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Nandor Speech On Prisons

Speech by Nandor Tanczos MP Green Party Justice Spokesperson General Debate Slot 1 New Prison at Ngawha

The idea of building a 350 bed prison at Ngawha has always faced opposition. When the Honorable Matt Robson became Minister of Corrections he said that he would review the proposal. Yesterday he announced that he was giving it the go ahead. The question is, with so many local people opposed, and with the site so clearly unsuitable, how did it get approval? Was the Minister captured by his officials? Was he misled?

Earlier this year I asked the Minister in this house whether he was committed to not using compulsory purchase powers to force local landowners, the Timperleys, to sell their land to the Department of Corrections. The Hon Phil Goff replied on the Minister's behalf that there were no plans to use the Public Works Act to acquire the land.

I have in my possession a copy of a letter signed by Richard Morris, the project manager of the New Regional Prisons Programme. In it he clearly threatens to take the Timperleys' land under the Public Works Act. I will be seeking leave to table this letter at the end of my speech.

Now in no way do I believe that the Minister was deliberately misleading this house. But I do question whether his officials were misleading him, on both this and other matters. There seems to be no other explanation for the bizarre decision to build a prison at Ngawha.

Why was the Department of Corrections trying to bully a young couple, the Timperleys, into selling their dream property? When the 74 sites being offered for sale for a Northland prison were evaluated, Ngawha got a low rating. The most favoured sited was at Maungatapere near Whangarei.

But it was election time. After years of Banksie, Whangarei was becoming a marginal seat. The then National Government decided to move the site to Ngawha, near Kaikohe, despite the 1800 signature petition of David Hutchinson and Ron Wihongi. They didn't care what the people of Kaikohe thought.

In fact the site at Ngawha, which had been offered by a small number of Ngati Rangi trustees, was so unsuitable that the Department decided it could not be used. They decided to use the property next door instead. They didn't care that the Timperleys hadn't offered their land and didn't want to sell.

The sad thing is that after months of intimidation by the Department, while the Minister was denying that compulsory purchase had been threatened, the Timperleys have caved in and sold. And I imagine it is a bitter taste to them, Mr Speaker.

But the saddest thing is that this site is so spectacularly unsuitable for a prison.

The New Zealand Herald carried a story on 5 May about an Austrian woman who died at Rotorua in February from Hydrogen Sulphide fumes. Hydrogen Sulphide is what gives the area its rotten egg smell, and is as lethal as cyanide at high concentrations. When questioned about the effects of cramming 350 prisoners together on a site that emits hydrogen sulphide, I am told by people who attended the Resource Consent Hearings that Department specialists replied that they would take care of it with building design.

One wonders how long it would be before the ventilation gets blocked. How long before our first deaths, in our new rehab prison in Northland?

What about the effect on the surrounding area? The infrastructure of Kaikohe will be stretched to breaking point if the prison goes ahead. Because of the natural presence of mercury in the area's groundwater, the water is undrinkable. Water will instead be pulled from Kaikohe, which is already struggling with its water supplies. Similarly, the local sewerage system is already under strain without adding another 350 people.

Ngawha is a truly unique place. There is only one other place in the world with hot springs of the same type, and the curative properties of Ngawha are legendary. The local area is full of amazing feature such as fossilised kauri leaves, old mercury mines and native ecologies.

The Beadle sisters have been planning and saving to develop their property as a tourist destination, to bring some money and energy to the area. This prison will destroy that dream, as it destroyed the Timperleys'. Putting a large scale prison next door, with the noise, lights and traffic involved, will finish off any plans to develop Ngawha.

The ultimate question is, do we even need a prison? Local people, including Tangata Whenua, are calling to be given the chance to run a number of genuine rehabilitation centres, based on Tikanga Maori, small in scale and managed by local communities.

The Minister talks of an Iwi Liaison Officer in the North. What is the point when the Department has shown again and again that it will not listen? Local people have been overwhelmingly opposed to this proposal, not because of a 'not in my back yard' mentality, but because it is a bad idea. This fact appears to have been kept from the Minister.

Habilitation centres, as recommended by the Roper Report, coupled with the use of restorative justice programmes, are the way forward if we are serious about reducing crime and reducing re-offending. Prisons do not work. It is time for a different approach.


Nandor Tanczos MP: 04 470 6712, 025 245 9582 Jonathan Hill (press secretary): 04 470 6719, 021 110 1133

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