Jacinda Ardern points to 'very similar' rehab schemes National financed amid Mongrel Mob funding uproar

As Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern comes under fire for signing off millions of dollars to a Mongrel Mob rehab programme, she's pointing out that "very similar" schemes were approved by National.

But National MP Simeon Brown says the key difference was that the gang rehab programmes the previous National-led Government approved were done in partnership with "reputable" organisations like the Salvation Army. 

Nearly $3 million in funding seized from gangs and criminals by police is being used to fund the Mongrel Mob's Kahukura drug and trauma rehabilitation scheme, Hawke's Bay Today newspaper revealed on Monday.

The Ministry of Health confirmed to Newshub it supported the Kahukura proposal to receive funding under Proceeds of Crime, which is administered by the Ministry of Justice. The programme received $2.75 million over four years. 

Ardern confirmed on Monday that she signed off on the funding - an endorsement Brown described as "a sick joke". He's drafting legislation to prevent Government funding from reaching the hands of organised crime. 

"The Gang Funding Prohibition Bill will ensure that any person responsible for the expenditure of public money must take reasonable steps to ensure that the public money under their control is not used directly or indirectly for the purposes of making payment to gangs."

But Ardern hasn't forgotten that National has previously funded gang rehab schemes. 

"If this is in reference to some discussion around a methamphetamine programme that is currently being supported, that programme is based on a programme that has been around since 2010, which the then-National Government was happy to support," she said on Tuesday. 

"I see this as politics."

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. Photo credit: Newshub / Zane Small

In 2016 former Prime Minister John Key signed off a $920,000 contract for rehab programme Wakatika Ora, run by the Consultancy Advocacy and Research Trust (CART), whose chairman was lifetime Black Power member Denis O'Reilly. 

The programme was pitched as being run by the Salvation Army, in collaboration with gang members. The Ministry of Health cut funding in 2019 over a lack of progress evidence. 

The grant was signed off by Key as part of his Government's $15 million Meth Action Plan. The current Government cancelled the action plan as it considered a "broader-based approach to crime-related harm was needed".  

National had previously funded the Hauora rehab programme, developed by the Salvation Army and the Notorious chapter of the Mongrel Mob. It ran for eight years, but the Ministry of Health cut funding in 2017.

"It does look pretty obviously like a political manoeuvre when you have a programme from 2010 of a very similar nature funded and supported and now we see National in Opposition taking a very different view," Ardern said. 

"Our position is, fund what works - fund what makes a difference. We know we have to address methamphetamine as a scourge in New Zealand."

But Brown says the difference is that National funded trusted organisations like the Salvation Army, which then worked in collaboration with gangs. 

National MP Simeon Brown with leader Judith Collins.
National MP Simeon Brown with leader Judith Collins. Photo credit: Newshub / Zane Small

"What we did when we were in Government was make sure the funding went through appropriate organisations," he told Newshub.

"If you look at what we did, those programmes were alongside organisations like the Salvation Army, which were the lead organisations. They were the ones making sure the money was being spent appropriately and there was accountability.

"The Government needs to explain how they're going to ensure that accountability, but that's why it's best in the first place to go through an organisation which is reputable such as the Salvation Army.

"At the end of the day, we want to see people who are addicted to meth get the help and rehabilitative support, but we don't want to be channeling those funds through criminal organisations."

Mental health advocate Mike King has criticised Ardern for signing off funding for the Mongrel Mob's rehab scheme, when the Ministry of Health last month rejected a funding application for his organisation Gumboot Friday, which provides free counselling for youth. 

"I don't get it. Where is the fair and equitable process? Where is the honesty and transparency?" he wrote in a Facebook post. "For me, it's lost and you've been making these silly decisions for a long time now."

Ardern said both mental health and addiction need to be addressed. 

"I think everyone who works across mental health and addiction knows that we need to both address the need in our mental health system and also addiction, because those in the sector recognise that so often we see both issues arising time and time again in our communities.

"We need to do both."