Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is pushing back on the "idea we support gangs" as National leader Judith Collins continues her attacks on "weak" Police Minister Poto Williams, with patched members on the rise.
The number of patched gang members on the National Gang List has more than doubled since Labour came to power. As of June 30, there were 8061 gang members on the list curated by police, up from 5343 at the end of 2017.
"It is an extraordinary failure in terms of dealing with gangs, and at the same time, we have the Government giving $2.75 million to the Mongrel Mob trust so that they can run a meth programme," Collins told Magic Talk on Monday.
"There's no fear now, from the gangs, that I can see."
The Government signing off nearly $3 million to the Mongrel Mob-linked rehabilitation scheme Kahukura, has given National more fuel to exert its claim that Labour is "soft on crime" and that it "cuddles" up to gang members.
But Ardern, appearing on The AM Show on Monday, pushed back on the idea, telling host Ryan Bridge the scheme will be closely monitored by the Ministry of Health and it must produce the same promising results it showed when a short pilot was run last year.
"What I will push back on... there's been some suggestion here that because it's a treatment programme that yes, has had people involved in gangs who are part of the treatment that have methamphetamine addiction and the programme seeks to end that methamphetamine addiction - the idea that somehow implicitly means that we support gangs. I just reject that, I really do."
Ardern said the pilot programme showed promising results and was thus supported by the Ministry of Health, Corrections and local police.
"Some of those results included there were no dropouts, there was a 100 percent pass rate on drug testing, and 80 percent compliance with probation and court ordered requirements," she said.
"It was funded based on evidence and that is why it is being supported. If it does not continue to produce results then of course you change its funding in the future."
Ardern wouldn't say if she trusts Harry Tam, the Mongrel Mob member who heads Hard 2 Reach, the trust that runs Kahukura.
"It is a programme that works with gang members. It was clear that there was involvement with those associated... The organisation is called Hard 2 Reach... The question is, do we simply say no one who's had an affiliation will ever access a drug treatment programme?"
National has funded similar rehab programmes before that have gang connections. But the party has argued it was different, because the Salvation Army always had oversight.
"Look, no problem giving money to the Salvation Army to run anti-meth programmes, but certainly this is ridiculous," Collins told Magic Talk.
"This is giving the very people who import, sell the drug, have standover tactics, grow their empire from the drug proceeds, giving them money to supposedly take some people off methamphetamine. I've never heard anything so ridiculous."
The latest Ipsos NZ Issues Monitor, a report that tracks how Kiwis feel about particular areas of concern, found that Labour is the most trusted political party when it comes to law and order.
But with violent criminal behaviour ramping up like never before, and an increase in gun crime, National is calling for the return of Armed Response Teams (ARTs), which were trialled by police last year but discontinued.
Police Minister Poto Williams' refusal to back arming police over concerns for Māori and Pacific communities being targeted, led Collins last week to call for her sacking. Now, with the latest gang numbers showing a rise in patched members, Collins is ramping up her attacks.
"I've never seen such a weak Minister of Police," she told Magic Talk. "Poto Williams is a total, total embarrassment. I'm getting police officers contacting me telling me how they feel totally unsupported by this Government."
Williams told Newshub Nation at the weekend the National Gang List is "not something that's useful in terms of really establishing" the gang picture in New Zealand.
"It's incredibly easy to get on the [gang] list because the police identify someone wearing a patch and so their name goes onto this database. But if people leave the gangs - and so many people are - it's very, very hard for police on the street to identify when someone's left."
Williams also rejected the notion Labour is soft on gangs.
"We are funding a programme that has been shown to work. We are not funding the gangs. I don't know how much clearer I can be."