Police Association Annual Conference

  • Hon Stuart Nash

"Let’s start by acknowledging that it has been a huge year."

Police Association Annual Conference

James Cook Grand Chancellor Hotel


Nau mai, haere mai.

Tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, ka nui te mihi, ki a koutou katoa.

President of the Police Association, Chris Cahill;

Members of the Association and international guests from Australia and Ireland;

Ladies and gentlemen;

Good morning and thank you for inviting me to speak today.

It is my pleasure to open this, the 2019 Police Association Annual Conference.

Let’s start by acknowledging that it has been a huge year.

A year when I think the police have really shone.

It started with the Tasman fires – and Police helped out in a way that exceeded the community’s expectations – but reinforced the diverse role that Police now play in our communities.

Then of course we had March 15th and our world changed forever. 

Police around the country stepped up and heeded the call in a way that truly was exceptional.  The way that Police acted with bravery, humility, compassion, professionalism really spoke volumes about the culture of the Service in 2019.

Then we outlawed guns designed purely to kill people and asked police to design the legislation and come up with a plan to collect these assault weapons and military style semi-automatics in a way that increased trust and confidence.

And you did – and continue to do so – in a way that highlighted police’s professionalism – and, I will say, compassion. 

A number of people did not want to hand in their weapons but every report I have received states that police have treated everyone extremely well. 

So congratulations on doing such a great job. 

At last count, Police have been involved in: 

  • almost 18,000 individual hand-ins and transactions during the amnesty and buyback;
  • almost 30,000 prohibited firearms handed over;
  • more than 100,000 prohibited parts, such as high-capacity magazines; and
  • around $56 million paid out.

The firearms buy-back finishes on the 20th December.

Can I state, absolutely for the record: there will be no extension or exceptions. 

I have heard stories that there are some out there who have not handed in their banned guns because misguided people are telling them not to.

There are false stories out there which suggest I am going to change my mind, or extend the buy-back or change pricing.

Well, I can tell you that I am not going to extend the buy-back, or change pricing, or change my mind. 

If people haven’t handed in their banned firearms by the 20th December, they will get no money and will face up to five years in jail if we find them. 

Why would anyone want to take that risk?  If anyone asks you if you think the minister might extend the buy-back, please tell them ‘not at all’.

For the last two years Mike Bush and I have undertaken the Minister-Commissioner road show across all the districts to meet frontline staff. 

We will do it again early next year – and I have found these incredibly valuable and insightful. 

It might take a while for people to start opening up, but once they do, we get the sort of feedback that I take back to my colleagues. 

It’s vitally important that I climb down from my ivory tower and get a feel for the issues that are important to the men and women on the front line.

I think you know that when I took over the role, I removed every KPI the previous government had put in place for police and replaced them with just two. 

The reason I did this is because it is not my place to tell police how to best allocate their resource – this is up to the highly experienced men and women who know what needs to be done to keep our communities safe. 

The two Key Performance Indicators I did insist on, however, were:

  • 90% of new Zealanders have trust and confidence in the NZ police – one of the commissioner’s KPI’s anyway; and
  • 90% of staff say that they have the resources necessary to do their job and keep the promises you make to our communities.

An external KPI and an internal KPI.

This second KPI came out of the 2016 Police workplace survey where around 60% of respondents said that they had an undue level of workplace stress and nearly 60% felt that Police weren’t meeting the promises they were making to their communities. 

So we had a whole lot of dedicated men and women who were committed to the NZ Police Service, knew what needed to be done, but just didn’t have the tools to do the job. 

In the meantime, gangs had been growing for some years, meth was becoming established, resolution rates were dropping, the ratio of police to population went from 1:470 to 1:521, and the 2016 annual report actually stated ‘no more police until at least 2020’. 

How was that ever going to work?  The bottom line is that it wasn’t!

So this is why we also promised you 1,800 more police and 475 extra non-sworn support staff. 

So far we have graduated around 1,685 since becoming government, which equates to around 892 more staff over and above attrition. 

We said we would strive for 1800 and it is aspirational. We will deliver 1800 and even if it takes a bit longer, I give you an assurance the money is there. Our promise is to keep delivering frontline officers for rural and provincial New Zealand.

My promise to you is that if we don’t reach our numbers in three years, we will keep training new officers until we do reach this target – and then we will maintain this ratio.

Already the extra frontline officers are making a difference. In my own region, the Eastern Police District, the local commander Tania Kura has been able to establish a dedicated Gang Focus Unit to help in the drive against organised crime. 

And when I hear the tired old mantra from our critics that we are soft on crime, my response is: you promised 880 police in four years; we’ve delivered more than this number in under two years.

I am also extremely disappointed that all MPs are not backing tougher gun laws, and in the process they are not giving frontline Police the tools they need.

We have once-in-a-lifetime chance to finally get it right – so I do hope that the entire Parliament will come together to work constructively on this.

The silent majority of New Zealanders support this. A recent One News poll showed 80 per cent of Kiwis either support tighter gun laws or want us to go further.

There is one last thing I would like to talk about; and that is the huge growth in organised crime. 

You may be aware that Police has confiscated over 1.5 tonnes of Meth this year; and our waste water testing shows that Kiwis take around a tonne a year (even though I believe this is a significant under-estimation).  

But even though we have confiscated 1.5 tonnes, the price continues to drop and the quantity increases.

We estimate that gangs make around $500m in profit from the meth trade ever year. 

Of the 1,800 new Police, 700 are earmarked for organised crime.  But we are now dealing with highly organised, very professional, transnational organisations. 

Police and independent specialists who monitor organised crime have pointed to the arrival of the Rebels in 2011 as something of a starting point to this latest growth in organised crime and methamphetamine flooding our communities.

Due to the extreme amounts of money being made, the nature of gangs has evolved from what used to be seen as a bunch of yobbos into a more sophisticated criminal business enterprise.

Increasingly, Police are arresting lawyers, accountants, real estate agents, logistics specialists, PR practitioners – and still a number of yobbos, but these aren’t the ones driving the growth.

We do need to do things differently – and we are.  We must also be alert to the risk of Fentanyl taking hold in this country. It is killing thousands of Americans and we are alert to the risks of it arriving here.

I am not so naive to believe that we are on top of the meth problem; this scourge, this epidemic, this plague.

But we have made a start.  It is a long term challenge. 

We cannot arrest our way out of the meth problem. 

It is why we are taking a whole-of-government approach to organised crime. 

Police will lead the process, but we will partner with mental health and addiction services, Ministry of Social Development, Oranga Tamariki, Housing and other service providers that can be part of the solution. 

We have already said that those who are caught in the web of addiction should only be prosecuted if it is in the public good, whereas the dealers, suppliers and importers will be hit hard.

But we recognise that we need different strategies and approaches for tackling the demand side than we need to deal with the supply side of meth. 

This is an expensive process. But it is cheaper and more effective than the $110,000 it costs to keep a person in prison for a year.

Over time we will see change.

And expect to see more resources and a different approach being rolled out soon. 

I am also looking at changing the law to make it easier for Police to confiscate the assets of criminals by amending the Proceeds of Crime legislation, and also making it easier to go after gang leaders by amending S98a of the Crimes Act – the king pin clause.

And we will soon announce our next steps around Firearms Prohibition Orders – which we signalled in July would be a priority after tighter gun laws.

Previous attempts have fallen over because of Bill of Rights issues, so we hope we can find a way through this.

In conclusion, I would like to thank you for the work you do in order to keep our communities safe – and the work the Police Association does representing our officers up and down the country. 

Especially at a time when there are so many new officers who are entering the service at a challenging time in terms of organised crime and all that goes with this.

I want to thank all of you who are working hard to help build the front line.

Thank you for the opportunity to help open your conference, and best wishes for the next couple of days.