The Government is facing further backlash from the Opposition over its decision to sign off millions of dollars to a Mongrel Mob rehab programme while Mike King's Gumboot Friday is desperate for help.
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 initiative is a live-in marae-based programme that aims to address trauma and drug-seeking behaviour.
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.
The Ministry of Justice website says Proceeds of Crime money must ultimately be signed off by the Prime Minister, Finance Minister, and Minister of Justice, following an evaluation of proposals by an expert panel. Jacinda Ardern confirmed on Monday she did sign it off.
Mental health advocate Mike King criticised Ardern for giving the Mongrel Mob programme funding but not his charity Gumboot Friday. Last month, the Ministry of Health rejected funding for Gumboot Friday, which was founded by King and provides free counselling for young people. The ministry said Gumboot Friday's funding application was outside the timeframe for procurement, meaning it could not be funded.
National Party MP Simeon Brown says "the Government is dreaming" if they believe giving the Mongrel Mob $2.75 million for drug rehabilitation "makes any sense".
"These gang members have no experience or training in rehabilitation and mental health treatment. They are also the same people importing the drugs into the country in the first place," he told Newshub.
"Does the Government think New Zealanders are stupid? Gangs don't want people off drugs, they want to sell drugs to them."
Brown says while drug and alcohol addiction is serious and debilitating and the Government should fund treatments, these programmes "should not be run by criminals" who don't have experience or a proven track record.
"Mike King's Gumboot Friday is just one community initiative that the Government has refused to fund while giving millions to the Mob."
He says National would fund comprehensive mental health and addiction services, which could be through community groups like King's or other public health services.
The ACT Party's health spokesperson Brooke van Velden says there are "plenty" of mental health and addiction services without ties to gangs that would be a "better choice" for government funding.
"The Prime Minister needs to answer why organisations like Mike King's Gumboot Friday won't be funded when those run by criminal organisations will be," she told Newshub.
"Meth is a scourge in our communities. We need to work against, not with, the criminal organisations that create mental health and addiction harm in New Zealand."
King criticised Ardern in a Facebook video posted on Monday night for giving the Mongrel Mob programme funding but not his charity.
While he clarified he didn't have a problem with the programme being given money, he took issue with the Prime Minister taking credit for it despite telling him she couldn't be involved in deciding whether his charity got money or not.
"When I asked you to have a conversation about it in the Koru Club, you looked me in the eye and you said, 'Mike I cannot get involved in this, we have a fair and equitable system and I cannot be involved in funding decisions'," he said.
"Yet today you stood at the press conference and you took credit for signing off $2.75 million to the Mongrel Mob. I don't get it. Where is the fair and equitable process? Where is the honesty and transparency? For me, it's lost and you've been making these silly decisions for a long time now."
At a press conference on Tuesday afternoon, 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 of course, those in the sector recognise that so often we see both issues cruising time and time again in our communities. We need to do both."
Also on Tuesday, Ardern pointed to a "very similar" scheme that was approved by National when it 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.
"I see this as politics."
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 chairperson 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.