ACT leader David Seymour, Green MP Chlöe Swarbrick clash over Government's gang crackdown in fiery AM interview

ACT leader David Seymour and Green MP Chlöe Swarbrick have clashed in a fiery AM interview over the Government's gang crackdown.   

The Government on Sunday announced a raft of measures including banning gang patches and insignia in public, preventing gangs from gathering in public, and making gang membership an aggravating factor in sentencing.   

But questions have emerged about how the crackdown would work, with a reformed gang member telling Newshub it "doesn't seem practical" and it's the same plan that has been tried unsuccessfully since the 1970s.  

Seymour and Swarbrick joined AM on Monday morning as part of their weekly political panel to discuss the crackdown.   

The pair agreed people in the community are intimidated by gangs but wouldn't go so far as saying they themselves were intimidated.  

Swarbrick believed the Government needs to follow their "own advice" and evidence and invest in the root cause on things like recruitment and alienation, instead of focusing on "red herrings" like gang patches.   

"The evidence is contentious at best. At worst, we do know, based on Juliet Gerrard, the Prime Minister's chief science advisor's report from last year, that it actually has the potential to be counterproductive and potentially to alienate further," Swarbrick told AM co-host Lloyd Burr.   

"It also would mean potentially that you're even less likely to be able to identify gang members when certain disruptions are occurring or otherwise."  

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

Seymour told AM after six years of the old Labour Government being "kind to the gangs" this Government is trying a different approach.   

"This Government is now saying, actually, we're shifting our values as a country. We are no longer going to say that the criminals are kind of victims and the victims well, we'll get to them later," Seymour told AM.   

"We're going to say that some activities are unacceptable and we're going to uphold the rights of ordinary people to go about their lives in this country."  

But Swarbrick was quick to add that it's on politicians to dig deeper and "be honest" about what the evidence says.  

Seymour fired back, saying "I'll tell you something honest" before lashing out at the old Labour Government.  

"Under the previous Government, the level of school attendance fell to record lows. This is a major disaster for New Zealand's long-term future," he said.   

"So yep, I agree with Chlöe that it's important to actually have good social services, get in at the bottom. But the truth is on the most basic metric - are kids going to school? - they failed harder and worse and more disastrously than any government in recent history.  On that issue, we are working very hard. So yup, we can send a signal that gang behaviour is not acceptable in public."  

Swarbrick was quick to hit back saying Seymour was "grasping at straws" with his answer.   

She believes the key to solving the issues around gangs is not creating policy "on the fly", but turning "down the heat" and looking at the evidence, pointing to the Safe and Effective Justice review.   

But the ACT leader didn't agree with Swarbrick's comments about policy being created on the fly.   

"I'm sorry Chlöe, but just about everything you say is 'I'm evidence-based, you guys are all on the fly and political'. I mean that has become your slogan," Seymour said. 

"The facts are that this Government has looked into what works. It is not going to be enough to say maybe gangs are part of our community and if we're just a bit kinder, then they'll start being kind back. That was the approach of the last six years and it absolutely failed. We are now saying, actually, this community has some standards, we're not going to accept your behaviour."   

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

Burr then moved questions to a similar law in Western Australia and their courts being clogged with gang members arguing the crackdown is unlawful.  

Seymour expects New Zealand's courts to face similar backlogs of gang members fighting the law, but he doesn't believe that is a reason not to go hard on them.   

"It's also critical that we don't say because they're going to push back, we'll just surrender at the first hurdle and that is the difference," he said.   

"There's a whole lot of people out there who have been intimidated, who don't understand why they do everything right... we've got a government that says 'we stand for you and we're going to make sure that your values are reflected in the way this country is run for a change.'"  

Seymour then pointed to the way gangs treat women, saying it's "disgusting".   

"The number one reason I was told last week that men leave gangs is because they have a daughter and because they understand how gangs treat women," Seymour told AM.   

"It is absolutely disgusting. We have so much of this, 'these are nice people, if only we were a bit kinder to them they'll be kind back.' We've got to actually raise our sights in New Zealand and have some higher standards that we're not going to accept the kind of behaviour."  

Watch the full interview above.