New Zealand is becoming 'third world' country with violence on streets, David Seymour says

ACT leader David Seymour says New Zealand is becoming a "third-world" country with the amount of crime happening on our streets. 

It comes after a couple of nasty public brawls in the past week. One which saw members of the Mongrel Mob attacking rival gang members in broad daylight in Palmerston North, leaving shocked onlookers scrambling to get out of the way. 

In another attack on Saturday, May 13, about six adults viciously beat another person lying motionless on the ground, in broad daylight, outside Auckland's Downtown Ferry Terminal. National's Mark Mitchell slammed the attack, while Auckland Business Chamber's CEO Simon Bridges had a similar reaction labelling it "barbaric".

After watching the videos on AM, Seymour told the show it makes him "furious". 

"I'm actually born in Palmerston North and my family is from there and to see that happening on streets I know and to think about people who are just asking can you take your family out? Can you go to a cafe? It's like New Zealand is becoming third-world. It makes me furious," Seymour told AM co-host Ryan Bridge.

Seymour puts the increase in violence on New Zealand's streets down to the decrease in the prison population. 

Since Labour came into Government in 2017, the prison population peaked in 2018 at just under 11,000 and it has currently dropped by about 2300, according to the Department of Corrections.

Retail crime is up 39 percent between 2018-2022 and violent crime is up 18-40 percent since Labour came into power, according to the Ministry of Justice.

Green MP Chlöe Swarbrick, who was appearing on AM alongside Seymour, said the videos were "deeply distressing". 

When asked if there was a correlation between the reduction in prison population and crime, Swarbrick said she wasn't certain it was causation because of the lack of evidence showing it's the same people.   

But Seymour hit back saying it's "not difficult" to figure out that when you release 4000 people from prison, crime goes up.

"I open up the paper and I'm actually getting sick of reading the news because every morning it's something different. An immigrant to New Zealand says my kid gets chased, they get threatened with stabbing, they're too afraid to get a part-time job or go out to the mall and the police say 'we can't do anything,'" he said. 

"They can't do anything because the assailants are underage and when the state has no ultimate consequence and when people know that they're untouchable, they keep committing crimes." 

ACT Party leader David Seymour.
ACT Party leader David Seymour. Photo credit: AM

How to fix youth crime 

A big issue facing New Zealand is youth crime. Just on Sunday, police arrested three teenagers - aged 14, 15, 16 - for aggravated burglaries at the Michael Hill stores in New Plymouth and the Glenfield Mall in Auckland. The three teens are also suspected of robbing a Western Springs service station. 

Just how to deal with youth criminals has raised much debate around New Zealand, with National and ACT wanting to put them in prison and put ankle bracelets on them. Labour, meanwhile, wants to take a restorative justice approach to try to rehabilitate the offenders. 

According to the child youth unit within police, 95 percent of young people who committed a crime had a family harm incident report to police. 

Swarbrick believes the answer to trying to get on top of crime in New Zealand is transforming the justice system. 

"We know based on previous attempts to gather research in this space, there are huge correlations with regard to poverty, deprivation and cycles of criminality and successive governments have commissioned reports and advice on this, but we are not willing to, I don't think as a Parliament at this point in time, have those necessary conversations about transforming the justice system," she said. 

She is calling for a change to New Zealand's prison systems because currently, 61 percent of people in prison will reoffend within two years of getting out and 49 percent will be re-imprisoned within two years of release, according to statistics published by the Ministry of Justice in February. 

Green MP Chlöe Swarbrick.
Green MP Chlöe Swarbrick. Photo credit: AM

"We know our prison system is meeting those goals with regard to punishment but we need to change the way that our prisons work and we need to ensure that we're actually doing that prevention in the first place," Swarbrick said. 

"When I talk to my local police, as I do pretty much every day about issues that are unfolding not just in my electorate but also next door in Epsom, across Auckland and across the entire country, what is incredibly clear is that our police are spending a disproportionate amount of time on things that they should not have to do, such as mental health, substance and alcohol abuse." 

Seymour believes it's "no surprise" criminals are re-offending once they're released from prison because they haven't improved themselves and are illiterate. 

"If you look at ACT's policy, we say if you want to get early parole, improve yourself, learn to read especially, too many prisoners get out illiterate," Seymour said. 

"You can't get a driver's licence, can't get a bank account, can't get a job. Of course, you're going to re-offend and be back in prison ... so we make it a condition of parole, that you do self-improvement and especially literacy." 

Watch the full interview with Chlöe Swarbrick and David Seymour in the video above.