"A sick joke" is how National MP Simeon Brown has described the Ministry of Health endorsing a Mongrel Mob rehab programme getting millions of dollars in funding.
But the Mongrel Mob Kingdom public relations liaison Louise Hutchinson says it is Brown who is "sick", and wants the National Party to stop using gangs for political gain.
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.
Ministry of Health Deputy Director-General Mental Health and Addiction Toni Gutschlag told Newshub drug use is prevalent among gangs across New Zealand, which can have a "detrimental impact" on the wider community.
"It is understood that if gang members can be supported in stopping the use and sale of drugs, that also has positive impacts on the wider community."
She said the Ministry of Health received a request from H2R (Hard to Reach) - a research and consulting group formed to support the mobilisation of hard to reach communities - with the intention to work with the a collective of Mongrel Mob chapters.
The Mongrel Mob-led initiative is a live-in mārae-based programme which aims to address trauma and drug-seeking behaviour. A previous edition of the Kahukura programme ran independent of the Ministry of Health from September to November last year.
"When assessing the request for support from H2R, the ministry acknowledged that there was a gap in current service provision," said Gutschlag."The initiative provided a way to fill this gap, engaging with a hard-to-reach segment of the community."
Brown, whose public criticism of the Mongrel Mob resulted in threats to his life, says funding a programme run by a gang sends all the wrong messages.
"The Mongrel Mob is an organised criminal organisation which has been caught selling meth very recently, uses illegal firearms, and perpetrates significant violence on our streets," he says.
"The Government is giving millions of dollars to the people who import drugs into New Zealand and infect our communities with their scourge with the purpose that they get people off drugs! Where is the logic?"
Hutchinson says if Brown truly wants positive change, "fundamental societal problems" need to be addressed "at the root" and the gangs must be able to do that for themselves because every other institution has "failed" them.
"The Ministry of Health would not have done this lightly. They're not fools. They're the only people - those entrenched gang members - they'll be able to relate to," she told Newshub.
"Simeon lives in a time warp. He's vindictive and this is just vote-garnering, as usual."
ACT MP Nicole McKee, who was accused of hypocrisy for meeting with Hutchinson after criticising other MPs for doing so, says taxpayer money should not be given to gangs who "create the harm we are trying to stop".
"We now have money being seized from organised crime being channelled back into gangs. It is mind-boggling and disrespectful to victims of crime."
Hutchinson says the approval wasn't an "off the cuff thing".
"This is a really serious project," she told Newshub. "This is awesome, this is what the gangs need - particularly in the Hawke's Bay. This is a response to drastic suicide rates and this has a specific focus for that.
"If this is the intervention needed to support those people, then we need to be right behind it, because at the end of the day, the children of these people need their parents to be well."
Last week Human Rights Commissioner Paul Hung faced backlash for donating $200 to the Mongrel Mob as koha - a customary Māori gift - when he visited the Waikato gang pad in May.
Hunt told Newshub Nation at the weekend it was "unfair and unkind" for the Opposition to call for his sacking over the donation.
He said it was important to "reach beyond the Beehive and Lambton Quay to different communities to show how human rights can help deal with difficult issues".
Hunt visited the gang pad with Greens co-leader Marama Davison, who equally came under fire from the Opposition. Māori Development Minister Willie Jackson has also met with the Mongrel Mob at the Beehive.