14 Jun 2022

Chris Hipkins as Police Minister may be 'window dressing for the public' - Mark Mitchell

8:40 am on 14 June 2022

Replacing Poto Williams as Police Minister could just be "window dressing for the public" if it doesn't bring changes, says National's police spokesperson Mark Mitchell.

National MP Mark Mitchell

Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

Williams was stripped of her responsibility for the police portfolio yesterday, as Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced a string of Cabinet changes.

Chris Hipkins has stepped in to replace her.

It came less than a week after National Party leader Christopher Luxon called for Williams' removal from the role.

Now that Williams had been replaced, the party said it wasn't convinced Hipkins stepping into the role would deliver for New Zealanders.

"They tend to use Chris Hipkins to try and fix portfolios that aren't going very well," National Party police spokesperson Mark Mitchell told Morning Report.

"If he's passionate about it and he really believes in getting behind the police, and I hope he does, then we might see some changes but fundamentally the risk is that it's window dressing for the public."

Mitchell said Labour continued to adopt a "soft on crime" approach and there needed to be a very strong response to gang activity.

It was something National were "deeply passionate about", he said.

"We signalled four years ago what the government needed to do to get on top of a rising gang problem, they didn't act."

There had been a number of shootings and arsons in Auckland and Northland in recent weeks, linked to escalating tensions between the Killer Beez and Tribesmen.

The National Party proposed four steps to give police new powers to tackle the gang problem.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern rejected those and yesterday said the government had asked police what other tools they wanted to address gang behaviour.

Giving police a warrantless search power inside the Firearms Prohibition Order Bill (FPOs) was among the things needed, Mitchell said.

The government had worked on introducing FPOs but they do not grant warrantless search powers.

"The police have got the intelligence, they know who the gang members are, they know who's organising all of this, they've got very good intelligence gathering capability and they absolutely know what's going on. But they can't take action unless they've got the powers to do it."

The government had put a lot of money into addressing gang behaviour but things were going backwards, Mitchell said.

"If Chris Hipkins comes in and he sits down with me and he says 'Right, let's have a look at this Firearms Prohibition Order, does it actually genuinely have the warrantless search powers that the police need?' and he can't see that they don't, and they make a change - that's a good thing."

NZ Police Association president Chris Cahill didn't think switching out the minister would make a dramatic difference.

"It's good to see the Labour has accepted law and order issues are a significant problem and they've put someone of a high Cabinet ranking of five but the reality is, are ministers really going to be able to change the significant problems we've got with gangs at the moment or with ram raids?"

Legislative amendments wouldn't make changes overnight but National's proposals were worth looking at, Cahill said, noting any steps needed to be made slowly.

"I'd like to look at the gang patch for a start."

But he said people should not go to prison for wearing a patch.

"What I want to make sure is that anything we introduce is practical and has the ability to work and won't just get thrown out by the courts."

He said while people were concerned about increased gang presence in communities, why young people were joining gangs needed to be addressed.

"That'd be the best result, is turn off the tap in the first place."

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs