6 Sep 2022

Government accused of 'pandering to the polls' in latest gang offensive

5:15 am on 6 September 2022
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National Party justice spokesperson Paul Goldsmith said more action was needed to curb out-of-control crime. Photo: RNZ /Dom Thomas

The government has been accused of "pandering to the polls" after announcing new seizure powers for the police.

The Criminal Proceeds (Recovery) Act will be amended to give the police the ability to take assets likely born out of criminal activity.

The new powers will also enable the seizure of funds held in KiwiSaver schemes, meaning criminals cannot hide money in their KiwiSaver.

New Zealand Council for Civil Liberties chair Thomas Beagle said the extension of the police's seizure powers was a significant and concerning development.

"We've always been really clear that criminal confiscation can only ever be justified in the case of a conviction of the crimes connected with it and this seems to be extending it a lot further."

Beagle said he would need to read the bill to see how it worked but was already anticipating the police's use of new powers would be skewed in favour of white collar crime.

"Who is this going to get used against? Is it going to get used against people who do white collar crime and their friends? I don't think so; it's going to get used against people who are under privileged one way or another."

Lifetime Black Power member and community advocate Denis O'Reilly said while crime was a problem, the government was "pandering to the polls".

"No one's going to complain about illicit gains taken off criminals but when you start to conflate organised crime and gangs in the New Zealand context, which generally means brown, and then that gets extended to friends, associates and family, we're going down a slippery slope. This is not good science, this is not good policy."

The government should be careful not to conflate organised crime and gangs and instead purely focus on cracking down on organised crime, O'Reilly said.

"[The government should] just talk about organised crime; three people or more with a nefarious intent. It doesn't matter if you're ripping off your taxes or claiming Covid money you shouldn't or what; it's organised crime."

'They're desperate to look like they're doing something'

The National Party has slammed the government's crackdown on organised crime too but argues it follows years of inaction and does not go far enough.

Justice spokesperson Paul Goldsmith said while changes to The Criminal Proceeds (Recovery) Act would help, more action was needed to curb out-of-control crime.

"I think the government is scrambling and know that they're well off the pace when it comes to dealing with the community's concerns about gangs and law and order.

"They're desperate to look like they're doing something but it's been rushed together. They've grabbed anything that might be loosely associated with the issue, such as KiwiSaver, thrown it all together to look like they're doing something but we actually need much better thought out responses."'

Goldsmith said there needed to be a "consistent, forceful and reliable" approach to gangs and non-consorting orders prohibiting some members from associating with others should be part of the reforms.

"What we're seeing at the moment is mixed messages from the government and a general culture of excuses and a softness when it comes to dealing with what is a problem and a real concern to New Zealanders.

"We're looking all around seeing our communities under Pressure, we're seeing an increase of gun crime, we're seeing a big increase presence and the response so far has been inadequate."

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has said the amendments were expected to net the Crown an extra $25 million a year, which went into the Proceeds of Crime Fund which was used to reduce reoffending and other programmes that were aimed at breaking the cycle of criminality.

Justice Minister Kiri Allan said the reason for the change was due to a significant number of investigations revealing organised crime leaders were structuring their affairs to hide their property.

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