A senior member of the Mongrel Mob has challenged Judith Collins about her stance on gang members working with government agencies.
Harry Tam has been a member of the Mongrel Mob since the 1980s and also worked as a policy advisor in various government departments, including two years for Corrections and 11 years for Te Puni Kokiri.
Corrections Minister Judith Collins recently demanded a Black Power member Ngapari Nui be kicked out of a voluntary role with the department, saying the only place for a gang member in a prison is behind bars.
But Harry Tam said this was typical of the rhetoric about gangs and was a pattern he has observed with politicians. He believed her statements were posturing.
"It's a very unintelligent comment by a very intelligent person. So one has to question the motive behind that.
"Maybe she's trying to reassert her toughness. She made her reputation by picking on boy racers. Since she's come back into cabinet she's had to reinvent herself. She wants to maintain that tough-guy image I suppose."
Mr Tam said a number of gang members have done constructive work with government agencies, but because of the political flak it often happened out of the public view.
"A lot of these people have been operating under the radar so we don't know what the real truth about what's happening or what's really working."
Mr Tam said government agencies called on gang members when they needed them, but sidelined them when they became politically inconvenient.
He said he had been called on by previous ministers, including Parekura Horomia and Pita Sharples, and police to intervene when gang violence had broken out.
"You use people, you put people into a danger zone, because it's a dangerous place to be when bullets are flying around. Quite often you don't know what you're walking into. You go in there on trust and based on your reputation. So what's happened to Ngapari (Nui), I have considerable empathy for him."
He said the reason senior gang members like himself and Ngapari Nui were called on was because they had access and credibility with communities that government agencies found difficult to reach.