by Anne-Marie Emerson
Gang patches could be banned in Wanganui by the end of the week.
And the political party that could decide if the ban goes ahead or not is still trying to decide which way to vote.
Act's law and order spokesperson, David Garrett, was in Wanganui yesterday on an information-gathering expedition, ahead of Parliament's third reading of the Wanganui District Council Prohibition Of Gang Insignia Bill tomorrow(WEDS).
If the bill is passed, gang patches will be banned in Wanganui's central business district and public places.
Parliament's website said the bill "seeks to address the increasing problems created by violent confrontations between rival gangs in the Wanganui District".
The bill is opposed by Labour, the Greens and the Maori Party, and supported by National. National needs Act's support for the bill to be passed.
Mr Garrett said the gang prohibition bill was a difficult issue for Act to make a decision on.
"It would be fair to say the party is divided on this. "[The bill] has aspects that go against Act's essential principles, such as freedom of expression."
Mr Garrett said there was a strong libertarian wing in the Act that objected to legislation such as this.
"But we are no longer making decisions in isolation.
"We are now a support party for National, and we are making decisions that matter."
During his visit to Wanganui Mr Garrett met Wanganui police district commander, Inspector Duncan MacLeod, and other senior officers.
He also met Mayor Michael Laws.
Mr Garrett said he wanted to find out why the police supported the controversial bill.
"I got from them a clearer understanding of the issues.
"I also got a sense that even hardened police officers find gang members more intimidating when they're patched, which I found surprising."
Mr Garrett said he would report back to the ACT caucus today when he returned to Wellington.
Whanganui MP Chester Borrows, who sponsored the bill, said he was pleased Mr Garrett had travelled to Wanganui to see for himself the issues the city faces.
"It's make it or break it time for the bill this week. "Act will be right in the middle of this, and I'm pleased they're taking it seriously."
In a 2006 referendum 71 per cent of Wanganui residents who voted wanted gang patches to be banned.
by Anne-Marie Emerson