The Corrections Minister needs to explain why prisoners are being prioritised over guards after five serious assaults at Auckland’s brand new maximum security prison, National’s Corrections spokesperson David Bennett says.
“Five prison guards have been attacked since the wing opened in October in two separate attacks. That includes a guard being punched in the head and four officers being seriously assaulted by a group of inmates.
“The new prison is designed to be safe but the Corrections Association has made it clear that the attacks come down to relaxed protocol because maximum security prisoners are being given the same rights as those in low-security prisons.
“The Association says management is more worried about prisoner rehabilitation than staff safety.
“Minister Kelvin Davis needs to make it clear to prison management that these are violent offenders and they need to be treated that way. Staff shouldn’t be put in harm’s way because this Government has a soft on crime approach.
“The Minister talked a big game in Opposition about standards in prisons and yet since he became the Minister we’ve seen a relaxation of standards, putting at risk prison officers.
“Prison guards have the right to be safe at work. The Minister needs to ensure that they come home from work unscathed, and not the victims of crime.”
The National Party welcomes signs that Land Information Minister Eugenie Sage is backing away from her Green Party’s anti-foreign investor rhetoric and is now approving investments that benefit the economy and create jobs, National’s Land Information spokesperson David Bennett says.
“Ms Sage’s about-face means foreign investment continues to be a crucial element in the mix of funding sources for building homes, commercial construction and much-needed infrastructure projects such as roading.
“Between November 1 last year and July 26 this year foreign investors applied to purchase almost 60,000 hectares of New Zealand land. Ms Sage approved all but 30 hectares of it, representing a 99 per cent approval rate.
“The value of this land sold to foreigners equates to almost $1 billion, compared to the $3.5 million worth of land that was declined.
“This is just another flip-flop for a Minister who has struggled to represent the Greens’ position while holding down her portfolios, like the approval of the sale of land for water bottling when the Greens had campaigned for an immediate moratorium on new bottling plants.
“Attracting quality international investment plays a vital role in our economy and is crucial to creating jobs for Kiwis across the country. For example, in two recent decisions a particleboard plant in Kawerau will create 110 jobs while a new landfill near Wellsford will generate 50-100 jobs.
“In Government, National simplified overseas investment rules, cut red tape and speeded up processing times for applications to make easier for local businesses that need foreign investment to grow.
“It seems as though the Minister has finally listened to the National Party and recognised the importance of foreign investment and the value of the wider benefits it brings to our economy.”
Transport Minister Phil Twyford’s decision to strip funding from the Tauranga to Hamilton Expressway Extension project will put a dampener on the long-term economic growth in the Bay of Plenty and Waikato regions, local MPs for Tauranga, Taupo and Hamilton East Simon Bridges, Louise Upston and David Bennett say.
“Waikato is the fourth largest regional economy in New Zealand, and its central location makes it a nationally significant infrastructure corridor. Strengthening the link between Tauranga and Hamilton is fundamental to economic growth in the region,” Mr Bridges says.
“Over time greater freight volumes will use the road as the preferred route to and from other economic centres and the Port of Tauranga. Further investment in this stretch of road will provide economic benefits to the regions and improve safety.
“The Expressway connects our capital of commerce, Auckland, with one of our core agricultural areas, the horticulture in the Bay of Plenty and the Port in Tauranga.”
“The extension of the expressway builds on the early success and benefits the Waikato Expressway is already delivering, such as reduced congestion and travel times, as well as a safer commute,” Ms Upston says.
“The previous National Government approved a four-lane extension for the State Highway 1 Piarere turnoff, a black spot for crashes between Cambridge and Tirau.
“The planning and acquisition phase of the Cambridge to Piarere stretch is already underway. It would be ridiculous for all of this work to be wasted if the Government completely scraps this project.”
“Waikato’s central location in the upper North Island makes it a nationally significant infrastructure corridor, which is why the previous National Government announced the Waikato Expressway,” Mr Bennett says.
"The current Government hasn’t thought through its plan. The Extension is vital as it divides the traffic from Rotorua to Tauranga. There is not much good having a road that stops at Cambridge when the traffic divides at Piarere.
“This is another example of a Government prepared to strip investment out of the regions in favour of a pet Tram project in Auckland. National had a carefully balanced plan that prioritised our regions was delivering on key infrastructure for all of New Zealand.”
The Government needs to explain how it allowed a GPS blindspot that stopped residents at a child sex offender village from being tracked, National’s Corrections spokesperson David Bennett says.
“Residents of Rimutaka Prison's outside-the-wire child sex offender unit can't be GPS tracked due to a communications blindspot. They are among 200 of the country’s most dangerous freed violent criminals who are meant to be under strict supervision orders.
“Up to 11 child sex offenders can be held at this location.
“The unit is only 1.5 kilometres from Hutt International Boys' School, 1.8km from St Brendan's School, and Silverstream School is 2.8km away. There are also over 40 early childhood centres in the area.
“The community should have been informed that this unit was being established. Instead, it was all hush-hush until Corrections was forced to confirm it in August.
“When this centre was announced, Corrections assured the public that all residents would be able to be monitored, including by GPS monitoring.
“But it has become clear that the Government has known about this blind spot for months. Yet it has done nothing. This is unacceptable.
“Corrections claims there is currently ‘no option’ for GPS monitoring. It needs to either find a way to make this happen, or move these highly dangerous offenders to somewhere they can be tracked. It’s astonishing they allowed this site to go ahead knowing the offenders couldn’t be properly monitored.
“National is the party of law and order, and we are committed to making our communities safer and putting victims first.”
Corrections Minister Kelvin Davis continues to show what little control he has left of his portfolio, failing to reconcile his public statements with the recommendations he made to Cabinet about Waikeria Prison, National’s Corrections spokesperson David Bennett says.
“Mr Davis recommended to Cabinet last year that it implement the 1500-bed facility at Waikeria Prison planned by National and that it was the ‘only sensible plan of action’.
“Fast-forward six months and he was condemning the planned 1500-bed facility as an ‘American-style mega prison’ and announcing he would instead build a much smaller facility.
“When asked to explain the significant turn of events and what exactly made the planned facility an ‘American-style mega prison’, Mr Davis could only say that American-style mega prisons were ‘bigger’ and ‘house more people’.
“The release of Mr Davis’ Cabinet papers on the Waikeria Prison decision revealed that Cabinet simply ignored his advice which is a better explanation for the turn of events, but raises concerns about the lack of confidence his colleagues have in him.
“Mr Davis also cannot reconcile his claim that he is focused on rehabilitation with the fact that Cabinet ignored the advice in his May 2018 paper that said larger prisons allow a ‘full range of specialist facilities and rehabilitation programmes’ and went ahead with a smaller build.
“When asked to confirm his statement to the Corrections estimates hearing that ‘we’re not expanding the facilities to actually service them,’ in reference to extra rehabilitation funding to accommodate prisoners who will be on pop-up beds in existing prisons, Mr Davis is now claiming there will be extra funding.
“I eagerly await his announcement about exactly how much the Government will be funding for these extra rehabilitation services.
“And I’ll continue to wait for his admission that National had the right plan all along, but that his colleagues simply ignored his advice to implement it.”
The decision to spend $750 million for just 600 beds at Waikeria Prison is another example of the Government’s bad spending choices and recklessness when it comes to law and order, National’s Corrections spokesperson David Bennett says.
“This Government is spending three quarters of what the previous Government had planned to spend on building a 1500-bed facility at Waikeria Prison, but getting just one quarter of the prison beds.
“The National Government had a plan to spend $1 billion to build 1500 beds at Waikeria Prison, with capacity to expand to 2000 if required, which Corrections Minister Kelvin Davis recommended that Cabinet implement.
“Papers reveal that Mr Davis advised Cabinet that large-scale prisons ‘are the most efficient and cost-effective way to add quality capacity to the prison network’ and that ‘building small and medium scale prisons is significantly more costly’.
“But Mr Davis’ colleagues ignored his advice and went ahead with building a much smaller facility, for nearly the same amount as they would have spent implementing National’s plan.
“It makes no sense, not only for taxpayers but also for prisoners given the smaller prison is going to make it harder for them to access the rehabilitation programmes they need.
“Mr Davis himself acknowledged in a Cabinet paper that smaller prisons ‘can pose challenges when it comes to supporting prisoner rehabilitation’, while larger prisons allow ‘a full range of specialist facilities and rehabilitation programmes’.
“Sadly we’re used to this Government making bad spending decisions, but it can hardly claim to be focused on rehabilitating prisoners if it’s ignoring advice on how best to do it.
“That’s just going to put prisoners at higher risk of reoffending upon release, which is going to make our communities less safe.”
Corrections Minister Kelvin Davis advised Cabinet to adopt the previous Government’s plan to build 1500 beds at Waikeria Prison because it was ‘the only sensible plan’, but his colleagues ignored his advice, National’s Corrections spokesperson David Bennett says.
“This makes the Government’s decision to slash the number of new beds at Waikeria Prison by 1000 all the more confusing and reeks of a Government that doesn’t know what it’s doing when comes to law and order, and is risking public safety as a result.
“Official advice released yesterday shows that this year New Zealand will be over 2300 prison beds short and by 2027 that number increases to more than 4500.
“In a December 2017 paper also released yesterday, Mr Davis advised Cabinet that in recognition of the forecast shortfall, maintaining National’s plan was the ‘only sensible plan of action’ and recommended the Government implement the plan we had in place.
“But his colleagues ignored him and just six months later the Government recklessly went ahead with its dangerous plan to downsize the Waikeria Prison build by 1000 beds.
“As a result our communities and our prisons and the staff in them are less safe. The decision not to build more prison beds is reckless and what’s worse the newly released papers confirm the Government’s reasons simply don’t stack up.
“A May 2018 paper says that large facilities, like the planned 1500-bed facility at Waikeria, are not only ‘the most efficient and cost-effective way to add quality capacity to the prison network’, but also allow a ‘full range of specialist facilities and rehabilitation programmes’.
“So not only was our plan better for taxpayers, but it would have meant better access to treatment and rehabilitation for prisoners to improve their chances of not reoffending.
“But in abandoning the previous Government’s sensible plans in favour of a much smaller prison, this Government is now faced with a shortage of more than 2300 beds this year.
“The Government must now explain to New Zealanders how it is going to pick and choose which of these criminals it will allow out into our communities.”
Whether the Government has been deliberately duplicitous or simply chaotic with regards to the public-private partnership for Waikeria Prison, it is yet another example of its shambolic handling of law and order, National’s Corrections spokesperson David Bennett says.
“Labour spent years campaigning on cancelling public-private partnerships, with Jacinda Ardern saying just before the election that Labour did not agree with PPPs when it came to building core infrastructure like prisons.
“Kelvin Davis is on record in Parliament damning PPPs for building and maintaining prisons and in 2016 he blasted the decision by then-Corrections Minister Judith Collins to build and maintain a new prison at Waikeria.
“So it was a surprise to everyone that after all this big talk, the Government went ahead with a $750 million PPP contract to build and maintain Waikeria Prison for 25 years.
“Given the contradiction between its campaign promise and its decision to sign a PPP contract for Waikeria Prison, Ministers were questioned in Parliament where they claimed that a contract had been already been signed under National.
“When asked about the contract, Associate Finance Minister David Clark said that ‘They [the National Government] signed the contract and it cost $34 million’. Finance Minister Grant Robertson subsequently doubled down, saying a ‘PPP contract for Waikeria Prison was in place and that breaking it would've cost significant sums of money to this Government’.
“When asked today whether these statements were incorrect, Corrections Minister Kelvin Davis refused to provide a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer, and instead waffled on about how he was happy with Corrections running Waikeria Prison.
“It is clear that the statements were incorrect but whether Ministers were being deliberately misleading or were simply confused remains to be seen.
“Either way, Mr Davis has been a complete hypocrite in damning PPPs for three years in Opposition, signing a $750 million PPP contract for the new Waikeria Prison and then attempting to justify his conversion of Damascus by having his colleagues falsely claim that the Government was bound by a contract signed by the previous Government.”
In a striking admission Corrections Minister Kelvin Davis has confirmed the Government was not bound by any public-private partnership contract despite comments from his senior colleagues indicating it was, National’s Corrections spokesperson David Bennett says.
“When asked specifically about a contract for a PPP between the Department of Corrections and private sector consortium, Mr Davis admitted there had been none.
“This is completely contrary to answers given by the Finance Minister and Associate Finance Minister where they claimed that a contract had been signed under National.
“David Clark said, when asked why a PPP was now being used to fund Waikeria Prison, that ‘They [the National Government] signed the contract and it cost $34 million’.
“Grant Robertson subsequently doubled down when asked what date the contract was signed by saying a ‘PPP contract for Waikeria Prison was in place and that breaking it would've cost significant sums of money to this Government’.
“Both statements are false. No contract was signed by the former Government and certainly nothing costing $34 million.
“Why Ministers would so confidently announce they were bound by a contract that doesn’t exist beggars belief, but isn’t entirely surprising from this incompetent Government.
“There’s nothing wrong with using a PPP to build Waikeria – in fact, we were openly doing the same. But the Government freely using PPPs now smacks of hypocrisy given their complete aversion to them ever being used.
“In what has been a shambolic process from start to finish with Waikeria, this latest admission shows the Government doesn’t have a clue what it’s doing, particularly in law and order.”
A lack of prison beds to meet increasing prisoner numbers is leading to a perfect storm in our prison system, National’s Corrections spokesperson David Bennett says.
“The revelation today that our prisons are a couple hundred Corrections Officers short is very concerning and yet another reason why this Government cannot be trusted to keep New Zealanders safe.
“The shortage is only going to get worse after the Government’s reckless refusal to build the number of prison beds needed to meet forecast growth in the prison population.
“It’s going to be much harder for Corrections to fill the vacant jobs because people know that they will be working in crowded prisons that aren’t fit-for-purpose.
“Cramming violent criminals into confined spaces because the Government hasn’t built enough capacity will lead to more violence between prisoners and Corrections Officers.
“With the increasing prison population and staff shortages happening in tandem, Corrections Officers will be stretched thin which will make it harder for them to do their jobs and easier for prisoners to take advantage.
“The Government can hardly claim to be focused on mental health in our prisons when it is creating an environment that will lead to higher levels of aggression and frustration among prisoners, with Corrections Officers bearing the brunt of that.
“Staff are rightly concerned that it could take a Corrections Officer getting seriously injured, or worse, before the Government does the right thing and invests in the required capacity.
“Let’s hope it doesn’t get to that.”