Taieri MP Ingrid Leary went to a Mongrel Mob election hui in Dunedin at the weekend but says she thought it was an Electoral Commission meeting and she “in no way” condones the actions of the Mongrel Mob.
With law and order a highly visible issue leading up to the election, the National Party is attacking her attendance, saying it shows the pay-off from Labour’s funding of a Mongrel Mob-associated rehabilitation programme.
“The fact the Mongrel Mob wants to keep National out of government is the best possible endorsement of our approach to law and order,” National’s police spokesman Mark Mitchell said in a statement.
Long-time Mongrel Mob member Harry Tam wrote about his election hui in Dunedin on his Facebook page, saying that Leary - who he didn’t name - gatecrashed even though she was “a bit hesitant to be associated with me”.
“She said my name comes up in Parliament a bit so they’re [sic] a bit hesitant to be associated with me. I told them I got news for them. They will be more concerned when they realise that we are targetting the marginal seats and mobilising our people to get off the Maori roll and go onto the general roll so we can vote in those marginal seat. So best dont worry about me now just worry about me if we get you in because you will know that we can get you out too.”
Leary confirmed that she had been to the meeting but didn’t realise it was a Mongrel Mob hui.
“I thought it was an Electoral Commission meeting encouraging enrolment. I do a lot of work to encourage enrolment with all my communities. My attendance in no way condones the actions of the Mongrel Mob and I’m proud of the work Labour is doing to tackle gang crime,” Leary told the Herald.
She has not responded to questions about how she confused an Electoral Commission meeting with a Mongrel Mob one.
Prime minister Chris Hipkins, speaking at his weekly post-Cabinet press conference, said he accepted Ingrid Leary’s explanation.
“This Government has changed the law to give police more power to crack down on gangs,” he said, adding he didn’t “particularly” want their votes.
He said Leary had received an invitation and she had mistakenly thought it was from the Elecotral Commission.
He added that he hadn’t spoken to her directly.
“I completely accept her explanation.”
Tam responded to Mitchell’s statement by saying the National Party didn’t support democracy, because his hui are aimed at getting people to vote.
“It is extraordinary that a major political party in NZ doesn’t support democracy,” he said on his Facebook page last night.
“For some reason they think it’s ok for them to campaign for votes but it’s not ok for us to want to get our to [sic] people to vote. They know that if our people register on the general roll and vote in those marginal seats they might not get a in.”
National took to Twitter this morning to show comments from Tam endorsing an electoral vote for Labour and a party vote for the Greens “so Labour has a coalition partner”.
Tam has clashed with the National Party over the party’s gang policies, which look to ban gang patches and insignia in public places, while giving police a range of extra powers to disperse gang members in public, make it a crime for some of them to access firearms, and prevent them from communicating with each other for up to four years.
Many of these could brush up against the rights entitled under the Bill of Rights Act, which is generally subject to a reasonableness test.
Tam responded by saying National knew nothing about gangs, and its policies would do nothing to address gang membership or violence.
National has previously criticised the Government for its $2.75m funding for a Mongrel Mob-led methamphetamine rehabilitation programme.
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 the Proceeds of Crime fund 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.
Then-Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern defended the funding as backing something that had shown signs of success in its pilot phase, and which was supported by the Ministry of Health, Corrections, Police, MSD and the local Hawke’s Bay Police.
She said at the time that it would be wrong to exclude programmes that involve people with criminal history if those programmes worked.
Leary won the seat of Taieri - formerly Dunedin South - in 2020 with 57 per cent of the electorate vote, while Labour won 58.9 per cent of the party vote. Labour also comfortably won the party vote in Dunedin South in 2017, but National won the party vote there in 2014 and 2011.
Derek Cheng is a senior journalist for the Herald and a former Deputy Political Editor, whose stints in the Press Gallery in Parliament covered parts of the Helen Clark, John Key, and Jacinda Ardern governments.