Police Minister Poto Williams schooled by Speaker Trevor Mallard as National criticises time taken to introduce new firearms Bill

Police Minister Poto Williams has been schooled by Trevor Mallard on answering questions in the House after giving a relatively lengthy response to a question the Speaker said only needed a short reply.

National MP Mark Mitchell, the party's new police spokesperson, asked the minister during Question Time on Wednesday whether legislation creating Firearms Prohibition Orders (FPOs) would be introduced to Parliament by the end of the year and if the Government was committed to such orders. 

Williams replied by congratulating Mitchell on his new position before saying the Government was committed to "addressing firearms violence and its impact on our communities" and was on Wednesday introducing the FPO Bill. 

She was beginning to explain how the Bill provided a "further layer of protection for the public" when Mallard, Parliament's Speaker, interrupted, indicating to ministers in the House the appropriate approach to answering questions.

"The answer to this question should have been, 'yes. It was introduced today... and I am committed to it.'" Mallard said. "It's a very simple question in two parts and it didn't ask for reasoning."

The Firearms Prohibition Orders Legislation Bill was introduced to Parliament on Wednesday, seven months after Williams announced the Government's intention to create FPOs "to protect the public from harm". 

In May, she released a statement saying legislation would be "introduced into the House before the end of the year". Wednesday, when the Bill was introduced, was the last day of the parliamentary sitting year. It will go through the normal legislative process next year.

FPOs are issued via the court during sentencing to prohibit anyone convicted of serious criminal offenders from accessing, being around or using firearms or ammunition magazines for 10 years. Breaching an order will be a criminal offence.

"Gangs and other violent criminals cannot continue to threaten, intimidate, and exploit our communities," Williams said in a statement earlier on Wednesday. "Firearms Prohibition Orders provide an additional tool for Police to keep firearms out of the hands of criminals, and to keep our communities safe."

Mitchell asked Williams what concerns she had about police attending more than 1300 incidents involving firearms since May 11, when she announced the Government would introduce legislation.

Williams replied by acknowledging other measures the Government has taken to safeguard officers, such as the new Tactical Response Model and the planned firearms register.

"It takes courage and it takes leadership to do these kinds of things. When, under National Mr Speaker, what happened was police numbers dropped. We have made sure that we have kept our promise of not only increasing our police, but we're also, since 2017, we have recruited 2800 police."

The National MP directly asked the minister why it had taken until the last day of the sitting year to introduce the Bill. Williams said the Government had taken the time to "get this Bill absolutely right". 

She referenced a Member's Bill from National MP Simeon Brown which sought to introduce FPOs targeting "dangerous gang members". It passed its first reading in July 2020 with the support of New Zealand First, but failed on second reading after Labour gained a majority at the 2020 election. Williams said that legislation was "not up to scratch". 

"If that [Mitchell] thinks that the FPO legislation is the only thing that this Government has done to keep the frontlines safe, he is sorely mistaken," Williams said on Wednesday.

"Under his time as a Cabinet minister in the last National Government, can he put his hand on his heart and say he did everything to keep the frontline safe? No, he cannot."

She told reporters prior to Question Time that the key difference between the Government's legislation and Brown's is that the National MP "only had gang members with convictions" and needed rework at Select Committee.

Williams said in her earlier statement that new FPOs "will in no way impede fit and proper firearms licence holders from continuing to lawfully own and use firearms".

In a statement, Mitchell said Williams was a minister "missing in action" who had taken too long to introduce the legislation.

"She is failing as a Minister to support the agency she is responsible for. She appears disengaged, with little understanding of or interest in supporting our police."