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PM's Presser: Prisoner Compo, The OIA & Mahuta

Prime Ministers Press Conference – October 4 2004
Prisoner Compo, The OIA, Mahuta & Agent Orange


By Kevin List

IN THIS EDITION:
- Compensation For Prison Inmates
- The Official Information Act And Parliament
- Nanaia Mahuta's Oral Submission On The Foreshore And Seabed Bill
- Compensation For Military Personnel Affected By Agent Orange

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Compensation For Prison Inmates

The Prime Minister dealt with a barrage of questions regarding whether or not inmates should receive compensation for abuses that occur whilst they are within the New Zealand penal system. Both the Prime Minister and Justice Minister Phil Goff pointed out that there would still be safeguards for prisoners. The Prime Minister was also keen to point out the new law would still protect prisoners from prison guards running amok. However, as was confirmed this morning by a spokesperson for the Minister of Corrections, the initial High Court verdict allowing prisoners compensation was triggered by 'systems' within Corrections rather than out of control prison guards.

Answers relate to the Governments proposals for allowing victims of crime access to prisoners compensation ( Scoop Backgrounder: Who Is Responsible For Prison Abuse?)

"I don't think it is embarrassing for the Government. I think it is just the way the law has developed. Lawyers have found a way to advocate for prisoners and the outcome has been it has opened up possibilities for compensation which haven't been considered before.

"My understanding is that the prisoners legislation doesn't provide for compensation, but other routes have been found. Once those other routes have been found clearly there is going to be a public reaction of the kind that there has been - which sees people in jail for extremely serious offences including violent assault and murder – yet able to collect compensation because of maltreatment – their victims never got that consideration.

"Of course you have to balance against that [prisoners being potentially abused] – you don't want prisons where guards can do anything they like because prisoners are entitled to basic rights…I don't think it would have been tenable for the government to leave the law in the state it was in as a result of these precedents which have been set.

"We can aspire to ever higher standards for prison guards so that these things don't happen but the reality is that we now have a number of claims reputedly up to two hundred, for what has occurred in the past – with the best will in the world and the most professional prison system in the world – you will still have someone somewhere who says their rights were abused. If this isn't closed off [they could be ] ending up with a pot-of-gold."

Question of the Day (From Pat Plunket): Prime Minister does it concern you that it appears this regime won't touch drug dealers at all?

PM: That's something you need to direct to Mr Goff but we are running out of time - I've got another meeting. Take it up with him later. (The PM went on to talk about the subject for another ten minutes - clearly this was not her favourite question of the day.)

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The Official Information Act And Parliament

Answers relate to the issue of whether or not parliamentary services should fall within the ambit of the Official Information Act.

"I know the Dominion has written rather long articles on this and I can't say that I have had the time to read them at the weekend. I don't have [any] reason to suggest a change.

"The Parliamentary Service Commission has never been subject to the Official Information Act – I suspect that is not about to change.

"There is one rule that applies to government agencies – that rule doesn't apply to Parliament, which is not a government agency."

Answer relates to a question regarding parliamentary budgets and political advertising.

"The Auditor General is, as you know, having a review at the present time of the way those particular budgets are spent. I think I'd advise waiting to see what he has to say before taking the matter further."

Answers relate to the why Ministers fall within the ambit of the Official Information Act but individual MP's do not.

"The reality is that there is - because Ministers direct government departments and agencies. All of that is subject to the Official Information Act as is the ministerial services budget.

"The Official Information Act was set up to cover government and statutory agencies -Parliament frankly is neither."

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Nanaia Mahuta's Oral Submission On The Foreshore And Seabed Bill

Answer relates to Labour MP Nanaia Mahuta – an opponent of the Government Seabed and Foreshore legislation – and her [Mahuta's] oral submission to the Select Committee that is considering the proposed legislation.

"This issue arose several weeks ago when her submission became public. I said at the time that her submissions [on the subject] have been entirely consistent with what she has been saying on the subject for quite some months. I'm sure what she says today will be in the same vein."

Runner Up Question Of the Day (Barry Soper) "What chance do you think Destiny Church and Brian Tamaki have of running the Country in four years?"

PM: "I think they will have to pray somewhat harder!"

**********

Compensation For Military Personnel Affected By Agent Orange.

Rounding out the days theme of compensation was the subject of compensation for New Zealand military personnel exposed to Monsanto defoliant 'Agent Orange' during the Vietnam war. The Prime Minister was put under some pressure from the Radio NZ camp regarding this issue.

"I don't really want to go down that track. We don't even have the Select Committee Report. The second point is that our Government has endeavoured to see that New Zealand veterans are treated no worse than their peers in other countries.

"In reality NZ has a public health system that is not like the American system - where what is designated as being within the scope of an Agent Orange related disease has all the bearing in the world on whether you get treatment…We've endeavoured to see that people are properly treated."

ENDS

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