Our communities aren't safe. They don't feel safe. Over the past few weeks, I've stood on street corners in suburbs throughout Tauranga and Auckland meeting people and hearing their concerns.
A young worker told me how disheartening it is to get a pay rise only to see it get sucked up by rising costs. It's so hard to stay still, let alone get ahead. A mum anxiously brushed her boy's hair with her fingers and said she's worried about how little he's learning at school. He finds it difficult to concentrate in such a loud, noisy class. Business owners explained that the home-isolation rules mean they're constantly short-staffed and it's taking a toll on them and other employees who're taking on extra shifts to stay open.
There are so many personal struggles, but one issue was top of everyone's mind: crime.
One woman described the violence and police lights on her street and worried about gun violence breaking out. A dad pointed along the road and showed where the gangs had ridden past on their bikes. An Uber driver told of his car being stolen and used in a ram raid that morning. They'd taken his vehicle and his source of income.
People are afraid to walk through their neighbourhood streets to buy a bottle of milk from the dairy during the day. There's a new story of a shooting or escalating gang gun violence every day.
New Zealanders deserve to feel safe. It shouldn't feel too risky to walk to the bus stop, pop to the shop or take the dog out to the park. We deserve to know that our bedroom windows won't be shot at while we and our kids sleep.
We should have faith that the taxes we pay will go towards creating safer communities. That criminals who break into homes, smash up businesses, and fire illegal firearms will be prosecuted under our justice system.
Is that really too much to ask?
Gangs are responsible for harm and chaos across the country. The number of gang members has grown by over 50 per cent since the Government came to power, and their violent behaviour is intimidating. It causes emotional and financial harm as people get threatened, robbed, or hooked on the drugs gangs peddle.
One of the core duties of government is to keep people safe, but instead of fixing the growing gang problem, we've seen ministers recently talk about wanting to "work with the gangs".
We need a government that takes responsibility for what's happening on its watch, focusing on victims of crime, rather than coddling offenders.
There needs to be swift and serious consequences for offending in our communities. We need real change so that families can be safe in their own homes. We need practical policies that crack down on gang activity, rather than legitimising them, so that a young kid knows that crime doesn't pay. So they don't grow up thinking that their best prospect is to become a mob prospect.
The Act Party has the solution to crack down on gang activity by hitting them where it hurts – in their wallets. It's simple. If you're a member of a gang, with an illegal gun, dealing illegal drugs, it's open season on your assets. It would take the firearms, drugs, and bling out of the hands of gangs. We introduced this to Parliament in a Member's Bill. Labour voted it down. Now they say we need a bill that does this. If they'd supported Act's bill it would already be at Select Committee and we'd be one step closer to safer communities.
Act was the party that introduced Three Strikes, a policy that has kept the 1 per cent of New Zealand's most violent and recidivist offenders behind bars when they've shown no signs of remorse or wanting to be rehabilitated. We would also make burglary a three-strike offence. If you've been convicted of a robbery three times, chances are you've pulled off plenty more.
We want people who have committed crimes to be able to turn their lives around, so we also have a policy that would allow prisoners who complete rehabilitation to be eligible for early release. But it goes both ways, if they don't do rehab, they don't get parole. This would break down barriers that convicted New Zealanders face post-release from prison, so they have another option rather than returning to a gang and criminal activity.
As a country, we deserve better. People deserve to feel safe in their homes and in their communities. It's not about rhetoric, it's about solutions and it's time we felt safe on our streets again.
• Brooke van Velden, MP, is the deputy leader of the Act Party.