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Hawke’s Bay-based Mongrel Mob life member Harry Tam says distrust of authority is to blame for low Covid-19 vaccination rates among gang members.
Mr Tam, formerly of Dunedin, was granted an essential workers exemption to travel into locked-down Auckland, the centre of a Delta outbreak, to encourage gang-linked unvaccinated people to get the jab.
He tole RNZ's Morning Report programme today that he was invited by authorities to help people in hard to reach communities get tests and provide support for families. He was in Auckland for two weeks.
Mr Tam said that after decades of "demonising" gangs, the Government now wants them to comply with the vaccination message.
"Some of the people I was involved with did have gang connections and other people didn't, so part of the problem is the authorities mis-identified people.
"There's a broader community of people who've been neglected for a long time and they've responded in their own ways by basically not being part of the general society."
Personal responsibility was important - but it had to be seen in the context of people's background, Mr Tam said.
"I think you've got to remember that a lot of people aren't that well informed, they don't have the background. A lot of our people have been in institutional care from a very early age."
There had to be people on the ground who can work with gang members, he said.
"If you want some change ... you can't just keep saying 'they're bad people'".
Mr Tam is the second gang boss, including Waikato’s Mongrel Mob chapter president Sonny Fatupaito, the Government has allowed entry into Auckland with an essential workers exemption.
Mr Tam made headlines in July after it was revealed the Government-funded a meth rehabilitation programme run by his organisation Hard-2Reach, to the tune of $2.75 million.
Cluster 'resolved', drug supply across border denied
A Waikato Mongrel Mob spokesperson says its Covid-19 cluster has been resolved, and the narrative demonising gangs is dangerous and needs to stop.
Louise Hutchinson denies allegations the gang was distributing methamphetamine across the alert level border in or out of Auckland.
She told Morning Report today the narrative on gangs was politically motivated and an agenda driven by the National Party.
"As of Monday, the cluster that we had in our Mongrel Mob Pasifika chapter in South Auckland has resolved because of the intervention of Sonny," Hutchison said.
The chapter had had four positive cases and more than 20 people in MIQ.
"We had every member tested, ever member of their whānau tested and from that, that cluster has now resolved."
She said because of a media story at the start of the outbreak "our people went underground they stopped communicating with us".
"We're talking about communicating with the most discriminated types of people in New Zealand who have no trust for authority.
"We're in a global pandemic that is deadly, you have to be very careful about how you communicate with our people."
'Needs must in this situation': Hipkins
In a statement, the Ministry of Health said it was important to engage a wide range of community leaders to reach communities on a range of Covid-19 issues, including vaccination, testing and reinforcing public health messaging.
‘‘There is a good level of engagement and co-operation between these providers and the communities they are working with.
‘‘Any individuals brought by public health staff to Auckland to assist with the response would have had appropriate exemptions to cross the boundary.’’
Covid-19 Minister Chris Hipkins yesterday confirmed there were quite a large number of gang members in this outbreak.
‘‘Look, I have no time for the gangs - I don’t have any sympathy for them. But the No 1 priority here has to be to stop Covid-19.’’
Mr Hipkins said it was important the Government did ‘‘whatever we need to do, within reason’’ to get a good level of cooperation from harder-to-reach communities.
He confirmed two essential workers’ exemptions had been given to gang leaders.
‘‘They have been there to ensure there is co-operation with those who are doing the contract tracing, the testing and the other measures that go alongside the public health response.’’
Yesterday morning, after news broke that Mr Fatupaito was given the exemption, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern defended the decision.
‘‘We’ve got cases in gangs, and that makes this job really hard,’’ she told Radio Hauraki.
Mr Hipkins also defended the decision.
‘‘No-one’s a fan of gangs. I’m not a fan of gangs, but ultimately needs must in this situation and we need to get Covid under control.
‘‘If we have to bring someone into Auckland to make sure that they co-operate, then that’s what we have to do.’’
- RNZ and NZ Herald