Jacinda Ardern still has confidence in Poto Williams, but won't say if she will remain Police Minister after reshuffle

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says she still has confidence in Police Minister Poto Williams, but won't say whether the Christchurch MP will continue in the role after any future reshuffle.

National leader Christopher Luxon on Wednesday morning called for Williams to be removed from the portfolio, saying she's "struggling" to provide leadership to police amid a crime wave in Auckland of near-daily drive-by shootings, ram raids and gang activity. 

Ardern was asked several times on Wednesday whether Williams remain the Police Minister.

"I have every confidence in Minister Williams and, for me, it is based on what has occurred for the police, which is an increase in numbers, record numbers, a doubling of the organised crime unit, firearm prohibition orders, the work we're doing on criminal proceeds," Ardern said.

"This is all progress that is ultimately making our police force better prepared, albeit a very tough environment for them."

When pushed on whether Williams was safe at the reshuffle, Ardern just expressed confidence again in the minister. Luxon later asked the Prime Minister in the House whether Williams would stay in the portfolio, to which Ardern again didn't provide a clear answer.

The Prime Minister said in May there would be a reshuffle before the election and it wasn't unusual to have one mid-term, which it currently is. 

Williams also hit back at Luxon on Wednesday, saying he's proposed little to deal with crime.

"I have to say to Mr Luxon it would be really great that he had a few ideas rather than just these throwaway lines," the minister said. 

"I have a really good record. Record investment in police, record numbers of police, the introductions of the Firearms Prohibition Orders (FPOs), which National actually tried twice and failed at. I think I have a much better record than Mr Luxon has."

Poto Williams.
Poto Williams. Photo credit: Getty Images.

The Government announced last May that it would establish FPOs, which would stop serious criminal offenders from accessing or being around firearms. However, it took seven months for legislation to be introduced to Parliament and it's now sitting at Select Committee. 

National has attempted twice to create FPOs via Member's Bills since Labour was elected to power, but the governing party opposed them, saying they weren't up to standard. 

FPOs were brought up by Luxon during Question Time in the House on Wednesday when he asked Ardern why the legislation still hadn't been passed "despite the police calling for these powers more than five years ago". He wants to see the FPOs supported by warrantless search powers and a dedicated gang unit. 

The Prime Minister pointed out that the previous National Government said it was working on FPOs in both 2014 and 2016, but no legislation came about while it was in office.

"If after eight years of consideration, the National Party are ready to support the Bill, I look forward to them doing it when it comes back to the House," Ardern said. 

"It comes back in August. If this is a commitment from the National Party to expedite it through its final stages, I willingly accept the support."

Ardern also told Luxon it was wrong to suggest the Government's actions have led to increased crime.

"We have increased the penalties for firearms. We have removed prohibited weapons to the tune of 60,000 of them. We've seen more asset seizures. We've increased the number of police. We have doubled the organised crime unit. And yet under [National] police numbers decreased."

There has been a serious uptick in violent crime over recent months, particularly in Auckland. Businessman Sunny Kaushal last week said there is a "sense of lawlessness is now gripping all of New Zealand" and that Ardern should "declare a crime emergency". 

"There is a lot of anger and frustrations among these businesses and communities now…It's very serious because now even the customers aren't safe," he said.

Kaushal called for the resignation of Williams as well as Justice Minister Kris Faafoi.

New Zealand Police Association President Chris Cahill said in May that he didn't support calls for Williams to be moved on from the post, but that she should be more engaged with frontline officers. 

"She's got to be asking for what's happening. You can't just say things are operational and I stay out of them. The public expects the Minister to know what's going on and so do I."

As part of Budget 2022, the Government unveiled a $600 million package it says will lead to an increase in police numbers and more capability to tackle gang violence. Last month, a $6 million investment in a small retail crime prevention programme was announced. 

The Government is proposing to do more - potentially including looking at asset seizures - but is yet to provide any detail. Ardern told AM on Tuesday that ministers are waiting on advice from Police Commissioner Andrew Coster on what further tools police want.