Tuesday, 27 Jul 2021

Richard Prebble: Politicians should never meet with organised crime

OPINION:

Why has Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern personally signed off giving $2.75 million to a Mongrel Mob sponsored rehab programme?

Why did minister and co-leader of the Greens, Marama Davidson, visit the Mob?

Why are the Māori Party MPs opposing firearm prohibition orders against gang members when Māori are the most frequent victims of gang shootings?

The answer is votes. The police intelligence unit reports that there are 8000 patched gang members. Add their partners, prospects and sympathisers; conservatively that is 20,000 voters. Māori Party MP, Rawiri Waititi, won the Waiariki electorate with half that number, just 9473 votes.

It is electoral suicide for any party to admit it is seeking the vote of the gangs. Maybe that is why no visits to the Mob have been recorded in ministerial diaries as required by the Official Information Act. The Waikato Mongrel Mob’s “public relations representative” told Newstalk ZB that “ministers have visited under the radar”. What was discussed at these secret ministerial meetings with the Mob?

Gangs represent half a century of failure by successive governments. Once there were few gang members in jail. Today gang members and affiliates make up 40 per cent of the prison population.

Gangs have gone from, admittedly vicious, delinquents to organised crime. Mongrel Mob members have been convicted for the manufacture and distribute of P. Sewage does not lie. The country is in the midst of a gang organised P epidemic.

Leaders of the Waikato Mob have been arrested as the result of a FBI sting operation against international organised crime.

The gangs have morphed into organised crime.

Organised crime over time corrupts law enforcement, trade unions, political parties and politicians.

It is alleged the mafia in Chicago stole the 1960 election for Kennedy. Organised crime and the Teamsters Union are well documented. In Jamaica gangs have assisted the Jamaican Labour Party and other parties to campaign.

Why should we be different? Ross Kemp, the English documentary maker who made Ross Kemp on Gangs, says New Zealand has more gangs per head than any other country in the world.

Norman Kirk famously pledged to take the bikes off the gangs. Muldoon met the gangs and spent millions supporting gang work trusts. Anti-gang police task forces have been formed. It seems nothing has worked.

There are solutions. Politicians should never meet with organised crime.

Taxpayers’ money should never subsidise gangs.

Muldoon’s work trusts entrenched the gangs. The way to get on a government employment scheme was to join a gang.

Police must prioritise gang offending but policing by itself cannot eliminate organised crime.

What is needed is good policy that addresses the incentives.

Kirk was right. Go after the proceeds of crime. Remove the financial incentive. Drafting an effective law to seize the bikes and other loot turned out to be difficult. Finance houses own those Harley Davidsons.

The Criminal Proceeds (Recovery) Act 2009 allows police to seize cash and assets that have been obtained directly or indirectly from the proceeds of crime”. It is an effective law. Over a billion dollars has been frozen.

The Mongrel Mob does not fear jail. Prospects often take the rap. The Mob does fear that their property will be seized. The Mob has launched a PR campaign saying: “We are an organisation that’s working bloody hard in the community”.

Sponsoring a drug rehab programme is PR to convince us the Mob is just another social club.

Instead of assisting the Mob’s PR, the Government should persist in the seizing of the proceeds of crime. Despite the cost of the court cases, the gangs hire top lawyers, the law is working.

What are now needed are programmes to reduce the incentive to join a gang. It is urgent. Gang membership is growing at a record rate.

Being in a gang is boring. Creating more attractive alternatives is not hard.

The Mob never got established in Auckland Central. We had five rugby league clubs who recruited any young man showing aggression. The clubs banned gang regalia at grounds. After practising three times a week and playing on Saturday no one wanted to join a gang.

When Minister of Police I noticed that wherever there was active gang recruitment there were no league teams. I did not reach into the taxpayers’ pocket. I got the brewery to sponsor jerseys and boots to assist forming rugby league teams in gang neighbourhoods. The results were immediate.

Young people who play sport, waka ama or kapa haka do not join gangs.

The taxpayer is spending $16m a year supporting Māori TV. The channel needs to sponsor and broadcast more grassroots rugby league, waka ama and kapa haka. Māori TV will get an audience. They could even find that corporations would be willing to sponsor.

The gangs cannot compete against the attraction of playing sport and being on TV.

– Richard Prebble is a former leader of the Act Party and former member of the Labour Party.

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