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.”
The Green Party’s claim the law prevented them from declining an overseas buyer’s application to expand their water bottling plant is merely an attempt to excuse their hypocrisy, National’s Land Information Spokesperson David Bennett says.
“Green Party voters have been betrayed by their MPs, who are trying to blame their hypocritical decision to approve the sale of land to a water bottling company on provisions in the Overseas Investment Act which they promised to change immediately upon entering government.
“Labour and the Greens are trying to hide behind the Government’s reforms to the Overseas Investment Act, implying they’re efforts to live up to their promises, but those reforms won’t help because they primarily deal with residential housing.
“The fact is, Land Information Minister Eugenie Sage has confirmed she has not taken any action since becoming a Minister eight months ago to change the rules and that she has nothing in progress to implement the Greens’ water bottling policy.
“Ms Sage has not taken a single step towards living up to the promises the Greens made in Opposition when they bitterly criticised the previous Government’s decisions.
“Instead, Ms Sage blindly followed the OIO recommendation when precedent in cases like the applications to purchase Lochinver Station and Auckland Airport showed she could have exercised her Ministerial discretion differently.
“The Greens and their mates in Labour are misleading their angry supporters and hiding behind the laws set by the previous Government aimed at encouraging overseas investment, when in fact all they’ve done is prove what a bunch of hypocrites they are.”
Green Party voters are feeling rightfully ripped off after Land Information Minister Eugenie Sage’s extraordinary U-turn to allow an overseas bottling plant to purchase more land to expand their operation, National’s Land Information Spokesperson David Bennett says.
“This U-turn becomes more extraordinary when you consider that Ms Sage used that very bottling operation as the catalyst for a Green Party policy to immediately impose a moratorium on such expansions.
“Despite the big talk prior to the election, Ms Sage confirmed at Select Committee yesterday that she has taken no action, after eight months in the job, to implement the policy.
“Members and supporters of the Green Party are rightfully ashamed, with Ms Sage’s turnaround coming at the same time as Green MPs are abandoning their principles and giving support to the Waka Jumping Bill.
“Ms Sage is also struggling to implement the proposed changes to the Overseas Investment Office. A ban on foreign land sales means nearly $16,000,000 of taxpayer funds are needed to close New Zealand off from foreign capital and an open economy, but Ms Sage was unable to clarify in any detail the level of enforcement of the new regime.
“And it gets worse. A ban on foreign purchasers has an exemption for properties of up to 1000 hectares if they support New Zealand First’s forestry policy.
“Not only has Ms Sage not bothered to act on implementing a major election policy, but in capitulating for the political whim of a policy that will lead to an easier track to overseas investment for certain cases, she has demonstrated she has no principles now that she’s a Minister.”
The incompetent and bumbling Corrections Minister Kelvin Davis is being forced to sell a lie that National’s plans for Waikeria Prison were like a ‘US-style mega prison’ but is failing miserably to do it convincingly, National’s Corrections Spokesperson David Bennett says.
“Perhaps Mr Davis gets as nervous in the House as he does in interviews, because he was today unable to answer a simple question about the size of the biggest prison in the US.
“In an attempt to justify why her Government is recklessly refusing to build the required number of prison beds to meet forecast growth in the muster, the Prime Minister has forced her Ministers to join her in misleading the public about National’s plans to build a 1500-bed facility at Waikeria Prison being akin to ‘US-style mega prisons’.
“But she should have done her research, because then she’d realise that the Government cannot reasonably make such a comparison when the biggest prison in the US, the Los Angeles County Jail, houses around 18,000 prisoners.
“National’s plans for Waikeria Prison would have made it the largest facility in New Zealand by around 400 beds, but still far from anything like a US prison. In fact, it would have housed around 8 per cent of the number of prisoners housed in the Los Angeles County Jail.
“Mr Davis clumsily tried to provide some kind of rationale for the Government’s spin, but just like almost everything else he attempts, he royally stuffed it up.
“It’s almost as bad as his admission that prisoners might have to sleep on mattresses on the prison floor because the Government won’t have enough beds to cope with demand.
“That’s hardly going to be good for the mental health of prisoners. After claiming to be ‘focused on mental health’, the Government is now going to have to come up with a line to spin its way of this failure.
“But it should think of something better than the ‘US-style mega prison’ line. Better still, it should build the required number of prison beds so that prisoners don’t have to sleep on the floor.”
The hypocrisy of the Government has been thrown into sharp relief today with Land Information Minister Eugenie Sage unable to justify her party’s about face on sensitive land sales to foreigners for water bottling, National’s Land Information spokesperson David Bennett says.
“Just prior to last year’s election Ms Sage promised that in Government the Greens would put an immediate moratorium in place to stop Cresswell NZ Ltd’s application to take up to 580 million litres of water annually from Otakiri Springs near Whakatane.
“Now just months later and firmly ensconced on the Treasury Benches Ms Sage has completed a major about-face and approved the sale of sensitive land to the same company to expand its water bottling plant at the same location.
“The Minister’s own supporters have condemned the broken promise and hypocrisy shown by Ms Sage and rightly so. These supporters can’t understand how a party so opposed to overseas water bottlers can then go ahead and approve such an expanded operation.
“To make things worse, Ms Sage confirmed today that not only has she broken her promise, she’s not even done the work to change to the rules to accommodate their election pledge of a moratorium.
“It’s all well and good for Green Party co-leader Marama Davidson to say ‘we don’t like this decision’ but her party’s done absolutely nothing about it.
“This shows a Green Party and a Government big on false claims and blaming foreigners when it suits their political purposes but failing to have the courage of their convictions when they are in a position to make the decisions.
“This reflects the age old trap of small parties in Government that become more interested in the baubles of office than keeping their promises to New Zealanders.”
The Government should spend more time listening to victims of crime and less on listening to soft-on-crime activists, by getting on with making sure there is enough capacity in our prisons for serious offenders, National’s Corrections Spokesperson David Bennett says.
“After eight months, the Government still doesn’t have a plan to house New Zealand’s growing prison population – but we have confirmation, accidentally revealed by Nanaia Mahuta, that National’s planned 1500-bed Waikeria Prison won’t go ahead.
“The Prime Minister has attempted to justify a decision that is going to make our communities less safe by saying that the crime rate is static and that means there’s something wrong with the rising prison population.
“What she has failed to disclose is that while lower-level offending is down, serious offending – including aggravated assaults, sexual violence and murder – is up. That’s why there are more people locked up.
“98 per cent of people in prison are there for crimes like this and these are the people the Government will let loose on our streets if it doesn’t build capacity to put them where they need to be. People aren’t in prison for stealing a Crunchie Bar, despite what the Government and soft-on-crime activists might have people believe.
“And the Government’s claim that National proposed to build a 2500-bed ‘mega prison’ is misleading. The plan was always to build a 1500-bed facility which was based on evidence that shows serious crime continues to rise and this is what’s needed to meet forecast growth in the prison muster.
“So far all we have from the Government is pop-up beds and a pledge to have 30 per cent fewer people in prison.
“Without a corresponding decrease in serious crime or a plan to make that happen, the only way to meet that pledge is to let more offenders out on the street which means our communities will be less safe.”
The Ardern-Peters Government is putting ideology ahead of public safety by not building the much-needed prison at Waikeria, National’s Corrections Spokesperson David Bennett says.
“No government wants to build a new prison, but when you’re faced with an increase in serious and violent crime it is the only option to keep the public safe.
“That’s why National put plans in place for a 1500-bed facility at Waikeria Prison.
“But the Government dithered for seven months over whether to go ahead with this facility, all while prison numbers continue to rise, and has now confirmed that it is off the table.
“This flies in the face of all the data that shows the prison population is forecast to keep rising and indicates loud and clear the Government will be moving towards softening bail laws.
“Its Budget announcement to provide 600 pop-up beds in existing prisons is like putting a plaster over a gaping wound.
“It will also make it much harder for prisoners to access the rehabilitation and education services they need.
“Not only has the Government not increased funding for rehabilitation services to reflect rising prison numbers, it appears it has actually cut funding to programmes like the Alcohol and Other Drug Aftercare Package and Methamphetamine Targeted Screening and Rehabilitation.
“The plans for the new facility at Waikeria would have included Drug Treatment Units, reintegration programmes, education and training programmes and Special Treatment Units to help address violent and sexual offending.
“It would have also included an upgrade of the existing facilities at Waikeria, which are no longer fit-for-purpose and pose health and safety risks to Corrections staff and prisoners.
“If the Government took crime seriously and prioritised public safety, it would have picked up where we left off and the new prison build would likely be underway by now.
“Instead, it has no plan to reduce reoffending and appears willing to gamble public safety for its own ideologies.”