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Heather Roy’s Diary: Saving Private Harry

Heather Roy’s Diary: Saving Private Harry

The week has been dominated by Harry Duynhoven and his predicament in initiating his Dutch citizenship and its ramifications under the Electoral Act. When Harry discovered there was a problem he told the Speaker and his Ministerial warrant was withdrawn. His case was referred to the Privileges Committee, which deals with breaches of privilege. After several meetings and interviews with Harry, they reported that his seat (New Plymouth) should be declared vacant on 11 June "by reason of his application to the royal Netherlands Embassy to reacquire his Dutch nationality." The Government had two choices - the Speaker could call a by-election for the seat, or they could amend the Electoral Act to change the law and allow Mr Duynhoven to remain in his seat. They chose the second. So, on Wednesday night, the House went into urgency to debate the Electoral (Vacancies) Amendment Bill.

In urgency a Bill does not have to come under public scrutiny. It doesn't go to a Select Committee, and has no public submissions. The interesting thing with this Bill is that it is retrospective to 14 August, 2002, and expires at the time of the next election. Opposition parties suspect there may be other MPs affected, as amendments to cover only Harry Duynhoven were defeated. With the legislation now passed, the country may never know who else might have been implicated.

ACT vigorously opposed this Bill, feeling it was improper for Parliament to put up legislation to cover problems that arise for individual members. Where does such legislation stop? We maintain that the New Plymouth seat should have been declared vacant, and a by-election called. Labour, of course, does not want an election with the main issue being the foreshore and seabed. The final vote was 61 in favour of the Bill, 59 against. It was a sad day for democracy and, today, Parliamentarians who voted in favour of the Bill deserve the contempt in which we are all sometimes held.

Closer Electoral Relations for ACT and National

At the ACT Regional Conference last weekend ACT President Catherine Judd and National MP Murray McCully gave speeches about increased co-operation between the two parties. This proposed co-operation extends to working together in Parliament, campaigning co-operatively at election time and, perhaps, even endorsing each other's candidates in some key electorates. It could also involve naming key positions in a possible Cabinet in advance. The speeches were well received by the 100-strong crowd, and the feedback has been very positive.

Private Prisons

I recently visited the Auckland Central Remand Prison. It was a fascinating visit for someone who had never seen the inside of a prison before. It is next door to Mt Eden Prison, and holds those on remand awaiting court hearings and sentencing. The difference between this and other New Zealand prisons is that it is privately operated by Australian Correctional Management Limited (ACM). The management staff is extremely proud of the facility and the efficiency with which it runs. Inmates are assessed thoroughly in a small office whenever they enter the prison - even if they have only been to court for the day. Research has shown that these are the vulnerable times for inmates, and assessment is aimed especially at detecting those at risk of self-harm.

I had an extensive tour - check-in area, kitchen, educational facility, gym, special needs unit, medical facilities, courtroom and the cellblocks. This prison is subject to greater requirements than Department of Corrections prisons. They are, for example, fined $50,000 per escape - to date there has been none. Each unit is audited by Corrections once a month. ACM has voluntarily set up extras - they have a 24/7 nursing service, which no other prison has. They care for the mentally ill inmates so well that many are directed to this prison instead of another. Financially, the country is better off with ACM as the prison costs significantly less per inmate to run than the state run prisons.

It is an impressive facility, but the Government has told them their five-year contract will not be renewed when it expires in July 2005. Why? Because this Government believes it is the role of the state to run prisons. At least it is consistent - it never allows success to get in the way of ideology. I'm told the Corrections Minister has never visited, and I can't help but wonder if that is because he is afraid that he too would be impressed with what he saw.

Too many Cooks

A Wellington Anorexic Clinic has run into trouble this week. In the past 16 months, four registered nurses at the clinic have resigned because they felt it inappropriate for the former cleaner and cook to be in charge. Despite having no professional qualifications, she has reportedly been responsible for dispensing methadone and conducting one-on-one counselling sessions. Staff shortages and lack of accountability certainly contribute to such situations arising. Another factor is that many providers just have money thrown at them, with little - if any - guidance given or accountability to authorities followed up. The incentive in these cases is to employ the cheapest staff. In this case, there are too many cooks spoiling the broth - and broth for these patients is just what the doctor ordered.

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