Scrapping the Waitangi Tribunal and building a prison just for gang members are among some of the policy proposals New Zealand First members have voted in favour of.
It comes as the spokeswoman of lobby group Hobson’s Pledge, Casey Costello, confirms she will run as NZ First’s candidate in the Port Waikato electorate.
An estimated 200 people packed into the Holiday Inn Auckland Airport function room today for NZ First’s annual convention, ahead of the party’s campaign launch at Mt Smart Stadium tomorrow.
Party members were introduced to new candidates, some returning to the party like former MP Jenny Marcroft who quit NZ First in 2021, partly because she didn’t believe there were enough women in the party.
Today, the candidate for the Kaipara ki Mahurangi electorate sat on stage with four other female candidates as party secretary Holly Howard lauded the increase in the number of women running in this year’s election for NZ First.
However, the greatest reception was reserved for another female candidate, Hobson’s Pledge spokeswoman Casey Costello, who had been listed as a guest speaker but at the end of her speech, announced she would be running in Port Waikato, welcomed with strong applause.
Hobson’s Pledge, formed in 2016, campaigned against preferential treatment given to people based on ethnicity, with a particular focus on Māori.
Costello, who had Māori whakapapa, spent much of her time speaking on New Zealand race relations and the extent to which NZ First has influenced that debate.
“What is clear to me now is that three years of absence of New Zealand First [from Parliament] has seen enormous harm to race relations in this country,” Costello said.
“We cannot allow ourselves to be further divided and cannot allow Māori to continue to be used as sacrificial pawns in this political chess match.”
Her speech was a teaser ahead of her policy proposal - called a remit - which initially suggested the removal of the “exclusive authority of the Waitangi Tribunal to determine the meaning and effect” of the Treaty of Waitangi, alongside several removals or reviews of the tribunal’s powers.
“We need to bring back some level of control over the authority because it’s circumventing the legislative process and it does not follow due process,” Costello said in her pitch to members.
Jim Peters, the brother of party leader Winston Peters, cautioned members against voting for the proposal, saying it would result in uncertainty and mass legislative change.
“We had that as a result of the government in 2011, amending the Foreshore and Seabed Act, we don’t want this to go on for another decade.”
However, this was rebuffed by Northland candidate Shane Jones, who supercharged the proposal by suggesting it be amended to say the tribunal be abolished from 2025 and replace it with a “modest, residual range of functions”.
“Once this remit falls into the hands of the Law Society, falls into the hands of the bureaucracy, our time in politics will be over and they’ll be still buggering around with it.”
The lively discussion set the scene for remit relating to gangs that included finding jobs for gang members, designating gangs as terrorist organisations, and building a prison for “all identified convicted gang members and associates” to “minimise prison recruitment and exposure” to prisoners who weren’t gang-affiliated.
This remit - the first and third points in particular - was immediately opposed by former police officer and current Whangārei councillor Gavin Benney, who also identified himself as the “wannabe Whangārei candidate” for NZ First.
“While I understand the principle, it’s my fear that we will achieve the opposite, putting the gangs altogether in a prison is exactly what they want, it will encourage not discourage them.”
He proposed it be removed from the remit and was supported by Jim Peters, but the amendment ultimately failed after several people rose to speak in favour of the initial proposal.
Kaikohe’s Rhonda Zielinski, who operated a community hub for people with mental health and addiction issues, believed the party was taking the wrong stance on the matter.
“Every guy we get out of jail just about is affiliated with a gang,” she said.
“There’s a bigger picture there that they’re sort of missing, I don’t tend to put all gang members in the same category as terrorists.”
Winston Peters told the Herald he was supportive of both remits, which was a change from the position he held in 2017 when he told RNZ that getting rid of the Waitangi Tribunal was not NZ First policy.
“They are now claiming to be of authority over the judicial system of this country, how many times do you have to realise that this has become an industry no longer serving its intended purpose?”
Other remits approved included ditching the current Pharmac model and giving its replacement an additional $1.3 billion to purchase all medicines currently on the waiting list, proposed by Marcroft and supported by the party leader who rose to encourage members to approve it after two speakers spoke in opposition of it.
Remits were considered by the party’s leadership as to whether they would be included as party policy.
Jones concluded the official part of the convention with a speech.
The Herald yesterday reported on the repeated criticism NZ First received following its decision to form a coalition with Labour instead of National after the 2017 election.
Jones confronted the matter head-on, admitting the party may have “struggled to get the message out in 2020″ before it was kicked out of Parliament, but encouraged his fellow party members to not back down.
“We need to champion our record, please do not cower, please do not be distracted or obstructed by either the media, [or] the other political parties.
“The people on my Facebook who continually say, ‘Oh well, you’ve created all this’. No, talk to your third cousins, your wives, your husbands; 420,000 of you chose not to vote for Winston Peters or Shane Jones and the other MPs in NZ First, you voted for Jacinda.
“You regret it, you’re sad, but you don’t want to admit it. However, wait, there’s a chance to redeem yourself.”
Winston Peters would be headlining the party’s campaign launch tomorrow, revealing policy, the party’s campaign slogan, and the “terrain we’ll fight the election on”, according to Jones.