Speech: Backing police, tackling gangs

Kia ora koutou and good morning everyone.

It’s a great pleasure to be here at the National Party’s Northern Regional Conference.

We are the party that is focussed on taking New Zealand forward and I can sense that you can tell we’re ready to do that.

This is the final of our regional conferences for 2022 and I have to tell you our party is in good heart. We know what we stand for, and why we’re here.

It’s the National Party that believes in personal responsibility, and so do I. It’s the National Party that believes we can make this great country even better,  and so do I, and it’s the National Party that thinks strengthening law and order is a 365-day-a year commitment, not just for election campaigns. So do I.

Because the real strength of the National Party has always been our members. That ethos of service that all of us here share, attracted me to our party.

It’s each of you, giving up your time to deliver pamphlets, to knock on doors, to talk about National and to organise events – that will help put us in a position next year to win the election and to get New Zealand going again. 

Why do we do it? We do it because we’re ambitious for New Zealand.

We do it because we care about people and because we believe in a brighter future for all Kiwis, regardless of their circumstances.

I’ve been up and down the country over the last few months – the small towns and big cities - and let me tell you, one thing that’s crystal clear is that there is real momentum for a change of Government next year.

We’ve reset the party, and we are ready to lead this great country of ours after the election, whenever it comes.

And we absolutely have to win. Because after five years, Labour is taking New Zealand and New Zealanders in the wrong direction.

Whenever the National Party is strong, it’s because we’re working together as a great team.

I’d like to acknowledge our hard-working local MPs in attendance today. So, please give them a warm welcome.

And of course I want to acknowledge our Deputy Leader and Finance Spokesperson Nicola Willis.

Nicola is holding Grant Robertson to account for the Government’s record spending that’s putting pressure on interest rates and making hard-working Kiwis with mortgages worry about when the rises are going to end.

Nicola is going to have a huge turnaround job on her hands when she becomes Finance Minister, but I have absolute confidence she’s the person for the job.

The next general election will be crucial for New Zealand and it will also be hard fought.

But when I look at the people in this room, our strong team of MPs, all the passionate volunteers I’ve met all over the country, I can tell you that we’re up for it.

Politics doesn’t have to be divisive. 

But, unfortunately, as this Government gets more desperate, it’s more often than not resorting to playing Kiwis off against each other. Landlords versus renters. Business owners versus workers. Urban versus rural.

It focuses on identify politics and factionalism that’s more about pitting people against each other, rather than bringing them together.

Then there’s the assault on the fundamental principle that everyone’s vote carries the same value as everyone else’s and none are more valuable than others.

That should be a given in New Zealand. Instead, there’s an emerging co-governance programme that Labour has sprung on the public without much warning or discussion.

If it wants to undermine democratic principles, the Government should be transparent about that.

National doesn’t support co-governance of public services.

The National Government I lead will be ruthlessly focused on delivering better outcomes for Māori, non-Māori and all New Zealanders alike.

We want every Kiwi to have the opportunity to flourish and to get ahead. Yes, we know that Māori tend to have poorer economic and social outcomes, and we have to address that.

But I want this to be a country where your life prospects are not defined by your identity, or your race, or where you are born.

And we won’t achieve that vision by creating different systems for Māori and non-Māori. To me that’s a cop out.

That’s why we will abolish the Māori Health Authority, that even the Government acknowledges won't lead to better health outcomes for the next five years.

Rather than identity politics, National is focused on issues that matter. And there are few things that matter more right now than the spiralling cost of living.

Inflation is at a 30 year high. It’s higher than most of our trading partners and it’s being felt by every family at the supermarket checkout, including those saving for a house who are finding they are still going backwards, even as house prices start to fall. 

Rampant inflation means Kiwis are paying more in tax, even as incomes are falling in real terms. 

We gave the Government one simple idea that would have helped people. Index income tax rates to account for the last four years of inflation.

That would have given an extra $1,600 a year to a household on an average income.

It would have given more than $500 a year to a couple receiving New Zealand Superannuation.

Anyone earning $50,000 or more would have been better off than they will be with the Government’s Band Aid gimmick. And it would have been permanent so they’d be better off every year.

That’s not ideology: that’s fairness.

But tax cuts just aren’t in Labour’s vocabulary.

Rather than curb its own spending, a Labour Government thinks it’s entitled to keep more of New Zealanders’ hard-earned money than it should.

It’s the worst form of entitlement because it costs every New Zealand household money that they could instead spend on their own priorities.

Labour needs these taxes because Labour is addicted to spending your money.

Not content with a $6 billion spend up in Budget 2022 – which would have been by far the biggest ever – Grant Robertson went further and raided another $2.5 billion from the next two Budgets.

All this spending has consequences.

The Reserve Bank recently raised interest rates by 50 basis points. The first back to back 50 basis point hike it’s ever done.

Now, a family with a $700,000 mortgage is on the hook for $14,000 more a year in interest than at the start of last year.

Some of those will be young families who bought their first home at inflated prices and now will be sleepless about what’s happening.

Not only are Kiwi households and the books going backwards, but outcomes are going backwards too.

This Government is all spin no delivery; all talk no action, all activity no achievement.

They confuse spending with getting things done.

Pick any portfolio and you’ll see the same pattern of more spending, more bureaucrats, and worse outcomes. It’s almost a skill, but not one that anyone thought they were voting for.

Remember KiwiBuild on which Labour campaigned up and down the country, promising 100,000 homes?

Five years in and they’ve made it to 1.4 per cent of their target, which of course they abandoned, but New Zealanders haven’t forgotten what was promised.

Child poverty. Far from lifting 100,000 kids out of poverty by 2020, the numbers have actually increased since Labour’s been in government.

Carbon emissions are up. And we imported well over twice as much coal last year than any year National was in office.

Homelessness. The Housing New Zealand waiting list is nearly five times the size it was when National left office, and more than a million dollars a day is being spent on emergency housing motels.

Education. School attendance and literacy rates are showing no sign of improvement despite spending an extra $5 billion a year.|

Mental health. Another $1.9 billion allocated but no improvement in outcomes.

Welfare. There are an extra 40,000+ people on a long-term Jobseeker benefit under Labour - at a time of acute labour shortages.

This Government cannot achieve anything. This Government cannot get things done.

But today there’s a particular failure I want to talk about – one that increasingly has the potential to randomly affect any of us: gang violence. 

In the two weeks up to last Tuesday, there were 23 gang shootings. The New Zealand Herald described it as the “Fortnight of Fear”.

This is New Zealand. The place that Kiwis overseas used to want to come back to, because it had a reputation as a great place to raise children.

Tell that to the family in South Auckland who had bullets fly into their house while they were eating dinner a couple of weeks ago.

Or tell it to the Papakura family who, on the same night, had their house with two young children inside, targeted in a drive-by shooting with a shotgun.

We even had a shootout in broad daylight in a hotel lobby in downtown Auckland. It’s sheer luck that no one was killed or injured.

And just the other day we had the horrifying story of a three year old boy caught in a gang brawl that left him covered in blood, and bleeding from his mouth and nose.

During five years of a Labour government, gangs have added more than 2,000 new members to their ranks, while Police have added only 1,300 new officers over the same period.

Yes, gangs are recruiting faster than Police.

As gang membership has exploded, it’s unsurprising that we’ve also seen an escalation in crime, including public intimidation and shootings.

Since 2017 we’ve seen an 11% increase in homicides, a 21% increase in violent crime and a 31% increase in assaults. 

We’re seeing people who’ve never done anything wrong, wanting to move out of their own neighbourhoods because the presence of gangs and the fear of gang shootings makes them afraid.

Hard-working business owners have become so desperate to protect themselves that they are trying to access firearms. Think about that: dairy owners feeling so afraid and unsupported that they want to be armed to protect themselves, their workers and customers.

This is not the New Zealand any of us want.

The National Party believes New Zealanders deserve to feel safe in their homes, in the small businesses they work so hard in, and in every community, wherever it is.

So, I have a message for all the gangs threatening New Zealanders: my government will not stand for it.

I have a message for Police: my government will back you.  We will give you more tools to tackle gangs.

And I have a message for law-abiding New Zealanders: my government will be on your side.

On messages, let me also acknowledge right now the hard work, courage and dedication of New Zealand Police. They are doing their absolute best to keep us safe, and are risking their lives to do it. And to every Police officer, and to every Police family, I say thank you.

A Government I lead will practise what it preaches: that every citizen has rights and responsibilities.

Any citizen risks losing some of their rights when they choose to belong to a gang that shows no regard for their responsibilities as citizens.

It’s not a difficult concept.

Your freedom of association and your freedom of movement depends on you not using those rights to join with others to threaten, assault and maim other people.

These messages are simple but important. They’re important because my colleague Mark Mitchell is getting messages every day from Police, saying that morale is low.

Police need support, and under a National Government, they’ll get it. I’m only sorry they might have to wait for an election.

Reversing the growth of gangs will require a multi-pronged approach focussing on both the long-term drivers of crime combined with a zero tolerance approach to the present threat gangs pose to public safety.

National will bring back the long-term, social investment approach so that resources are directed where they can do the most good. That means developing targeted interventions to steer at-risk young people in a direction that gives them the chance of a positive and productive life.

It means ensuring New Zealand’s education system and economy are generating opportunities for everyone, so young people see they have life choices that don’t involve joining a gang.

It’s a long-term, challenging project that will take time and hard work to show results. But National is up for that challenge. The long-term benefits for New Zealand will clearly be worth it.

I think all of us here would feel compassion if we knew the life circumstances of many of the people recruited in to gangs.  But as adults, we all have choices and gang members have choices too.

But none of this gets away from the fact that we need action against gangs right now. They are evolving, they are emboldened, and frontline Police need new tools.

So a National Government will do something about it. We’ll give Police four new powers to help them respond to the growing gang threat, and to help them keep New Zealanders safe.

One – We will ban gang patches and insignia in public.

We already do this in government buildings like hospitals and courts. National will extend these rules to every public space. Patches are about intimidation, and you only get one after you’ve committed a violent crime to show you’re loyal to a gang. 

The ban will also cover publicly accessible social media sites, which Police say gangs are now using to show off, and to make their lifestyle appealing to kids.

Two – Police will have the power to stop gang members gathering in public.

Police will have the power to issue dispersal notices to anyone they reasonably suspect of being a gang member or gang prospect. Once issued, gang members would be required to immediately leave a public area and not associate in public with one another for seven days.

Three – Police will have the power to stop gang offenders associating with each other.

Gang crimes don’t just happen; they are co-ordinated and planned. Often, Police know exactly who the criminals are, but can’t stop them preparing to commit a crime. Police will be able to issue Consorting Prohibition Notices if they need to in order to stop known gang offenders committing serious offences. Once issued, those gang members won’t be allowed to associate or communicate with one another for up to three years.

Four – Police will have the power to stop gang members accessing guns.

National will give Police the power to issue Firearms Prohibition Orders. These could be issued against any gang member who in the last 10 years has been convicted of a serious offence, and would make it illegal for that person to access firearms or enter certain premises where firearms are present.  Police would have the power to search people who are subject to a Firearms Prohibition Order, and search their premises or vehicles for firearms - at any time.

These initiatives will give Police four additional tools to help prevent situations escalating, and to help keep the community safe from people who know they have rights, but who choose to ignore their responsibilities.

As I said earlier, people have choices. If someone who is subject to one of these orders chooses to leave a gang, and is no longer considered a risk of serious offending, they can apply to have an order against them withdrawn.

Given the urgency of the gang problem, we are ready and willing to work with the Government to implement these policies as soon as possible.

In Government, there’s no more fundamental responsibility than the protection of citizens. It doesn’t matter whether a threat is external, or internal. People’s safety deserves priority. 

I’m confident these practical tools will help Police tackle gangs, which every law-abiding citizen wants to see. 

In closing, I want to say to all of you here that you should not lose hope about any of the challenges that I’ve described today.

With your help, National can win the next election and together we can make this great country of ours even better.

I know we can do that. You know we can do that.

Everything that has stalled or gone backwards under Labour - whether it’s economic, social or environmental - can be turned around by a capable National government.

National will back businesses to sustainably grow the economy – unleashing enterprise so that people can earn more and keep more of what they earn.|

National will stop wasteful government spending, and restore a culture of fiscal discipline.

National will drive results from our health, welfare and education systems, to give all Kiwis the opportunity to flourish.

National will back Police to target gangs, and make our streets safer.

National will get New Zealand moving forward.

Thank you.