Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is defending her decision to sign off on $2.75 million of funding for a Mongrel Mob-led drug rehabilitation programme in Central Hawke's Bay.
The National Party and conservative critics have labelled the funding - revealed by the Hawke's Bay Today on Monday - as "outrageous", "stupid" and a "sick joke".
The Kahukura programme, run by Hard2Reach, which aims to address trauma and drug-seeking behaviour through a live-in mārae-based in Waipawa, received the money out of Proceeds of Crime seized by police.
The H2R website describes a pilot of the Kahukura programme as being led by the Chaindogs, a cluster of Mob chapters with a common affiliation to the Notorious chapter of the Mongrel Mob.
At a media stand-up on Monday afternoon, Ardern defended her and Ministers Grant Robertson, Poto Williams and Kris Faafoi's decision to sign off on the programme, and said a pilot of the programme had shown "signs of success", with strong court order compliance and drug testings results.
"We either to make a decision to fund programmes which, yes, involve people with criminal history but we are determined to address their methamphetamine addiction, or we exclude people with criminal histories from meth addiction programmes."
"It is very much focused on trying to address meth addiction and the crimes that result from that addiction."
Minister Little noted the programme had significant backers, including the Ministry of Social Development, Ministry of Health, Hawke's Bay Police and Ngāti Kahungunu iwi leader Ngahiwi Tomoana.
"We are not going to arrest our way out of this problem," he said.
Co-leader of the Sensible Sentencing Trust Darroch Ball said the "irony of the insult couldn't be greater", with police seizing $2m in assets during a major drug bust in Hawke's Bay earlier this year as part of an 18-month investigation targeting senior members of the Mongrel Mob.
"Now the Government has decided to give it back to them."
He said there wouldn't be a need for addiction treatment services if the methamphetamine wasn't in the community.
"They are the problem, not the solution."
National Party leader Judith Collins tweeted on Monday morning with a version of Hawke's Bay Today's front page, saying: "Is this a sick joke?", but referred official comment to National Party spokesman for police Simeon Brown,
Brown said the funding was "outrageous" as the Proceeds of Crime Fund was set up to support victims of crime – not the perpetrators.
"With gang membership on the rise, this Government is showing no signs of wanting to deal with the harm they create. Instead they are now sending Ministers to speak at gang pads and giving grants to gangsters."
The Ministry of Health's deputy director-general mental health and addiction Toni Gutschlag told Hawke's Bay Today it had received a request from H2R (Hard to Reach) with the intention to work with a collective of Mongrel Mob Chapters.
The Ministry of Health successfully applied for funding from Proceeds of Crime funds, which are administered by the Ministry of Justice, with recommendations put forward by a panel representing a range of Government bodies.
Kahukura is expected to run for three cycles of 10 weeks per year over three years, serving up to 10 participants and their whānau - about 40 people - per cycle.
Stuff reported that parts of the programme included activities off the marae, which could include "gardening work" at Central Hawke's Bay Mongrel Mob leader Sonny Smith's house, exercising at a gym in Waipukurau, "morning walks along the Mataweka River", "a fishing trip on a boat on the Napier harbour", and attending Narcotics Anonymous in Hastings.
Flaxmere councillor Henare O'Keefe said he was supportive of "looking for solutions beyond the norm" as he said "very little is working".
He acknowledged the programme involved "stepping outside the square" which would upset a few people.
"We know the Mongrel Mob and their track record. We know what they do.
"We should take a risk and try something new."
He said marae-based programmes had been involved in a host of social issues, not just drugs or meth, pointing to the success of Kōti Rangatahi, marae-based courts grounded in tikanga Māori (Māori customs).
"To come into a forum that acknowledges your brown skin and where you come from, it makes a difference."