Foot-in-mouth disease

Paula Bennett
Paula Bennett
"Sometimes we just don't say the right thing.''

Many New Zealanders can probably sympathise with that sentiment, but most would expect our elected (and prospective) leaders to be more careful when it comes to choosing their words.

The above comment came courtesy of Prime Minister Bill English, who was defending his deputy leader, Paula Bennett, after her human rights gaffe at the weekend.

Mrs Bennett, in her capacity as Police Minister, on Sunday announced National's new crackdown on drugs and gangs, with a list of unashamedly tough measures designed to reinforce pre-election that ``National is the party of law and order''.

Among the measures proposed is to give police increased search powers in relation to gang members, something Mrs Bennett acknowledged would ``stretch'' human rights laws, but was justified as serious criminals had ``fewer human rights than others''.

Mr English was quick to douse the flames yesterday, confirming all New Zealanders had rights, and his second-in-command's comments were wrong.

Mr English's quick response was wise.

While there are undoubtedly those who would agree with Mrs Bennett's sentiments about gangs being a ``scourge on our society'', our human rights laws are not something we can cherry-pick. In this case, one size does fit all.

The Government's policy has merit.

It is right to be considering border security measures, the significant problem of housing contamination, and the associated illegal stockpiling of firearms by gangs involved in methamphetamine manufacture, sale and use.

Disrupting supply networks is, of course, desirable - and in some places it appears P is frighteningly easy to obtain. Yet understanding why there is such a high demand for the drug is vital, too.

It may appeal to those whose life offers little security, hope or comfort, yet the problem is rapidly spreading across different socioeconomic groups. Its manufacture and sale is by no means restricted to gangs, either.

The great leveller is the drug's addictive power. It is pleasing, then, to see, as well as the tough measures proposed by Mrs Bennett, funding allocated to help groups supporting the drug-addicted and helping rehabilitate them.

It seems clear from the areas and numbers affected, whatever government is in power at the end of September, a great deal of work will need to be done on P.

There is also work required by politicians on some of the issues they are promoting. Mrs Bennett is not the only deputy leader getting her wires crossed about policy.

Labour leader Jacinda Ardern has had to reprimand her deputy, Kelvin Davis, after he gave a confused interview about the party's stance on tax matters, including indicating a capital gains tax was on the agenda. (In fact Labour is being criticised for not confirming its position ahead of the election and saying it will establish a tax working party to look at that and other issues). Apparently, the wayward new deputy has now been put right on the matter - namely that there is no matter to discuss as of yet.

Ms Ardern and the party will be hoping that is the last of Mr Davis' gaffes. She was clearly uncomfortable with his dressing down of other senior MPs and ministers recently. This does not fit with her relentlessly positive mantra.

With another three weeks to go then, there is ample opportunity for politicians on all sides to be bitten by the foot-in-mouth bug.



Because of a need for hope, security and comfort, addicts turn to Class A, which takes away all hope and security?

P is big business. Arrests are not always of gang members.