19 Oct 2009

Minister defends meeting with gang leaders

7:28 am on 19 October 2009

The Maori Affairs Minister is defending a meeting with gang leaders in Auckland that cost taxpayers more than $6000.

Pita Sharples says he met with gangs to tell them face-to-face of his concerns over violence and the P trade.

Dr Sharples says when he met with 16 leaders of Black Power and the Mongrel Mob in March they talked about what they could do to reduce gang violence.

But a Labour Party spokesperson, Clayton Cosgrove, says the meeting's a complete contrast to the hardline methamphetamine initiatives recently announced by Prime Minister John Key.

He says the Government's been talking tough, and staging the meeting was hypocritical.

Mr Cosgrove says gangs have their code of practice as violence, intimidation, rape and using children as mules for drug trafficking.

He says on the one hand the Government is saying there will be a war on gangs, and on the other hand ministers are treating gangs as somehow legitimate partners.

But Pita Sharples insists talking to gang leaders doesn't endorse criminal behaviour and supports the Government's other strategies of dealing with crime.

A spokesperson for the Prime Minister's office says it's legitimate for ministers to engage with gangs, if it's an attempt to eliminate their criminal activity.

The chair of Maori health provider Te Ha o Te Ora, Pem Bird, says face-to-face dialogue puts the onus on gangs to take responsibility.

Mr Bird, who works with gangs in Murupara in the Bay of Plenty, says a solution to the drug trade isn't possible without talking with the gangs.