Bryce Edwards: Labour wants to be tough on crime – and tough on the causes of crime

Bryce Edwards: Labour wants to be tough on crime – and tough on the causes of crime

The Labour Government has managed to get one major issue right this week, at least in an electoral sense. The Government has been under pressure to deal with escalating public concerns about crime and gang activity.

On Wednesday the newly appointed law and order duo of Chris Hipkins and Kiri Allan announced new measures to crack down on gangs. The package was perfectly pitched as a “sensible” middle-of-the-road approach between the liberals on the left and the conservatives on the right.

The measures included additional search and seizure powers for police, increased penalties for gun crime (especially drive-by shootings), and the banning of “significant” cash payments for luxury items such as boats, watches and cars.

Electorally, this announcement will probably work well for Labour, neutralising a challenging issue for the Government. And it’s important to grasp how much difficulty the Labour Government has found itself in with the current law and order concerns. They have needed to respond in a way that doesn’t alienate either side of the liberal-conservative spectrum too much, but also finds some buy-in from both camps.

Answering the demands for action on law and order

For most of this year, the Government has been strangely inactive on law and order issues. But doing nothing was no longer an option. Opposition politicians and media figures had pushed the issue of gang criminality to the top of the public agenda, and Labour looked very weak. So feeble, in fact, that Ardern was forced to sack the Police Minister and bring in a more effective Justice Minister.

This weakness wasn’t just a result of tubthumping from National and Act politicians, but also due to a very real increase in gang activity and some increases in crime, especially in parts of Auckland. Gang membership numbers have apparently increased by 2000 since 2017, to 7722 members according to officials – especially because of deportations of gang members from Australia.

But there are also other factors. Crime has generally been on the increase in many countries around the world, especially after countries have come out of covid lockdowns and are facing all sorts of social dislocation. One expert, police negotiator Lance Burdett, is reported as saying there’s been “a 30 to 35 per cent escalation in violence globally.”

It was therefore untenable for Labour not to respond to the heightened concerns about crime. And not just to do so to satisfy law and order populists on the right, but also to satisfy those living in working class communities suffering the impacts of crime. Labour could not neglect the concerns of a voter base so crucial to their re-election next year.

After all, a recent opinion survey by Ipsos showed that the public now views National as the party most capable of managing the crime/law issue. This poll also showed that law and order was ranked as the fifth-most important issue facing New Zealand, after many years of lower concern.

Satisfying liberal views on law and order

Liberals, especially on the political left, are much less enamoured by politicians taking a tough approach on law and order, and especially towards gangs. There’s a view that hard-line policing and judicial orientations to crime is just populist opportunism. The argument is also made that tough policies often don’t actually work in reducing crime.

In contrast, liberal voices want governments to acknowledge that tackling gangs requires a sophisticated approach. In particular, it means taking a preventative approach to crime, with the argument that the sources of crime are usually based in social dysfunction which therefore needs addressing. Governments need to reduce economic inequality and poverty, and make sure the various needs of citizens such as housing, healthcare, and education are sufficiently met.

Many from within and around gangs also make some similar arguments. This week, Denis O’Reilly of Black Power argued that gangs “are symptoms of much deeper problems, many of which stem from our history as a country” and that they “arise from colonialism, neoliberalism, and socioeconomic inequality”. He therefore argues in favour of “depoliticising” the issue and having more “korero” on the issues.

Similarly, the Mongrel Mob’s Harry Tam came out this week to say that the answer to the gang problem was for the Government to give more support to gang mediation efforts.

Tough on crime, and tough on the causes of crime

The Labour Government therefore has faced a quandary over the need to show that they are taking gangs seriously without entirely abandoning their liberal credentials. If the Government had merely adopted National’s policy prescriptions on gangs, it would have led to severe criticisms from liberals and party activists.

Facing a similar problem in the 1990s, the British Labour Party leader Tony Blair simply adopted the campaigning slogan that his party would be “Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime”. Once elected, it turned out that the focus was more on the former part of the equation. But the gimmick largely worked – it sent a message that law and order liberals and conservatives could both embrace.

This week, the law and order ministerial duo effectively did the same thing. Their announcement on Wednesday started with an emphasis on the crackdown, and then followed up with details aimed at a liberal constituency to indicate the Government hadn’t turned populist and reactionary.

Police Minister Chris Hipkins stated firmly that “We want to hit gangs where it hurts”. And Justice Minister Kiri Allan followed this line, pledging they would be “Hitting them where it hurts. We’re going after guns, vehicles and cash.”

Then with the soundbites out of the way, Hipkins argued that the growth of gangs was “complex” and the Government was determined to get “underneath it”. He said: “We need to engage young people in constructive activities. If we give young people something useful to do, it can keep them out of trouble.”

Allan also added that although they were empowering the police to take on the gangs, “we also are acutely aware that the best tool we have is prevention” and promised a focus on early intervention, rehabilitation and reintegration as “the most effective route to sustained and long-term prevention”.

According to one news report, “Allan said people did not become gang members overnight and it was due to a range of socio-economic factors, family ties and a desire for a place of belonging.” She promised that she would make future announcements in the youth justice sector.

Sociologist and gangs researcher Jarrod Gilbert gave credit to this focus by the Government: “Both the ministers of justice and police who launched these proposed new laws talked about the need to see the gangs in a broader context and seek preventative approaches.”

Gilbert has praised the ministers for not going too hard-line, saying on Breakfast TV that Hipkins and Allan “have actually managed to stay fairly true to themselves in the sense that they haven’t responded with deeply political measures… rather than effective policy or legislation.” He also credited them with showing a “willingness to look at the drivers of gang membership.”

Criticism from National and the Greens

Labour has mostly been receiving good press from their announcement. But there’s also been condemnation from political rivals.

From a liberal perspective, the Greens’ Justice spokesperson Golriz Ghahraman has condemned the new measures: “It’s a knee-jerk reaction not based on evidence. They will not address the underlying causes of offending”. She says the empowering of police will lead to racist outcomes: “Māori and Pasifika, who are already inappropriately targeted by police, will be harassed and will have police coming into their homes.”

From a conservative perspective, the National Party has welcomed the tougher elements of the package, but overall said that the Government hasn’t gone far enough. Leader Christopher Luxon has claimed “Nothing in this proposal will be scaring gangs at all.”

None of these criticisms will bother Labour much. Quite the opposite, perhaps – if anything, the criticisms from the left and right will help to bolster Labour’s preferred narrative that they have taken a sensible middle path, avoiding the extremes. Therefore, this might finally be a case where Labour’s centrist strategy is actually working this year. They might not be able to entirely win the debate over law and order, but they have effectively neutralised what was becoming their biggest electoral vulnerability.

Further reading on law and order

Jarrod Gilbert (Herald): Government’s law change a political response – but the right one(paywalled)
James Halpin and Glenn McConnell (Stuff): Gang policy also puts street racers in the crosshairs. Who else could be caught up?
Craig McCulloch (RNZ): Gang crackdown: National, Greens unimpressed, expert approves ‘measured’ approach
John MacDonald (Herald): Gang crackdown more likely to be a let-down
Damien Venuto (Herald): Will the Government’s law changes make a difference in the fight on gangs?
Denis O’Reilly (Herald): ‘Wicked problems’ with gangs can’t be solved by proposed omnibus Amendment Bill
Cira Olivier (Herald): Bay of Plenty Mongrel Mob members say new laws targeting gangs won’t effect change
Luke Kirkness (Herald): The new legislation to tackle gangs and intimidating behaviour misses the mark (paywalled)
Amelia Wade (Newshub): Lifetime Black Power member Denis O’Reilly ‘disappointed’ at Government’s ‘shallow’ gang package, but Police Association supportive
Jamie Ensor (Newshub): Government’s gang package: National, ACT want more action, Greens concerned new police powers ‘attack’ on rights
Zarina Hewlett (Today FM): Mongrel Mob spokesperson sees Government crackdown on gangs as ‘PR stunt’
James Halpin, Glenn McConnell and Melanie Earley (Stuff): Government plans to expand search warrants in crackdown on gang violence
Jamie Ensor (Newshub): Government’s gang crackdown: New seizure powers to police, new offence to tackle drive-by shootings
Aaron Hendry (1News): Why being tough on crime won’t help
Richard Prebble (Herald): Gangs and crime – ‘gesture politics’ and what the Government is getting wrong on law and order (paywalled)
1News: Govt’s anti-gang proposals well targeted – expert
Brad Lewis (Today FM): Police Minister Chris Hipkins standing by decision not to ban gang patches
Vita Molyneux (Herald): Gang lifestyle no longer ‘Once Were Warriors’ says Justice Minister Kiri Allan
Anna Whyte (1News): Gangs crackdown: Suite of new rules released by government
Herald: Bid to crackdown on gangs: Chris Hipkins and Kiri Allan announce new laws
Jarrod Gilbert (Herald): New Zealand faces a significant crime issue, and it’s not gangs(paywalled)
Adam Hollingworth (Newshub): National accuses Labour of letting criminals operate with impunity as assaults on police rise
Emma Hatton (Newsroom): Judicial conduct: The curious case of the disappearing judge
1News: New drug testing tool to be rolled out for frontline police
Joanne Naish (Stuff): Unlawful $3.41m Pike River payout came from an insurance company


Other items of interest and importance this week

Tova O’Brien (Today FM): ‘Our crisis is now and our Prime Minister is too proud to admit it’
Rachel Thomas (Stuff): Nurses’ organisation asks health minister to focus on health crisis instead of putdowns
Mark Quinlivan (Newshub): Andrew Little slammed for ‘just not helpful’ comments accusing NZ Nurses Organisation of ‘sitting in Wellington’
Mark Quinlivan (Newshub): Andrew Little explains why he’s refusing to say health system in ‘crisis’ in tense AM interview
Lloyd Burr (Today FM): Andrew Little is burying his head in sand over refusal to acknowledge health sector
Brianna Mcilraith (Stuff): One in three New Zealanders borrow money to pay medical bills, survey finds
Rachel Smalley (NBR): Simple but clever plan ignored by Health ministry (paywalled)
Tina Morrison (Stuff): Private healthcare benefits when public falls short
Jayden Holmes (Today FM): Health NZ Chair – ‘There is no use just running around shoving sticking plasters on things’
Chris Hobson (Stuff): Who the hell would want to work in healthcare?
Amelia Wade (Newshub): Andrew Little refuses to call buckling health system ‘crisis’ as figures reveal big jump in reports of understaffing causing safety risks
Stephen Forbes (Local Democracy Reporting): GPs say govt funding model broken as primary healthcare struggles under the strain
Rachel Thomas (Stuff): ‘It will break many’: doctors’ survey paints clear picture of workforce crisis
Morgane Solignac (Stuff): ‘It’s as hard to hire a doctor than [it is] a manufacturer,’ says labour group
Peter Wilson (RNZ): Andrew Little’s bad week
Jennifer Eder (Stuff): Surgery waiting list delays mean people waiting since last September only being seen now
Waatea News: Doctors feel broken as system reaches crisis point
Waatea News: Pressure on hospitals unprecedented

Rachel Smalley (Today FM): Let’s not do lockdown again
Marc Daalder (Newsroom): Bring back the Alert Level system
Rachel Smalley (Today FM): Covid ‘advice’ should not be fear-mongering
Adam Pearse (Herald): Govt’s mask and test push face uphill battle
Jamie Morton (Herald): Q&A: What Omicron wave means for NZ’s Long Covid risk
Lloyd Burr (Today FM): Is our current mask approach still the correct one
Craig McCulloch (RNZ): Masks need to be mandated in most indoor settings to prevent really grim winter – Baker
Amelia Wade (Newshub): Government reveals three new COVID-19 strategies, but Michael Bakers wants masks mandated more indoors

Tova O’Brien (Today FM): I hope Jacinda Ardern’s having a good time in Fiji
Sam Sachdeva (Newsroom): Pacific strategy set as questions linger
Michael Neilson (Herald): Why US power play in the Pacific could ‘backfire’ and hurt NZ(paywalled)
ODT: Editorial – Upping the ante in the Pacific
Sam Sachdeva (Newsroom): Seeds of strategic conflict sprouting in Pacific
Sharon Brettkelly (RNZ): Superpowers cast big shadow on Pacific forum
Christine Rovoi (Stuff): Withdrawal from the Pacific Islands Forum is least of Kiribati’s problems
Ripu Bhatia (Stuff): Pacific Islands Forum a chance for New Zealand to reset strategy, says academic
Aupito William Sio (Herald): Why NZ’s role in Pacific is vital for nation and planet
Christine Rovoi (Stuff): Mahuta says 2050 Strategy will keep Pacific connected, free and safe
Waatea News: Māori vulnerable to Pacific China fall-out

Matthew Hooton (Herald): PM Jacinda Ardern’s foreign policy lacks coherent message (paywalled)
Brigitte Morten (NBR): Trans-Tasman trip offers hope of cross-country accord(paywalled)
Robert G Patman (Herald): New Zealand and the Post-Johnson era in the UK(paywalled)
Serena Kelly (The Conversation): A trade deal with the EU makes sense for NZ, but what’s in it for Europe? Symbolically, a lot

Damien Venuto (Herald): ‘$90k the new $70k’: NZ workers have 20,000 incentives to quit(paywalled)
William Hewett (Stuff): Cost of Living: MYOB poll shows more than 1 million Kiwis actively considering leaving NZ
Tess McClure (The Guardian): 100% pure rip-off? New Zealand voted second-worst place to move to
Siobhan Downes (Stuff): New Zealand ranked second-worst place in the world for expats, according to survey
Jem Traylen (BusinessDesk): Australia and NZ are both touting a residency ‘fast track’ – but how fast are we talking? (paywalled)
Richard Harman: The big migration has begun; NZers leave for Australia (paywalled)

Tom Pullar-Strecker (Stuff): We may not have recession this year, but it will feel like it, Infometrics warns
Susan Edmunds (Stuff): ‘Hold on for six to 12 months’: Things will be looking better this time next year, economist says
Matthew Martin (Stuff): Cost of living ‘ripping the social fabric out of towns like Tokoroa’
Andy Fyers (BusinessDesk): Five charts that hint at a recession in NZ (paywalled)
Richard Harman: Only tourists coming back will avoid recession (paywalled)
Tony Alexander (One Roof): Businesses are going to fail – but who’s to blame?
Ian Llewellyn (BusinessDesk): Households will pay for 9% structural increase in electricity prices (paywalled)
Anne Gibson (Herald): Inside Kiwi billionaire Graeme Hart’s expanding empire(paywalled)
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Matthew Scott (Newsroom): The iwi in the thick of the property game

Dileepa Fonseka (Stuff): Building more houses, faster – the Government project to drastically shorten the amount of time it takes to build a house
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Steven Joyce (Herald): Motel generation deserves better — fast (paywalled)
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Esther Taunton (Stuff): Half of Kāinga Ora homes still not up to healthy homes standard
Felix Desmarais (Local Democracy Reporting): Rotorua needs emergency housing for at least five more years, says council boss in ‘stark reality check’
Michael Neilson (Herald): Housing Minister hits back at criticism over ‘slow’ building programme
RNZ: House prices nationally drop 3.4% in June quarter, QV data shows
Tina Law (Stuff): ‘Unfair’ two-tiered social rental scheme sees Christchurch tenants paying different rents
Phil Pennington (RNZ): Health NZ facing unique challenges over Wellington Hospital works
Ben van Bruggen (Stuff): Finding a way through our urban housing dilemma
Damien Venuto (Herald): Villa wars explained – Will intensification cause Auckland to lose its ‘special character’?

Chris Trotter (Daily Blog): Performative caring
Tova O’Brien (Today FM): Will #resignjacinda prove to be true?
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Peter Dunne: Our winter of Discontent
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Jo Moir (Newsroom): The minister for all things rural
Ireland Hendry-Tennent (Newshub): PM Jacinda Ardern asked what it’s like to be ‘more popular’ overseas than in NZ during tense interview
Anna Whyte (1News): Recent ‘minor’ Cabinet reshuffle triggers change for 29 staff
Duncan Garner (NBR): Steve is desperate, Prime Minister – can you help? (paywalled)
The Standard: How Can Labour Win in 2023?
Mike Hosking (Newstalk): Govt is more and more out of touch from the real world
Steve Braunias (Herald): The secret diary of The Anti-Ardernists (paywalled)

Zarina Hewlett (Today FM): Who are New Zealand’s biggest political donors?
Max Rashbrooke and Lisa Marriott (The Conversation): ‘They’re nice to me, I’m nice to them’: new research sheds light on what motivates political party donors in New Zealand
Zarina Hewlett (Today FM): Donors have ‘greater access to politicians than the rest of us would enjoy,’ researcher says
Sam Hurley (Herald): NZ First Foundation case: Accused argues elections at risk if named as courtroom suppression battle continues
RNZ: NZ First Foundation case: Pair lose bid for continuing name suppression
Bob Jones: Funding political parties

Thomas Manch (Stuff): ACT Party leader David Seymour wants apology over Māori Party joke
William Hewett (Newshub): ACT Leader David Seymour slams Te Pāti Māori for ‘threatening violence’ in jokes about him
Claire Trevett (Herald): Act leader David Seymour says Māori Party co-leader Rawiri Waititi’s joke a step too far
David Farrar: Roy Morgan poll June 2022
Azaria Howell (Salient): Members of Green Party youth wing set to hold vote of no-confidence in co-leader James Shaw
Steven Cowan: If James Shaw is shown the door, then why isn’t Marama Davidson?
Jo Moir (Newsroom): Seymour’s swipe at Luxon’s National Party
Jane Clifton (Listener/Herald): Christopher Luxon was wrong to muzzle Simon O’Connor over abortion stance (paywalled)
1News: Luxon defends comments calling NZ businesses ‘soft’

Chris Trotter: Rumours of [Civil] War
Simon Wilson (Herald): David Seymour stoking the fires of a culture war (paywalled)
David Seymour (Herald): Debating one-person-one-vote is not being a racist (paywalled)
Morgan Godfery (Stuff): The Māori Health Authority isn’t separatist. It’s necessary
Chris Trotter: Defending Dame Lynley

Chris Trotter (Daily Blog): The Strange case of the de-selected professor
David Fisher (Herald): PM’s terrorism, extremism expert Prof Richard Jackson hired then dropped (paywalled)
Karl du Fresne: The intriguing circumstances in which Joanna Kidman was appointed to show us the way against hatred and extremism

Zarina Hewlett (Today FM): Two Sides: Should 16-year-olds have the right to vote?
Christina Huang (1News): Voting age case to be heard by Supreme Court
Brent Edwards (NBR): Political parties keep keen eye on Supreme Court voting age case(paywalled)
Stuff: Supreme Court hearing minimum voting age case
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Jonathan Mitchell (NBR): Supreme Court hears Make It 16 arguments (paywalled)
Catherine Hubbard (Stuff): Leading environmental researcher calls for votes for youth

Chris Trotter (Interest): David Seymour enlists history in ACT’s struggle for power
Audrey Young (Herald): Act Party’s 25 years in Parliament – the best and worst(paywalled)
Peter Dunne (Newsroom): ACT must remember it won’t be the star of the show
Brent Edwards (NBR): The problems Act poses for National Party (paywalled)
Toby Manhire (Spinoff): David Seymour’s 100-day gauntlet and the return of devil-beast politics
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Claire Trevett (Herald): Act’s first 100 days plan: David Seymour on what he’d want in a National-Act government
RNZ: David Seymour promises ‘full investigation’ into Labour’s handling of Covid-19 if ACT forms next Government
Giles Dexter (RNZ): ‘Prepare like we’re going to win’ – Inside ACT’s annual conference
RNZ: Inside ACT’s annual conference: ‘Laundry list’ of reversals, digs at National, Covid response investigation
1News: Seymour criticises National, releases plan to reverse Labour policies

Sandra Conchie (Herald): Māori Party president likens inequality among Māori as being ‘enslaved’
Kelvin McDonald (Whakaata Māori): Te Pāti Māori focuses on ‘decolonising and reindiginising’ Aotearoa at Rotorua conference
1News: ‘Dawn of a new era’ theme of Te Pati Māori conference
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Fleur Te Aho (Herald): The promise of a Māori-led transformation of Oranga Tamariki is lacking in new bill
Claire Breen (The Conversation): Changes to the way Oranga Tamariki is monitored risk weakening children’s rights and protections – what should be done?
Glenn McConnell (Stuff): Kelvin Davis on the hunt for government departments failing vulnerable children
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ODT: Editorial – Oranga Tamariki Bill delay needed
Martyn Bradbury (Daily Blog): Carmel Sepiloni’s Q&A interview on gagging Children’s Commissioner’s Oranga Tamariki Oversight isn’t good enough
Newshub: Oranga Tamariki oversight: Carmel Sepuloni defends controversial move in AM interview

Emma Hatton (Newsroom): Questions over whether mega-polytech will be ready
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