Police Minister Poto Williams hits back at National MP Simeon Brown with sarcastic quip during grilling on gangs

Police Minister Poto Williams was met with laughter and jeering in Parliament as she hit back with a sarcastic quip under grilling from National on gangs.

National MP Simeon Brown, who spent the three-week parliamentary recess criticising Williams for overseeing an increase in gang numbers, questioned her in Parliament on Tuesday about funding for a gang-linked rehab scheme. 

The Government signed off on nearly $3 million for Kahukura, a methamphetamine rehabilitation programme run by Hard 2 Reach, a trust co-directed by Mongrel Mob member Harry Tam. 

Referring to comments Williams made on Q&A last month, in which she slammed gangs for "peddling meth" and described an interview Tam did as "sounding like a recruitment drive for the gangs", Brown asked if she still felt it was appropriate to giving millions of dollars to the gang-linked scheme. 

Williams hit back at Brown with a sarcastic quip.

"In a rare misstep for that member, he has taken my quote out of context," she said, drawing laughter from her colleagues and jerring from the Opposition benches. 

"I was commenting on an interview with Harry Tam where he failed to talk about the harm that's caused to women and children who try to escape gangs, and where he failed to talk about the harm that meth causes to communities," Williams told the House. 

"That's what I have expressed to the Prime Minister and to this House - that we can't simply arrest our way to success. That's why this Government will always be tough on crime and tough on the drivers of crime."

Her declaration the Government is tough on crime was laughed at by the Opposition, who often describe Labour as "soft on crime". 

Brown asked if it was appropriate to grant $2.75 million to an organisation run by a Mongrel Mob member that she described as being on a recruitment drive for gang membership, when gang membership has increased by 50 percent since Labour took office. 

National MP Simeon Brown and Police Minister Poto Williams went head-to-head in Parliament.
National MP Simeon Brown and Police Minister Poto Williams went head-to-head in Parliament. Photo credit: Parliament TV

"I've been very clear that the lead agency on this is the Ministry of Health and they are funding a programme that fundamentally works. It's been proven to work. We are not funding the gangs. We are funding a programme," Williams said. 

"We are talking about wanting to disrupt the harm that gangs do to our communities. They entice, they encourage young people into gangs, and this Government is working damn hard to ensure that there are exit points for our young people to get out of the gangs."

Earlier on Tuesday, Williams said a comment made by National leader Judith Collins about people wanting to "bottle" her, upset her daughter. 

"The thing for me is that we are public people, we live public lives, and we have an expectation that our work will be critiqued. In this case, my daughter feels unsafe for me, and that is not on," Williams told reporters.

Collins said the comments were misinterpreted, and that what she meant was to keep Williams in a bottle like a genie.

"Someone's obviously given her that information and given it and spun it the wrong way and in a very incorrect way. That's actually disgraceful that anyone would do that," Collins told reporters.

Williams' refusal to back arming police over concerns for Māori and Pacific communities being targeted, led Collins last month to call for her sacking. And with gang numbers increasing, Collins ramped up her attacks last week

"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 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."