Sharples' gangs call divides opinions

By Audrey Young, Jon Stokes

Maori Party co-leader Pita Sharples has been criticised - and praised - for his call for Maori communities to get tough on gangs.

Te Runanga o Ngati Whatua chairwoman Naida Glavish accused Mr Sharples of grandstanding and using Maori issues to curry favour with Pakeha.

She said Maori communities could do little to address gang problems without the support of the Government and police.

Addressing what attracted young Maori to gangs, namely failure in the classroom and cultural alienation, should be the priority for the country's MPs, Ms Glavish said.

"Pita is becoming just another brown face filling space in Parliament. It is one thing for him to come out with this criticism, but it is another to come up with real options for fixing the problem."

But National Urban Maori chairman Willie Jackson applauded any move to reduce the growing influence and intimidation of gangs.

"Its time Maori communities stood up to gang intimidation. Pita will get a lot of community support out South and West [Auckland] for this kaupapa. People both Maori and Pakeha are sick of them."

Mr Jackson said Maori leaders and the Government had kowtowed to gangs in the hope of fixing the problem.

"Clearly that hasn't worked, now it is time to get tough, for communities to say enough, we don't want you in our neighbourhoods."

New Zealand First challenged Dr Sharples to support a move to make gangs criminal organisations.

The call came from the party's law and order spokesman, Ron Mark, who questioned the sincerity of the hardline positions that have come from Dr Sharples in the past few days over compulsory work-for-the-dole and "naming and shaming" gang members.

"Many of the gang members I know would actually say 'cheers bro' if he named them because they are proud of the fact that they are a member of Black Power or the Mongrel Mob," Mr Mark said.

"Why does he think they wear patches?"

He also said that New Zealand First had negotiated work-for-dole provisions into its coalition agreement with National - since repealed by Labour - and that Dr Sharples was now championing it as his own idea.

"Dr Sharples has never supported us on those arguments and now suddenly he is championing them as though they are his own ideas. The man lacks credibility."

Mr Mark said that, if Dr Sharples was serious about Maori accepting responsibility for their crimes, he should support his private member's bill lowering the age of criminal responsibility from 14 years to 12 years, instead of opposing it.

"It's just absolute total hypocrisy."

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