Incoming Police Minister Chris Hipkins dismisses workload concerns

By Craig McCulloch of RNZ

Incoming Minister of Police Chris Hipkins has admitted the Government has a lot of work to do to tackle gang crime but says he "enjoys a challenge".

Speaking to media for the first time since taking on the role, Hipkins promised to "back the police" but warned he was not interested in tough-on-crime rhetoric.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Monday stripped Poto Williams of the police portfolio, saying she had lost focus on what was needed.

Hipkins was coy about what changes he had planned, noting he was just one day into the job, but he acknowledged: "We do need to do more.

"I'm focused on the future," he said. "There is more that we can do around gangs. I think there's more that we can do around youth crime.

"If we can stop gangs being able to recruit vulnerable young New Zealanders, that's obviously going to be a good thing," Hipkins said.

Hipkins said he would sit down with Police Commissioner Andrew Coster on Wednesday to map out a plan.

The Opposition National Party has accused Labour of being "soft of crime" and said the ministerial change may just be "window dressing".

"I'm far more interested in solutions that work than rhetoric," Hipkins said.

"Rhetoric around tough-on-crime is easy to do so but the reality is: If you look at some of the policies... they've been proven not to work."

The Police Association has also questioned whether Hipkins' workload might mean he can't give police his full attention, given his responsibilities for education, public service, and as Leader of the House.

But Hipkins told reporters he was used to managing multiple roles.

"Education is the portfolio I'm passionate about... [but] I enjoy a challenge, I enjoy doing some new things," he said.

Asked whether he was also passionate about the police portfolio, Hipkins joked: "I love all of my children equally."

Hipkins said he would "dust off some of my books" from when he got his criminology degree in the 1990s. He said he had taken a keen interest in the cause of youth crime at the time.