Indian business owners who have been ram raided or robbed raise their hands at the Hamilton West protest yesterday.

A forest of hands went up when Indian business owners at a protest in Hamilton yesterday were asked if they had been robbed or ram-raided recently.

Speaker after speaker at the protest told of their own experience at the hands of robbers.

Some had been armed.

A prominent placard said, “We came to New Zealand for peace, not to be killed”; another said, “we need guns”.

The protest on the Te Rapa straight was in the Hamilton West electorate, where voting in the by-election starts today, and so it was also a political event.

National Leader Christopher Luxon was there along with his party’s Social Development spokesperson, Louise Upston and National by-election candidate Tama Potaka.

POLITIK Labour’s Hamilton West MP Jamie Strange addreses the protest

Labour’s candidate, Georgie Dansey, was not there, so Hamilton West MP, Jamie Strange, was left to defend the Government.

“We have had an increase in crime in Hamilton, and when a significant number of hands were raised in terms of terms of people who have experienced an armed robbery or burglary or ram raid, the number was very sobering, and I have been aware of those figures,” he told POLITIK.

“It was certainly worthy of serious consideration.

Strange and Hamilton’s Mayor, Paula Southgate, have recently taken their concerns about rising crime in the city to Wellington.

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He said that two weeks ago, the mayor met Police Minister Chris Hipkins and Prime Minister

Jacinda Ardern to discuss the situation.

“Paula Southgate outlined the challenges we have in Hamilton, the terms of RAM raids and armed r robberies and particularly targeting our retail sector and our dairy sector.

“So we outlined the issues.

“Chris Hipkins and the Prime Minister listened and asked some questions.

“We had a positive discussion, and I understand that discussions are taking place between them and officials at the moment around what we can do.”

As far as the crowd yesterday was concerned, the Government needs to do something.

One of the protest organisers, Ash Parmar, said that in 2019 Hamilton businesses were subject to armed robberies.

“The government told us we would get fog cannons,” he s.

“A little bit of funding came, but most of us missed out.

“Then Covid came, and the robberies stopped. The shops were closed; you couldn’t rob them.”

He said the funding was still available for fog cannons, but the Government was using “stupid excuses like you haven’t been ram-raided” to restrict its allocation.

He pointed to one man, Ahmed, in the crowd who he said had been excluded from funding because he had not been ram raided, but he had been broken into, and he had been robbed.

“We all said someone was going to die.

“Pretty much everyone here has been robbed and ram-raided.

“Nothing is changing, and the government is not listening.”

That sort of rhetoric was a gift for the Opposition, and Luxon, Upston and Potaka got a warmish reception, albeit with one woman yelling out demanding to know what Luxon would actually do In Government.

Luxon recited National’s new youth offending policy to the crowd, but later, when he met the media, presumably with his eye on the by-election, he broadened his agenda.

“The issues here are exactly the same issues we see across New Zealand; there is great concern about the costs of living and everybody going backwards; there’s a tremendous concern about the rising levels of crime,” he said.

“Hamilton, unfortunately, has become the crime rate capital of New Zealand; it is really concerned about slipping education standards, a housing crisis that hasn’t been solved, and ultimately an economy that is going backwards.”

POLITIK National’s Hamilton West candidate, Tama Potaka and National Leader Christopher Luxon with one of the protesters yesterday.

Luxon did not address the specific question of funding for preventative measures for the shops.

Instead, he was keen to promote the party’s candidate, Tama Potaka, who he said he had got to know over the past 18 months and was a huge hit at the party’s Blue Greens conference earlier this year when he offered a Maori perspective on the environment.

For a caucus grappling with how to respond to farm emissions and water allocation, if he is elected, he would bring a challenging perspective.

“Resource use must be based on sustainability,” he told the Blue Greens.

“But sustainability isn’t just the environment and the economy. It’s actually got to do with society, whanau and identity.

“And those things are really important.

“So when you talk about resource use focusing on sustainability, the Maori world,  culture, and society are primo; our identity is tied into resources: it is tied into mother earth.”

Asked yesterday what contribution Potaka could make to the National caucus by bringing a Maori perspective, Luxon said he had a lot to offer because he understood both the Pakeha and Maori worlds.

“ I’ve said right from day one of coming into this party that I want to see more diversity in the bloodstream of this party,” he said.

“And Tama represents a huge perspective that we actually need to have around that table, as will other new candidates, in twenty-three as well.”

Potaka himself yesterday was sticking to the party’s media minders’ talking points albeit with a slightly less hardline emphasis than the leader had been pursuing in his meeting with the Indian business owners.

He said the party’s youth offenders’ policy emphasised getting offenders to recognise that actions brought consequences.

“If they keep on writing and robbing people, then they will be given a pathway to restore themselves, to get back in line, to understand discipline, and also to get some community support,” he said.

“And that’s part of the youth offenders policy that we announced recently.

“And it is actually known right now by the police and by others like the council who the core group. Of offenders are.”

But despite the angst and passion evident on the roadside at the vigil and protest today, there is a real fear that the turnout at this by-election could be exceptionally low.

Its timing before Christmas may accentuate that, and as Luxon walked around the Base shopping precinct, there seemed little interest from the shoppers in stopping and chatting to him.

“ I think the difficulty is actually whether people know there is a by-election going on,” he said.

“So that’s really got to be the focus of making people aware that there is a by-election.

“As you saw today, there was a vigil around some of the crime that we’re experiencing in the city.

“And, you know, to say to people, you get angry, and you can rant and rave, but you’ve got to go vote.

“And that’s how you get the change, the change of government and change the system.”

In many ways, yesterday’s protest was not in National’s script; that was focused on the cost of living, but sometimes events can derail the best-laid political plans.

Both National and Labour have now had a sobering wakeup call with the Sandringham murder.

It wouldn’t be surprising if law and order becomes the focus of this by-election now.