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Corrections Minister Responsible For Scandal

Corrections Minister Responsible For National Scandal

The Minister of Corrections is responsible for a national scandal.

His proposed Northland prison at Ngawha is a disaster. Originally estimated to cost $40 million, the cost has blown out to over $100 million, and it is still growing.

The whole project is a scandalous waste of taxpayers money - $60 million to be exact - because the site chosen for the prison is so inappropriate and unsuitable.

Who in their right mind, I ask the House, would build a prison on a geothermal fault line in an area that has one of the highest rainfalls in New Zealand?

Scientists at the Institute of Geological and Nuclear Sciences have stated that there is a possibility that the site chosen for the prison could erupt. They say it is difficult to imagine a site with so many disadvantages. Those problems will be both difficult and costly to mitigate against. The site is low lying, wet and even swampy. It could contain lava caves. Because of the ground water, more than 21,000 wick wells of up to 20 metres deep will need to be drilled on the site for drainage.

Large volumes of earthworks will need to be undertaken to remove and transport unsuitable materials. Those materials may require containment because of the possible release of undesirable mineralisation. Equally large quantities of replacement fill will need to be transported and compacted.

The scientists believe that site has the potential for hydrothermal eruptions as well as hazardous gas emissions that could be potentially fatal.

But government scientists are not the only ones concerned. Treasury believes that the proposed prison site "is particularly unsuitable, given the presence of a stream that runs through the facility, the lack of a flat building platform, and geothermal issues, to name a few specific problems".

They believe these issues have significantly raised the cost of the prison, as the need to spend over $5 million on the stream that runs through the site indicates.

Treasury suggested that a more cost-effective alternative needs to be found.

More recently, they indicated they were increasingly concerned over the rising costs of the facility as a result of the unsuitability of the site. They concluded "that the need to continue with this facility is no longer pressing".

In view of that advice, I want to ask the Minister why he hasn't already pulled the plug on the prison project? In fact he could easily have done it and saved face, at the time the government's bid to gain resource consents was thrown out. He could have put an end, there and then.

But he didn't and the extravagant spending by this Alliance Minister just goes on and on. Why is he hiring dozens of consultants and paying them as much as $300 an hour, if not more, to appeal the Regional Council's decision? Does he think that its right to spend half a million dollars on that court case, a cost that doesn't even include departmental expenses of over $100,000?

How can he justify the cost to the department of more than $200,000, to the former Assistant General Manager of Corrections, John Hamilton, who is now the private consultant driving the project? Is that on top of the $1200 a day that the Minister now pays Mr Hamilton, I ask? How did the Minister arrive at the figure of $1200 a day for the contract? Why wasn't the contract put out to competitive tender? Is the Minister concerned about allegations of bribery over the prison, that are swirling around Mr Hamilton, and if so, what does he intend to do about it?

Does he think it is fair that the Department and its lawyers have been allegedly bullying the families of a key witnesses, one of whom is very sick with terminal cancer? Does he think it is fair that the government can throw half a million plus dollars at this court case, while some of those opposing families cannot even afford a lawyer?

Does the Minister think it is right that he has deeply divided the Ngati Rangi people of Northland, by anointing a breakaway group as 'partners' to Corrections, paying them more than $18,000 to do a PR job for him, not only in Northland but in the Beehive as well? What does he say to those on the other side of the division he has created, the majority 1200 shareholders and family who remain firmly opposed to the project.

Minister, I say that you are responsible for promoting a misguided project that will be a scandalous waste of taxpayers money - $60 million and rising at this stage. You have turned your back on common sense - $60 million spent in a proper manner could do a huge amount of good, particularly for the people of Northland. Instead, you intend, literally, to throw much of it into a big hole in the ground.

I believe you have acted irresponsibly with regard to this project and that the choice of site is resulting in excessive public spending. I intend to write to the Auditor General to ask him hold an inquiry.

Ends


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