Fears for children in motels growing up next to gang members

10:35 am on 13 March 2021

A Rotorua district councillor has expressed concern about children growing up in motels next door to gang members and Australia's 501 deportees.

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Some people in motels are in survival mode, Rotorua Lakes councillor Merepeka Raukawa-Tait says. Photo: LDR / Rotorua Daily Post

Rotorua Lakes councillor Merepeka Raukawa-Tait made the comments at a council Strategy, Policy and Finance Committee meeting on Thursday as part of discussions surrounding a draft council plan to address community safety.

So-called 501 deportees are criminal New Zealand citizens deported from Australia.

They are named for the section of the Australian Immigration Act that allowed visas to be stripped from New Zealand residents who had disqualified themselves on "character" grounds.

This week Australian Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton described the scheme as "taking the trash out".

At the meeting on Thursday, Raukawa-Tait said homeless people and rough sleepers had been put into motels during the Covid-19 alert level 4 lockdown to "get them off the streets".

"What we have now is a situation where our motels are being used to mop up the housing crisis in Rotorua.

"That has contributed to the behaviours that we see on the streets.

"We've got people in motels who are just surviving, in survival mode. Who's looking after their high and complex needs? How did that happen?

"We've got mothers with children living beside someone who's just been released from overseas, come back to New Zealand, a 501. You've got other people with gang relations waltzing in and out of those motels.

"There are people in Rotorua who need to take a really good look at what they've contributed to the issues that are going down right now in our city."

Raukawa-Tait, who is also a member of Lakes District Health Board and the chairwoman of Whānau Ora, said some government agencies had "taken the road of least resistance".

"Then we wonder why we've got people with the behaviours that they have on our streets today."

She said the draft plan did something constructive and was "a start".

Rotorua's ranking bottom for crime victimisation

Council operations manager Jocelyn Mikaere, who presented the draft plan, said community safety was a priority in the council's Long-term Plan as it had "such far-reaching consequences".

"We know that our residents and visitors anecdotally are telling us they do not feel safe in Rotorua."

She said the draft community safety plan had been developed out of public consultation about the council's housing strategy as well as concerns raised in other channels.

11 March 2021 The Daily Post Photograph by Andrew Warner.

Residents are telling the Rotorua Lakes Council they don't feel safe, operations manager Jocelyn Mikaere says. Photo: LDR / Rotorua Daily Post

She referenced a Dot Loves Data report which revealed Rotorua ranked 66 of 66 - the worst in the country - in crime victimisation.

"We're not just trying to be better than number 66, we want to be the safest place to live and raise a family."

She said part of the focus of the plan was on children and young people and developing "effective collaboration" with the police and community groups to ensure the plan was a success.

It included making sure there was crime prevention through environmental design, she said.

"That's things like making sure that if we're planting trees we're not planting them directly right in front of CCTV cameras."

It also included expanding CCTV coverage and "expanding and enhancing" the council's Safe City Guardians.

A detailed implementation plan for the draft community safety plan was being costed and developed, she said.

Te Tatau o Te Arawa representative Eugene Berryman-Kamp said the draft plan appeared to him to be "more about managing the issue, managing symptoms, less about determining the … cause".

Mikaere said the issues at play had not sprung up overnight, nor were they easy to fix.

"It's not something we can just walk out and shoot a silver bullet and everything will be fabulous."

She said the council wanted to make sure the approach was "based in partnership" with government departments and the wider community.

"It's really important that everyone takes responsibility for a better outcome."

'Fast immediate effect on our streets'

Council chief executive Geoff Williams said the draft plan was not the complete plan but council strategy such as the housing plan, the Eastside Community Wellness Plan addressed underlying issues.

He said the draft plan was "very much the first element off the ground" and was intended for "fast immediate effect on our streets".

Te Tatau o Te Arawa rangatahi representative Danielle Marks asked how safety was to be guaranteed with police involvement, given reports of what Marks described as, in her opinion, "racial profiling".

Rotorua police area commander inspector Phil Taikato said there were "other threads of work going on" to do with family harm and violence.

"It's the foundation of virtually all of our criminal offending we're dealing with."

Rotorua area commander inspector Phil Taikato   11 March 2021 The Daily Post Photograph by Andrew Warner.

Rotorua police are doing a lot in the area of family harm and violence, area commander Inspector Phil Taikato said. Photo: LDR / Rotorua Daily Post

He said Rotorua was leading the country with initiatives to combat family violence.

"Here in Rotorua in the police … arrest is the exception, supportive resolutions is the norm."

Rotorua police were running iwi panels and were planning on rolling out more, Taikato said.

He confirmed that the police collected data on where 501 deportees ended up living.

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