.

"As a result of my engagements with victims and survivors of family violence, it affirms our priority to finalise a national strategy and action plans and shift the focus to community-led prevention and solutions, whanau-led prevention and solutions and more resource to prevention."

While meeting with the Waikato Mongrel Mob, Davidson said she felt safe. 

"As I have been quite public about, I have been working and meeting with these women for several, several years. I have been to their location and venue many times before. I already felt safe."

Newshub revealed last week that the Human Rights Commissioner's "safety and security" was "guaranteed by the Mongrel Mob" at the May event. The Human Rights Commission said Hunt "had no fear for his safety". 

Davidson and Hunt are not the only public figures to recently meet with the gangs. Newshub has revealed Willie Jackson has had four meetings with gang members since the election, which he says was key to his role as Māori Development Minister. 

McKee also met with a representative of the Waikato Mongrel Mob this year, while ACT's former leader Don Brash is involved in a Mongrel Mob education trust.