Police Minister Fails To Face Parliamentary Questions Over 111 Service
Police Minister George Hawkins did not attend Parliament's question time yesterday, initially proposing to visit opposition MP Tony Ryall's electorate instead until fog prevented Mr Hawkins from doing so.
The besieged MP then decided to visit Auckland Police's communications centre over returning to Wellington to face a barrage of questions over a damning report into New Zealand Police's 111 emergency service.
Following the report's release pressure has intensified around Police Commissioner Robbie Robinson and Police Minister George Hawkins to resign.
The report revealed the Police 111 service was inadequate and places the public at risk. The reliability of the service was investigated after Auckland woman Iraena Asher disappeared around Piha after calling the 111 service in a distressed condition. She was told to catch a taxi home.
The New Zealand Herald reported this morning that the family of Iraena Asher will sue the police over the bungled handling of her call for help "and have accused senior management of blocking their requests for information', the New Zealand Herald reported.
Earlier National's deputy leader Gerry Brownlee asked: “Helen Clark should confirm or deny reports that Mr Hawkins will not be in the House to face questions on this issue, which is so important to all New Zealanders.
“Mr Hawkins must front up to his responsibilities as Minister. If he is unable to do that, and if Helen Clark has lost confidence in his ability to do that, then he should resign or be sacked,” Mr Brownlee said.
Indeed, Mr Hawkins left senior Cabinet colleague Phil Goff to face Parliamentary questions (who was also acting for the Prime Minister with both Helen Clark and Dr Michael Cullen absent from the House):
New Zealand First MP Ron Mark asked: "Does the Prime Minister seriously expect the country to accept this Minister as being competent, when he ignored the advice given to him on 29 September 2002 by a communications officer as to the problems with the emergency 111 system; when he ignored the advice given to him by his own Commissioner of Police, dated 21 November 2002, highlighting the problems of the 111 system, in Auckland in particular; when he failed to take on board the very serious article published in Investigate in June 2003, and which cautioned that there would be a death; when he failed to approve the recommendations in the police bid for May 2003; and when he told this House that traffic officers were not sitting on the side of the road with their radios turned off, and we now know they were?"
Phil Goff answered: "Firstly, the member is not quoting accurately from the first communication he talked about. That communication—he can table it if he likes—does not deal with communications staff; it deals with general staff. Secondly, it was not ignored. It was passed on to the Commissioner of Police, because it was an operational matter. Thirdly, this Minister, unlike Winston Peters when he was Deputy Prime Minister, has delivered an increase in the Budget for police each and every year that he has been Minister. I refer Ron Mark to 1997, when the Budget cut the appropriations on Budget night for the police. Winston Peters cut the police Budget. George Hawkins has seen it increase each and every year for 5 years."
ACT's Dr Muriel Newman asked: "Does the Prime Minister agree that the substance of this report into the emergency 111 system comprises matters that a strong and capable Minister should have been able to find out without needing the assistance of the Australians and Canadians; if so, does she now not regret her decision to put the placating of the internal factions of the Labour Party ahead of the good of the country by keeping Mr Hawkins as Minister of Police, when it is patently obvious that her decision has put the lives of New Zealanders at risk?"
Phil Goff: "The second point is absolutely wrong. On the first point, that member would have been the first member in the House to accuse the Government of an in-house whitewash if the review had been done internally. I congratulate the Commissioner of Police on getting top people from three different jurisdictions to produce a forthright and comprehensive report, then committing himself to implementing it—not before time."
National's Gerry Brownlee asked: "Does the Prime Minister accept that her repeated expressions of confidence in George Hawkins have put New Zealanders calling the 111 system at risk, and why does she continue to allow that incompetent and failed Minister to preside over that service when it clearly needs a new approach?"
Phil Goff: "No, I do not accept that, but I draw Mr Brownlee’s attention to the fact that the previous National Minister refused to have an inquiry into the 111 system when it was sought in 1988. Secondly, I draw attention to this fact from the Police Association: the National Government planned to cut 285 non-sworn staff, including those who answered 111 calls. If that is not a case of double standards, I do not know what is."
The Police have been severely rocked by an erosion f public confidence with officers facing rape charges, current officers caught swapping pornography on police computers, and operational incompetence over the emergency 111 service debacle.
Both Police Commissioner Robbie Robinson and Minister George Hawkins have said they will not resign over the issue.