Some 2000 people, led by Destiny Church Leader Brian Tamaki, gathered outside Parliament this afternoon urging the Government to allow the church to work within prisons.
Tamaki presented a petition to Justice Minister Andrew Little, asking the Government to allow its Man-Up programme – an initiative focused on tackling family violence, depression, obesity, addiction and suicide – into prisons.
Speaking to Destiny church faithful – as well as a group of MPs – on the steps of Parliament, Tamaki criticised the Government for not allowing the Man-Up programme in prisons.
"For all of my efforts to try and get into prison, they [the Government] shut us down."
He said the Government should be doing more for Māori in prisons.
"I said to Willy [Jackson, Māori Development Minister] I have never seen so many Māori MPs in Parliament at one time – what are you doing?"
After his speech, he appealed directly to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.
"Just like she gave $30 million to the Papua New Guinea Government, give $30 million to the native or indigenous people of this country who are actually getting helped," he said, in reference to the Man-Up programme.
In reply to Tamaki's speech, Little said he had "heard good things about what you do", and said he wanted to work with Destiny.
"We know we have a criminal justice system that has been biased against Māori for so long; we know we had a system that for the last 30 years has locked up more and more people for longer and longer and hasn't changed much at all."
Little said he would table the petition in Parliament and it would be looked at by MPs.
"I want to talk with you about what you're doing, what we can do and what we can do together."
Speaking to media after his speech, Little said he would be looking into how the Man-Up programme could be used to support some of the other prison programmes.
"If Bishop Brian Tamaki has a solution, let's talk about it and let's hear it."
But Little said Destiny had never actually made a formal application to partner with the Government to work in prisons.
He said there had been discussions about a partnership, but it never concluded.
"I think given what Tamaki does and the reputation the programme has, it is well worth us talking about how we can incorporate his programme into anything else that corrections is doing."
But Tamaki said he had put plenty of funding applications in, which were turned down.
He said if the Salvation Army is able to do its work within prisons, so should Destiny.
He pointed the finger at the Government, saying the problem is that politicians have an issue with the church.
"I think it's systemic in the system, there is a blatant discrimination."
He said he had filed a discrimination suit with the Treaty of Waitangi Tribunal and he said he had evidence to support his discrimination claims.
"Just because I have a certain religion or belief and it happens to be Destiny Church, I'm discriminated against."
ACT Leader David Seymour – who also addressed the crowd – was also critical of people's perception of Destiny Church.
"Some people give you a bad rap because they think you're a crazy church leader – well what I see today is you're a good man who makes a lot of difference. This country is full of crazy church leaders but you get a bad rap because you're brown."