Judith Collins is an old style conservative politician. A bit of beneficiary bashing here, some tough on crime there, she salivates at every opportunity to scratch those right wing itches.
Her latest effort is to delve deeply into an operational matter, overrule the public service, and blame a dedicated community person who also happens to be a patched black power member for part of the Government’s rehabilitation policy failing. Yep you read that correctly.
Ngapari Nui is a resident of Whanganui and has been a Black Power member for the past 38 years. He has also been Kaiwhakamana (Kaumâtua who have access to prisons) in Whanganui for the past five years.
It sounds like Ngapari has been in trouble in the past. He admitted to Radio New Zealand that he had three serious assault charges back in the 1980s and gave up drinking then. A gang member who gives up alcohol and keeps out of trouble for three decades sounds like the ideal sort of person to visit prisons and talk to other gang members.
It seems Corrections were fine with him. He had admitted his association with Black Power before he became a Kaiwhakamana. He had been checked out and was considered to be fine.
Collins’s opposition is not universal in the National caucus. Chester Burrows thinks that Nui is a decent human being.
Whanganui MP Borrows, a former Taranaki policeman, said the decision to stand Ngapari Nui down was Collins’ decision to make but he had known the kaumatua for 30 years and believed “he would only be an asset”.
“A couple of years ago he pulled over and helped me when he saw me having an altercation with a hitchhiker who had stolen my mobile phone.”
Ngapari Nui has been stood down from his volunteer work in prisons because of his Black Power connections.
“When I was a cop in Patea he was helpful in investigations into some crimes involving Black Power members,” he said.
He was also selected by local Iwi for this work. Again from Radio New Zealand:
Te Rūnanga o Ngāti Ruanui Trust said Mr Nui was appointed by the iwi to work with prisoners and, in all the years he had been in the role, there had never been a reported problem.
Kaiarataki (spokesperson) Debbie Ngarewa-Packer said he was a tireless volunteer worker in his community, and had never hidden who he was.
“Most days you will find him driving our moko to kōhanga, kura and coding computer classes to ensure our young ones get the best start in life.
“He holds paepae at tangi, respects and connects with kaumatua and is actively involved with marae activities.”
Ms Ngarewa-Packer questioned why the matter was being raised now.
“After five years as a successful and respected kaiwhakamana in all prisons, this is now being brought up as an issue.”
There has been an attempt to suggest that the change in heart was because the Department had suddenly discovered that Nui was a current member as opposed to a member of Black Power and not because of Collins’ intervention. Corrections were willing to reappoint him and had even prepared media releases to announce this before Collins intervened. But a leak from within the department suggests that this is not the case.
From Radio New Zealand:
Before Mr Nui was stood down, Corrections had prepared a media response stating it supported Mr Nui working in a voluntary capacity to support Māori prisoners.
The response was approved by a number of people in the department including acting deputy national commissioner Darius Fagan.
But, before the statement was released, Ms Collins publicly opposed Mr Nui’s role and told Corrections to remove him.
It was understood that staff across the department sharply disagreed with Ms Collin’s stance.
In a written statement this afternoon, however, Mr Smith said it was not unusual for his department to adjust its responses as more information came to light.
“On Wednesday 29 June 2016 we received a query from media about the suitability of gang member Ngapari Nui volunteering in prison. Early responses developed were drafted based on information available at that time.
“We then sought further information from Mr Nui about his links to the gang. On Friday Mr Nui confirmed his status as a patched member. On Monday we suspended his registration as a registered volunteer.”
However, a Corrections source has told RNZ News the department always knew Mr Nui was a life member of Black Power, and that was the same thing as being patched.
Collins was interviewed by John Campbell. In true National Party form she appeared at one stage to try and blame Mr Nui for the failure of the Tikanga Maori programme to reduce reoffending rates.
Mr Nui is an unpaid volunteer well thought of by his community and with a life lesson to talk about. He is precisely the sort of person who should be involved in the rehabilitation of gang members. The risk that people in jail may suddenly be turned by a gang member who talks to them seems remote even if this was Mr Nui’s desire.
For Collins to delve deep into an operational matter to prevent a volunteer with a credible life story and with an outstanding reputation from visiting a jail occasionally shows how far she is prepared to play politics with her portfolio. Shame on her.