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Waititi slams Hipkins, Luxon over gang commentary

Te Pāti Māori co-leader Rawiri Waititi has launched a scathing attack on Prime Minister Chris Hipkins, opposition leader Chris Luxon, and the media over their commentary on the death of a gang leader in Ōpōtiki.

Ōpōtiki police have initiated a homicide investigation into the demise of Steven Taiatini, the president of the Mongrel Mob Barbarians.

Taiatini's funeral was held on Wednesday and the town saw an influx of patched gang members and a significant police presence.

Police said they were "out in large numbers" but locals criticised them for closing off roads including State Highway 2 as the procession made its way through the Bay of Plenty town, and also for making no arrests.

On Wednesday night Waiariki MP Rawiri Waititi addressed his concerns in a Facebook livestream, saying, "What is not helping are the comments being made by political leaders and political parties, and right now Christopher Luxon, Chris Hipkins need to shut their mouths and stop using our iwi as a political football to score points."

Waititi emphasised Te Whakatōhea, was working tirelessly to de-escalate the situation that unfolded over the past three days.

He commended its efforts as a community, an iwi, and a hāpu, working collaboratively with the council, police, and social services to support their whānau and the community during what was a challenging time.

Waititi said Hipkins and Luxon had no right to make comments on matters they know nothing about. He urged them to refrain from involving his iwi in their discussions, saying, "Keep my iwi out of your mouth."

Waititi reiterated that neither understood the complexities of people who may have affiliations with gangs.

He urged politicians to provide support to ensure Te Whakatōhea can continue its community work, emphasising the priority should be focused on that and not political point-scoring.

"You do not have the licence to use our people as a political football. You never did, and you do not right now," he said.

In response to media inquiries, Prime Minister Hipkins expressed support for the police, recognising the challenges they face and the need for community backing in addressing the situation.

"I'm backing the police here. I think they've got a tough job ahead of them, they need to do that job, and the community needs to back them to do that," Hipkins said.

Funeral procession for Mongrel Mob Barbarians president Steven Taiatini on Ohope Rd, Whakatāne. Photo / Andrew Warner / NZME

Nats leader Christopher Luxon voiced his concerns about the gang presence in Ōpōtiki, describing the town as being "overtaken by a gang" in a Facebook post.

"Schools are closed. Public transport has been cancelled. And Chris Hipkins' response? It's not his job to deal with crime," Luxon said.

"The people in Ōpōtiki are living in fear due to gang tension. They deserve better. They deserve leadership. National will get tough on crime and restore law and order."

Te Ao Māori News spoke to members of the Taiatini whānau who said they were looking forward to the week's events being over.

"It is what it is, I guess," one lamented.


ACT leader David Seymour also weighed in on the situation in a Facebook post.

Upping the ante, he wrote, "Luxon and Hipkins have both called it 'unacceptable', but what’s been seen in Ōpōtiki over the past four days has been despicable."

Waititi questioned the involvement of political leaders by challenging their absence.

"I know for a fact that none of you have shown up."

"I know none of you will turn up but you will continue to talk about my iwi, our iwi," he said.

"Please be respectful at this particular time as our community mourns their loved one."

Waititi also criticised the media's coverage of Taiatini's death and funeral, urging them to prioritise accuracy and act in the best interests of the people of Whakatōhea and Ōpōtiki.

"We don't need your tabloid-type media approach to this particular situation, we don't need you to be adding fuel to the fire," he argued.

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