Simon Bridges gets defensive when quizzed by John Campbell about hard-on-gangs approach

Source: 1News

National Party leader Simon Bridges got into a heated debate defending his hard-on-gangs approach on TVNZ1's Breakfast today.

Host John Campbell questioned him after National yesterday released its law-and-order discussion document, which among other things proposes to eliminate gangs via a sustained campaign of police harassment.

However, yesterday on Breakfast former National MP Chester Borrows, who is also a former police officer and lawyer, came out against the party's tough approach, saying New Zealand should instead "get smarter on crime". He also criticised politicians who abandoned evidence-based policy in favour of talk about getting tough on crime in the hopes of getting votes.

Mr Bridges told Breakfast's Campbell today he agreed that being simply tough lacked compassion and second chances for people, but added being soft on crime would create more criminals and misery.

"What I'd say to Chester Borrows is of course it's both," he said. "It's tough and smart."

But Campbell challenged the Opposition Leader on a lack of change in the past decade when taking a tough approach, to which he responded "we weren't doing the things we're proposing in this document".

In the document, National is proposing to ban gang patches in public places, refuse parole to murderers who will not give the location of a body and revoke parole for people who associate with gangs. They also included the proposal of a new police unit to "harass and interfere with gang activity".

Today, Mr Bridges again drew comparisons to the work Australia's Strike Force Raptor has done to tackle crime in New South Wales.

"You say it doesn't work, and I appreciate that's a view some people have. It has worked remarkably well in New South Wales - harassing and disrupting the gangs in New South Wales."

However, Campbell brought the focus back to New Zealand. He quoted Mr Bridges talking about being hard on crime 10 years ago.

"Since Labour started getting tough on crime 20 years ago our prison population has doubled. What else has been achieved?" Campbell asked. 

Mr Bridges responded that there is now a different scene to 20 years ago.

"Methampetamine is much worse, it's a well over half a billion dollar industry for gangs. We have a situation where gangs in the last couple of years since Jacinda Ardern has been Prime Minister are up 1400 men," he said. "This is why New Zealanders see them everywhere.

"I just say to you John, are we serious about doing something about this or not?

"Being soft on this stuff and saying, 'Nah, look this is all about whānau and their friendly, cuddly motorcycle clubs' - it doesn't work and it never has."

Mr Bridges said National wasn't taking a "lock them up and throw away the key" approach, but said prisoners who are able should be learning skills to get into the workforce after release.

"But the point is, and you're ignoring it because you're an opposition politician, is we have been getting tough on crime for 20 years, " Campbell said, adding the prison population had doubled.

But Mr Bridges urged the public to make a submission about the document. "I believe these things will work and they will make New Zealanders safer."

When questioned over playing to the electorate, Mr Bridges said he doesn't lack faith in National's point of view.

"I believe what I've said. I've worked in the criminal courts, I get this stuff, I feel it deeply. I know the affect that crime has on victims.

"Gangs have grown 1400 men. Now, if I sit back and do nothing, as Jacinda Ardern is, here's what will happen - those gang numbers will grow and grow and grow. I'm not prepared to do that. What they've done in Australia has worked."

He also said if New Zealand was serious about gangs, in the long run there would be no need for more prisons built.