Patch bill on hold

By John Maslin

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A procedural motion has parked up any further progress on the Wanganui District Council's contentious gang patch bylaw.

The move was made after councillors had debated the issue for about three hours yesterday.

The procedural motion, from Councillor Allan Anderson, moved that council wait until the private member's bill being promoted by National MP Todd McLay is determined by Parliament.

It was supported by councillors Anderson, Michael Laws, Sue Westwood, Jack Bullock, Randhir Dahya, Hamish McDouall and Rangi Wills. Councillors Philippa Baker-Hogan, Clive Solomon and Ray Stevens opposed it.

Council adjourned a meeting in June to consider all submissions and other information on the proposed Wanganui District Council (Prohibition of Gang Insignia) Bylaw 2012. This was to replace a bylaw which had been ruled invalid by the High Court in 2009.

At yesterday's meeting, much of the debate centred on breaches of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act and the potential for ongoing court action being brought against council if it pushed on with a revised bylaw.

Whanganui Police Senior Sergeant Shayne Wainhouse told the meeting they believed that, since the inception of the bylaw, gang activity in the city had diminished and it had had a positive effect.

A legal opinion from law firm Kensington Swan said the redrafted bylaw still risked being in breach of the Bill of Rights and they needed more evidence of its effectiveness.  We'll have critics saying we buckled but we did rise to the challenge. However, I've no doubt it will mean tying council to ongoing legal costs.Councillor Philippa Baker-Hogan The review also recommended suburban shopping centres be removed as "specified places" because the display of gang patches in those areas could be dealt with by private owners.

Mrs Baker-Hogan said while she supported the bylaw from the start, it contained some "grey areas" that could be open to challenge and there was also the cost of continuing court action.

She moved that no further action be taken on the bylaw but that council get regular updates from police on gang activities with a view to reviewing its position.

She also asked that council continues lobbying central government to crack down on gang activity.

"I've lost confidence this bylaw will succeed. We'll have critics saying we buckled but we did rise to the challenge. However, I've no doubt it will mean tying council to ongoing legal costs," she said.

She said this was not a sign of ignoring the issue but about adopting a pragmatic approach.

"The intent of the bylaw was right but the legal advice is that it will fail and it will cost and cost and cost," Mrs Baker-Hogan said.

Mr Wills was another not prepared to put council money at risk every time the bylaw faced a legal challenge.

Mr Solomon said the bylaw was a genuine attempt to help the city "but clearly those Wanganui streets ravaged by gang activity will not be covered by this bylaw because its influence will not get into gang homes".

"Wanganui has received an awful reputation because of this bylaw when other cities around the country have more problems than ours.

"The bylaw has been tested and council lost and will lose again."

Mr McDouall said he could not support the bylaw because it would continue to be challenged and the city's reputation had been "hammered" around the country.

He said he would only support it in very limited cases "and only if it enhances this community".

Mr Laws, the strongest advocate of the bylaw, said supporting Mrs Baker-Hogan's resolution would be seen "as a collective retreat and surrender".

"Everyone here knows Wanganui has a gang problem and if we think running away is going to stop the gang violence, the drugs and crime, then we are mistaken."

He said not accepting the bylaw meant the "blood would be on the hands" of more than just those perpetrating the crime.

"To back away from this is a lack of courage."

- Wanganui Chronicle

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