4 Sep 2017

National's planned powers against gangs 'troubling'

7:51 pm on 4 September 2017

National Party deputy leader Paula Bennett's suggestion that serious criminals in gangs should have fewer human rights has been labelled troubling and sinister.

Deputy PM Paula Bennett 21 June 2017

National police spokesperson Paula Bennett Photo: VNP / Daniela Maoate-Cox

National Party deputy leader and police spokesperson Paula Bennett announced plans to give police the power to search cars and houses of the most serious criminal gang members for firearms at any time.

It would be part of an $82 million package to clamp down on organised crime and drug dealers.

Searches would be carried out though the use of Firearms Protection Orders. The criteria for an order would include being on the Gang Intelligence Centre database and having a recent conviction for both firearms and serious violence.

"We just feel that there are some gang members that are creating more harm and are continuing to create harm," Mrs Bennett said.

"They have illegal firearms, police have a really good reason to suspect they have, and on that basis they are going to search.

"Some have fewer human rights than others when they are creating a string of victims behind them.

"There is a different standard."

Her comments drew condemnation from Jarrod Gilbert, a sociologist who studies gangs.

"What is being proposed here is quite clearly breaching the Bill of Rights Act of New Zealand and what's more the government is quite aware of that and is seemingly incredibly comfortable with it.

"That's not only troubling, it ought be seen as sinister, and it ought be called out for the nonsense that it is.

"If this is genuinely what Paula Bennett believes she is not fit for the job. I don't say that lightly because we are in a campaign and an election is coming up soon, and all such comments will be seen as political, but it's true and I would say it of any politician of any hue at any time."

National leader Bill English told Morning Report today that Mrs Bennett had described the policy in the wrong way, and it was clearly not the case some New Zealanders had fewer human rights than others.

Otago University law professor Andrew Geddis said if Mr English was saying that it was wrong then that was good.

"Human rights are by definition the rights of humans, so if you say that some have less rights than others, you're basically saying that they're less human than others," he told Morning Report.

"That's a dangerous way for a politician to talk about any group in our society, no matter what they've done."

Community worker and life member of Black Power Denis O'Reilly said Mrs Bennett's position might be a vote winner but was contrary to police advice.

"That's not what her own department is saying, it's not what the police talk about. They say: 'We can't arrest our way out of this.'"

Mr O'Reilly, who now works with gang members from both the Black Power and Mongrel Mob to tackle meth addiction, took issue with Mrs Bennett's suggestion that gangs were getting wealthy off the drug.

"The gang members that I know that are in the meth trade, in the main, are trying to cope with their own addictions and habits, you know. And I don't see any great wealth. I see great wealth amongst people that Paula's more likely to mix with, but I don't see great wealth amongst the people I mix with."

Mana leader and Te Tai Tokerau candidate Hone Harawira was also critical, calling the policy an ugly and unacceptable abuse of human rights.

Although the National Party announced $40 million over four years for treatment and education, Mr Harawira said if National was serious about tackling the meth problem, it should be putting in more money.

There were more than 1000 P addicts in the Far North and only five rehab beds, he said.

"Now you translate that across the rest of Te Tai Tokerau and you've got a ridiculous situation."

Chief Human Rights Commissioner David Rutherford said the suggestion that different people had different human rights was patently at odds with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Courts likely to be 'very hostile to this policy' - law expert

Prof Geddis said the National Party appeared to be proposing granting sweeping new powers to police.

"The issue with the policy is that Paula Bennett said the police have good reason to suspect that these people have illegal arms. If that's the case, there's already a power under the Search and Surveillance Act to conduct warrantless searches.

"So what this actually seems to be is allowing the police to go into people's cars and houses when they don't have good reason to suspect there are arms there, just to have a look around in case there are guns, which is a real extension of police powers."

Some details, though, were uncertain, because the full policy had not been released, he said.

"The way it looks is that the police, not the courts but the police, will say 'we think you're the kind of person who might get illegal guns in the future so we will put this order on you'.

"So it's basically deeming people to be potentially criminal in future based on past behaviour, which is quite out of step with how our laws work, how criminal law works and how most types of searches are allowed to be carried out."

It was difficult to draw a clear line on who was a gang member or involved in a gang, and he thought the policy would be very difficult to carry out in practice, he said.

"There's no register - it's not like when you become a member of Black Power you have to register with the state or anything like that - so I think there will be real problems in application.

"I think the courts will be very hostile to this policy and I wouldn't be surprised if it ended up in court anyway."

'It's just another form of home invasion'

The Salvation Army said today the proposed policy would be a backwards step for New Zealand.

Addiction manager Lynette Hutson helped set up a rehab programme in 2009 called 'Hauora' - a joint venture between the Sallies and the Mongrel Mob.

The programme saw gang members with addiction problems, and their families, attend a seven-week rehab camp.

It was hugely successful, with a completion rate of 94 percent.

But at the start of this year, the programme folded because its funding was not renewed.

Ms Hutson said it was galling to hear National promoting punitive approaches towards gang issues, when rehab-focussed solutions have had proven success.

"If you want to get positive change, you have to do something to create an environment, and to create the right input into people's lives so they can, and do, change.

"If you want to continue a punitive approach, you do the same old things, yet get the same old results."

One of the gang members who went through the Hauora programme, Bones, said he was worried National's policy could be abused.

"It's just another form of home invasion...but it's them going to to be doing the home invasion on us.

"Where does that leave me when I'm living with my grandmother? They just bowl in there...'oh, we've come to search your house. There's nothing here, but we're not worried about that - we're allowed to'."

Bones said the best way to really get through to gang members and addicts was through understanding and trust - and this policy contained neither.

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