Keeping Māori safe from gang evil - ACT's new law and order policy ambition

By Marena Mane

Māori are much more likely to be victims of crime and they need to be protected from gangs, ACT leader David Seymour says.

ACT today launched a new law and order policy that included making gang members who receive a benefit undergo electronic income management, to stop them from spending welfare money on alcohol, gambling or tobacco. Act says this has been tried successfully in Australia where it was found more money was spent on children's needs such as nappies.

What is likely to be the most controversial part of the new policy is a proposal for a gang injunction order, which if passed into law would allow a court to issue an injunction against an individual on a national gang list.

Police would need to have a reasonable belief that the individual posed a particular risk of committing gang-related violence or drug-dealing offending.

"The injunction order could then be used to prohibit bad behaviours including being in a particular location or associating with particular people," Act's justice spokeswoman Nicole McKee says.

Works in the UK

"It could also be used to require positive actions, like attending rehabilitation."

Seymour says the presumption of innocence could be stripped if it was reasonable to do so.

A 2017 review of the use of such injunctions in the UK, found individual offending dropped by 70 per cent in the three years after their gang injunctions.

"So this policy is high stakes, it's about being safer, and it's actually Māori who have the most to gain from making our society safer because at the moment they're the greatest victims of crime too, Seymour says.

The policy is first and foremost about shifting New Zealand's priorities, he says.

He claims the government is overly generous, which allows evil individuals to do bad things that harm whanau and tamariki and exacerbates the country's problems.

Keeping people safe

“We are putting up policies that are unapologetically tougher but just remember that every time [the policies] they're tough on someone doing something bad, it's to protect someone who just wants to live safely.” 

Seymour says if someone is a member of a gang or are on a national gang list, under the ACT policy police would be able to place that person on a "good behaviour" contract through the courts, which prevents him or her from recruiting members, doing evil things, and requires the gang member you to behave well.

“If you're on the national gang list and you're getting a benefit, and 92% of gangsters have got benefits at some point, then actually we're going to give you an electronic card that controls what you can spend on.”

Seymour believes the money will be spent on nappies, food, and clothing for tamariki rather than “baccy (tobacco), beer, and TAB tickets” but that it will also show them that the government does not trust them and will “not apologise for putting it in place.”  

“We believe that if it steers people away from the gang lifestyle, then the level of savings for the government will be huge but the savings in terms of people's welfare and safety will be even huger.”

People's spending patterns changed as a result of comparable measures trialled in locations like Western Australia,  Seymour says.

More long-term beneficiaries

“They put more money into investing in kids and less money into their own indulgences so we know it works.”

“Let's say I'm wrong and actually everyone who is on a benefit and in a gang is spending their money on the right things already, kapai, nothing will change, they'll just keep spending on the same things but I bet this would change what they spend their money on.”

People will have faster access to counselling and support, according to Seymour, thanks to the electronic income management system.

The ACT leader notes that the number of long-term beneficiaries of more than ten years has increased by 50% during this government's term, and says ACT intends to assist them in achieving their freedom and independence.

“What I do know is things have got to change. We can't keep going in the direction we're going in. Because frankly it's Māori who are getting the worst end of a lot of things, and this is making it worse”. 

Seymour also wants prisoners learning to read and write to have a better chance in society.

The policy would also decide the number of police at 20 police per 10,000 citizens. If the population rose, so would the number of police.

Seymour acknowledges this policy will disproportionately affect Māori and Pasifika people, but ACT is eager to reverse that by exploring solutions such as educational partnerships, charter schools, and welfare and housing changes.