The Prime Minister and the National Party leader have hit back at Te Pāti Māori co-leader Rawiri Waititi after he slammed them for comments they made around the death of a gang leader in Ōpōtiki.
Police launched a homicide investigation into the death of Ōpōtiki’s local Mongrel Mob Barbarians president Steven Taiatini.
On Wednesday, Taiatini’s funeral took place which saw an increase in patched gang members and police.
Police said they were “out in large numbers” as his funeral procession descended on the Bay of Plenty town.
But late on Wednesday night, Waiariki MP Waititi said he had “something on my chest I need to get off” in a Facebook livestream.
“What is not helping are the comments being made by political leaders and political parties and right now, Christopher Luxon, Chris Hipkins need to shut their mouths and stop using our iwi as a political football to score points,” he said.
Waititi said the local iwi, Te Whakatōhea, are doing “their best to de-escalate the situation that has unfolded over the past three days”.
The Te Pāti Māori co-leader said Hipkins and Luxon “have no business whatsoever” to make comments on matters he believes “they know nothing about”.
“Keep my iwi out of your mouth.”
Prime Minister Chris Hipkins said on Thursday that “not at any point” did he mention the iwi.
When Newshub asked the Prime Minister for his response to Waititi’s comments, he said he disagreed with them and that everyone has the right to feel safe.
“I think communities are entitled to feel safe and it’s not okay that schools had to be closed and members of the community were feeling intimidated and unsafe,” Hipkins said.
“I think it’s important that we back the police to do a really difficult job here. It’s important that they do that free from political interference, but we make sure as a Government that they’ve got the tools and the powers that they need in order to be able to manage a situation like this.”
Luxon had similar remarks to the Prime Minister, saying what happened in Ōpōtiki is “utterly unacceptable”.
“I will always open my mouth and stand up for New Zealanders. What we’ve seen this week in Ōpōtiki is utterly unacceptable. To have a town shut down, to have people and kids not at school, to have people not being able to go around to their business, not being able to use a bus service because gangs came to town is utterly unacceptable, so I’ll always stand up for New Zealanders,” Luxon told media on Thursday.
“On what planet is it acceptable that we are shutting schools because gangs came to town? On what planet is it acceptable that we can’t use bus services to get around town? On what planet is it acceptable that people feel intimidated and they feel frightened in their own homes, their businesses, their own community? That is utterly unacceptable. That is not a standard we accept in New Zealand and we will not accept it under a National Government.”
Eastern Bay of Plenty Area Commander Acting Inspector Tristan Murray said on Thursday police had seized three guns and six offensive weapons following a successful operation in Ōpōtiki on Wednesday night.
“Eight gang-related vehicles were stopped and searched, and firearms, ammunition and offensive weapons were located in five of the vehicles,” Insp Murray said.
Insp Murray also confirmed two people were charged with firearms offences and two people will appear in court for possession of offensive weapons and drug-related charges.
“Police hope these results provide some reassurance to the Ōpōtiki community that we are dealing with unlawful activity,” Insp Murray said.
“Our intention was to disrupt harmful behaviour that can occur when gangs get together in big numbers like this.”
Insp Murray said this sends a “clear message” to gangs that unlawful behaviour will not be accepted.
“We will continue to maintain a visible presence in the Ōpōtiki community over the coming days and will continue to work hard to disrupt any unlawful or harmful behaviour,” Insp Murray said.
The Prime Minister said the seizing of firearms by police came after the Government passed new laws cracking down on gangs.
In March, Minister of Justice Kiri Allan announced new legislation that was cracking down on gang profits and criminal assets.
She said the new law would make it harder for gangs and their leaders to benefit financially from crime that causes considerable harm in our communities.
The Prime Minister said these new laws are a good addition to the toolkit police already have.
“We want to make sure that police have the powers and have the tools that they need in order to crack down on gang crime where they need to do that,” he said.
“The fact that they’re using for the first time new laws that we have just put in place shows that we’ve made some good decisions there about increasing the tools available to them.”