National leader Christopher Luxon defends gang crackdown

Christopher Luxon is standing by National's latest gang policy after it came under fire from political parties across the spectrum.

National at the weekend announced it would make membership in a gang an aggravating factor when it comes to sentencing.

But David Seymour, the leader of fellow right-bloc party ACT, said while he didn't believe Labour was doing enough to crack down on gangs, he also didn't think National's proposal was anything new. 

"I have to speak to the facts, it's there in black and white," Seymour told AM on Monday. "I think it's section 9 of the Sentencing Act, that one of the aggravating factors is that you are a member of a criminal organisation." 

He said, however, he understood why National wanted to draw attention to gangs.

Labour leader Chris Hipkins has said he's proud of his party's work to crack down on gangs, including passing the Criminal Activity Intervention Legislation Bill into law. 

Hipkins told the House on Tuesday the law "was used for the first time in Ōpōtiki and the gangs are facing the consequences of their actions because of the law change that we have put through Parliament".

Last week, hundreds of patched Mongrel Mob members flooded Ōpōtiki, a small town in Bay of Plenty, for the funeral of a local gang leader. Schools and roads were closed as red cars and motorbikes convoyed through the town to Whakatāne for the tangi of Steven Rota Taiatini.

"We went through the process of identifying what the best tools were that were going to help the police whilst also protecting the safety of police as well, and the law change that we put through the Parliament is giving them extra tools in their fight against gang crime," Hipkins told MPs, under questioning by Luxon.

Hipkins said gang activities such as shutting down State Highways were unacceptable, adding the Government was "backing the police to do the difficult job that they have ahead of them".

Luxon, the National Party leader, told AM host Ryan Bridge he "respectfully" disagreed with Seymour as well as Labour.

Christopher Luxon.
Christopher Luxon. Photo credit: Newshub.

"Let me be really clear about this, today there is an aggravating factor for organised crime but it has to be connected to the actual crime," Luxon said. 

National, if elected in October, would "add gang membership to that" aggravating factor, he said.

Luxon said National's plan was "entirely appropriate".

"When we've talked to people in the judiciary [and] when we've talked to others, it's actually quite difficult to actually prove that connection between the organised crime unit and the actual crime itself - whereas actually just making membership of a gang, I think, is a much cleaner and a much better way to go."

"So you're saying if a gang member commits a crime completely unrelated to their gang, completely unrelated to organised crime… when they face criminal charges for that - when they're in court for that - an aggravating factor could be the unrelated fact that they are in a gang?" Bridge asked.

Luxon replied: "Correct because we acknowledge that gang crime has huge implications for people who've been previously affected by gangs and there are a lot of consequences there, so we're saying, 'Yes, if you're the member of a gang, irrespective of the crime that you commit, you're going to have an aggravating factor.'"    

Watch the full video for more.