The same day hundreds protested outside the prime minister’s Auckland office against a lack of protection for retail workers, Jacinda Ardern revealed plans to deal with New Zealand’s rising retail crime problem. Stewart Sowman-Lund reports.
Millions of dollars will be pumped into crime prevention by the government, though prime minister Jacinda Ardern denies that it took the death of a retail worker to make it happen.
The government this afternoon announced a new package targeted at stopping retail crime. It includes a new fog cannon subsidy scheme that will provide $4,000 to any small shop or dairy that wants to install a device. A new $4 million fund will support local councils in Auckland, Hamilton and Bay of Plenty. And the existing $6 million retail crime prevention fund has had its eligibility extended to include aggravated robberies, including those committed over the past 12 months.
“The initiatives we’re announcing today make this the most significant crime prevention financial package in recent memory,” Ardern told media at her post-cabinet press conference. “It backs up Police actions, through funding to support crime prevention initiatives, such as better street lighting and cameras and by investing in more fog cannons.”
The announcement comes just hours after dozens of protests were held around the country in the wake of the death of Auckland dairy worker Janak Patel.
The 34-year-old was stabbed to death outside the Rose Cottage Superette in Sandringham last week following an aggravated robbery. Three people have since been arrested in relation to his death.
But while the protests were held in response to Patel’s death, Ardern rejected any assertion her new crime prevention package was a reactionary measure. “I disagree,” Ardern said when The Spinoff suggested it took a death for the new funding to be signed off. “The council funding that we have announced was put before cabinet prior… the youth initiatives were announced and put in place prior to today. We have continued to look at this issue as we have seen what is happening in our communities.”
Outside Jacinda Ardern’s Auckland electorate office today, hundreds gathered to call for tougher penalties for criminals, more protections for workers – and to share the message that “enough is enough”. The protest was largely peaceful, though at one point The Spinoff observed a disruption after a protester encouraged people to move off the busy New North Road and onto the crammed footpath. “The goal was to deliver a peaceful message. That message has been delivered, clear the road,” he yelled, before a swift response of “no!” as chanting recommenced.
Dairy owners Singita and Raju have been in the country for more than 25 years but told The Spinoff they no longer felt comfortable running their business. They’ve had many incidents at their Richardson Road store, particularly with people targeting cigarettes. “It’s not safe,” Singita said. “We’ve had enough,” her husband Raju added. “Every morning you open the door and you get scared… [there is] fear in your mind that something will happen and someone will do a silly thing. Always constant fear.”
That was a common theme from those in attendance at the protest. Karen, another local retail worker, said she too had experienced intimidation while at work. It prompted her to join the crowd in Morningside today. “I felt that I needed to stand with other small business owners in New Zealand to stand up against this crime that we’re experiencing,” she told The Spinoff.
Ardern said her goal with the new announcements was to remove the fear of workers simply going to their jobs. However, she rejected any suggestion the government had been slow to act. As for whether the issue had become “political”, as protester Karen believed it had, Ardern acknowledged there was a “huge amount of emotion” surrounding the issue.
Both Karen and Raju believed Ardern should have faced the crowd. “She should be [here]. She should come and talk to people and comfort those who suffer,” Raju said. “The government has run out of ideas of how to stop crime, it’s going out of control now. They have to do something completely different to turn [it] around.”
Ardern was meeting with cabinet at the time of the protest, signing off on today’s announcement. Act Party leader David Seymour and his deputy Brooke van Velden did attend the protest – seemingly the sole representatives from parliament. Seymour told The Spinoff he was fine with Ardern choosing to chair cabinet over attending the protest, but only “if she’s making good changes to the government’s approach to retail crime”.
“I’m here today because this is a group of people who feel they’ve been neglected. They feel that despite doing very dangerous work, long hours, alone, often living above the convenience store, the government promised protection… and didn’t deliver. We’ve been hounding the government about that in parliament, now it seems we’ve got their attention because of a tragedy,” Seymour said.
“It shouldn’t require a tragedy to change the government’s approach to retail crime.”