Hansard and Journals

Hansard (debates)

Corrections Amendment Bill (No 2) — In Committee

[Volume:652;Page:1358]

Corrections Amendment Bill (No 2)

In Committee

Part 1 Amendments to Corrections Act 2004

Hon CLAYTON COSGROVE (Labour—Waimakariri) : I do not intend to take a long call on the Corrections Amendment Bill (No 2), for a number of reasons. I will start off by indirectly posing a question through the Chair. It is interesting to note that this bill and the next two bills to be debated tonight under urgency—the Criminal Proceeds (Recovery) Bill, and the Oaths Modernisation Bill—are all previous Labour Government bills in the name of former Labour Ministers.

The bill we are debating now—

Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Chairperson. I think it is worth noting, for the information of the member, that the House is not in urgency.

The CHAIRPERSON (Eric Roy): The member is correct, but that is not a point of order.

Hon CLAYTON COSGROVE: I am indebted to Mr Brownlee, who, as is apparent from that point of order, is becoming a learned member of the House through his study of the Standing Orders. I appreciate his point of order, and I correct the record. We are not in urgency. I bow to Mr Brownlee’s superior knowledge of the Standing Orders.

Hon Gerry Brownlee: You can say that again.

Hon CLAYTON COSGROVE: I bow to his superior knowledge of the Standing Orders. Not many people, even back at school, have ever accused Gerry of having superior knowledge, but I do it again.

I just note that maybe Mr Brownlee has by accident reconfigured the Order Paper. I am surprised that this bill and the two bills that follow it, all of them previous Labour Government bills in the name of former Labour Ministers—in fact, the Corrections Amendment Bill (No 2) has the name of the former Minister, and now Leader of the Opposition, Phil Goff printed on it—are ahead of all other Government business. Opposition members are gratified at that because, like the Government, we support the bills that Labour, when in Government, put forward. I just wonder whether Mr Brownlee mixed up the batting order, because it is a great honour for the Hon Phil Goff that this bill is one of three pieces of Labour legislation, in the so-called 100 days of manic activity that the National Government is trying to portray to the people of New Zealand, that have been put ahead of all other National Government priorities. I think that is fantastic.

We on this side of the House support this bill. This is serious legislation, and if we look at the opening clauses we see it builds on the history of Labour in Government where, for instance, prison escapes were reduced by 84 percent. The aim of this bill, as seen from the nature of the clauses in Part 1, is obviously to crack down on drug use, eliminate the illicit use of cellphones in prisons, enhance the powers of search in relation to inmates and for those working in prisons, and adopt a zero tolerance towards those nefarious staff members, amongst the generally good and honourable staff, who would pass contraband to prisoners. Penalties will be increased from 3 months to up to 1 year in prison, and the maximum fine will be doubled to $5,000.

We go on to the authorising of the electronic detection and jamming of all cellphones used within prisons. Of course, one of the key drivers for Labour in Government, and for the Hon Phil Goff when he introduced this bill, was the acknowledgment of the huge and fast-moving technological developments that those inside the wire and their supporters outside the wire can use to try to beat and bust the system. The bill also extends prisons’ powers in terms of screening inmates’ mail for unlawful or harmful communications. Mail as well as telecommunications can be subject to surveillance, and of course the bill creates a penalty for publishing unauthorised communications from inmates that prejudice the interests of victims.

It is interesting to note some of the achievements in the track record of the previous Labour Government, which put forward this bill. We made it significantly more difficult for folk to escape from prisons, unlike the large number of escapes from police custody and also from Department of Corrections custody that we have seen in the so-called 100 days of the Minister being in office. We made it more difficult for people to escape from prisons by putting up things like fencing wire, in an extra 17 kilometres of perimeter fences. That is probably a good thing to do, I would have thought, if we want to keep people inside prison—unlike National when it was last in Government. Under Labour, prisoner escapes per 100 prisoners were just one-sixth of those 10 years ago, under the last National Government. As I have said, that means an 84 percent decrease in prison escapes. Drug taking in prisons was less than half what it was when the National Party left office in 1999, and fewer inmates were returning positive drug tests when Labour was in Government.

We support this bill absolutely. I think it allows us to keep pace with, and hopefully jump ahead of, technology. We support the bill.

Hon JUDITH COLLINS (Minister of Corrections) : It was 9 years before Labour could bring itself to put this bill before the House. But having said that, it is a National Government that has to push it through. In response to one of the comments about cellphones made by the member who has just resumed his seat, let me tell members about cellphones in prison.

Many people will have read about the cellphone coverage in Pāremoremo maximum security prison and about the fact that an entire drug-dealing outfit was able to operate from there. Members might well ask how that happened. I have an answer for them. Not only did a Labour Government allow Telecom to put a cellphone tower inside Pāremoremo maximum security prison but it also allowed Vodafone to do the same. That happened under a Labour Government. No wonder it took Labour, when it was in Government, so many years to bring this legislation to the House. How embarrassing can that be?

The first cellphone tower was installed in the year 2000, under a Labour Government. The second one was installed in 2004—yet again, under a Labour Government. Did that Government ever fess up to the public about that? Did it ever confess to the House? Never! There was not a word; nothing. That is why we are having to deal with the issue now.

One of the first things I have had to deal with as Minister of Corrections is cellphone coverage in prisons, and particularly in Pāremoremo maximum security prison. How stupid does someone have to be to allow cellphone towers inside Pāremoremo maximum security prison? One would say that it would have to have happened under a Labour Government.

So when Labour members talk about why, under a Labour Government, people did not escape from prison, we can see why. Why would they need to? They can run all their own crime from inside, run their own cellphones, have underfloor heating, and have plasma screen TVs. In fact, the prisons that were built are so luxurious that, before prisoners were let into Spring Hill prison, the Department of Corrections charged law-abiding people to stay there overnight. As I recall, it was something like $230 per night, and that indicates exactly how luxurious it was. Why would anybody in their right mind want to escape?

Apart from cellphone coverage, one of the other things the Government has had to deal with is the practice of taking property inside prisons in order to cause crime. Just the other day I went to the CB Block in Pāremoremo maximum security prison—

Hon Steve Chadwick: Did they give you a pōwhiri?

Hon JUDITH COLLINS: No, I do not do pōwhiri when I am on Government property, as the member should know.

Hon Steve Chadwick: Ooh!

Hon JUDITH COLLINS: I say to Mrs Chadwick that they showed me that prisoners have access to broken mirrors, which they can then use to attack the guards—they showed me that. A Labour Government allowed that to happen. I can tell Mrs Chadwick that this Government is dealing with it.

The prison guards showed me what else they have to put up with. They put up with prisoners who have access to lighters and paper, who cause fires, and who attack guards with all sorts of implements. The Labour Government could not deal with that. Instead, the only response from Labour, just before the last election, was to bring in a corrections amendment bill.

Prison staff have to deal with very, very difficult situations. They deal with the worst offenders in the country. That is why they are there. One of the things that prison officers have said is that they have felt under siege, not only within the prison but actually from the political correctness they have had to put up with after 9 years of a Labour Government. It is amazing to hear prison staff, union staff, saying that they have a Minister who listens to them, who cares about their safety, and who is prepared to do something about it.

Hon Steve Chadwick: But doesn’t do pōwhiri.

Hon JUDITH COLLINS: I am amazed that the member wants to keep talking about pōwhiri. Actually, that member should spend less time at pōwhiri and more time getting in behind and seeing what happens. That sums up the entire 9 years of the Labour Government.

Labour was always looking at functions and protocols but never looking at what was needed. It never got in behind to find what conditions the staff were working in and what they had to put up with. In fact, I also found out the other day when I was at the prison that kiosks have been built for prisoners, for their rights. The prison staff showed me what happens to these kiosks when the prisoners get to them, attack them, and break them apart. They get glass—or Perspex—out of them. They get iron bars out of them. They get all those weapons, which the previous Government required the Department of Corrections to have in those jails—required it to have.

Apparently, prisoners cannot go along to the library and get a book or a manual to show them what their rights are. Instead, prison staff have been put at risk by 9 years of a Labour Government that did not do anything to address these issues. Instead, all the response it gave was to build more prisons, at $660,000 a bed—$660,000 a bed, and, actually, in most parts of the country that buys two houses—so it could put in underfloor heating and give prisoners everything they could possibly want. Then, of course, under a Labour Government, people were queuing up to get into those prisons—and they certainly did. In answer to that member who sat down before—thankfully—I say that the previous Government has no record to be proud of.

Hon David Carter: Name him and shame him!

Hon JUDITH COLLINS: I say to Mr Clayton Cosgrove that there is no record to be proud of. What there is, is a record of 9 years of shame in the law and order portfolio. All Labour could do was build more prisons. All it could do was waste money, and it did not look after the staff, it did not look after the prison officers, and it did not—

Hon David Parker: I raise a point of order, Mr Chairperson.

The CHAIRPERSON (Eric Roy): I think I know what it is going to be.

Hon David Parker: That foaming exposition of general Department of Corrections policy was in no way related to the Committee stage of this bill. The Minister could, of course, take a call at a later stage—

The CHAIRPERSON (Eric Roy): I am on my feet. Please sit down. I understand the member’s point. I just make the comment that members have got into the habit of slipping a few things into these points of order by inference, insinuation, and things like that. The member was partly responsible for that. I want us to tidy up on that. That is my first point. The second point is that I was going to give a general caution when the Minister finished, because I feel that both the speakers we have had at this point have not immersed themselves in the detail of Part 1. This is not a general debate and I ask members to address Part 1 and the material that is in it.

Hon David Parker: Mr Chairman, were you upholding my point of order?

The CHAIRPERSON (Eric Roy): Yes, I was.

Hon JUDITH COLLINS: Speaking to the point of order—

The CHAIRPERSON (Eric Roy): Does the member have another point of order? I have already ruled on that.

Hon JUDITH COLLINS: Well, Mr Chairman—

The CHAIRPERSON (Eric Roy): I have ruled on it, so you may finish your call.

Hon JUDITH COLLINS: Very generous, Mr Chairman.

The CHAIRPERSON (Eric Roy): Thank you. Is the member going to finish her call?

Hon JUDITH COLLINS: I am all right.

JACINDA ARDERN (Labour) : I acknowledge to members—obviously I am a new member here—that following that intervention from the Minister I despair for the justice sector, and particularly for corrections. That was a very un-ministerial intervention. I would have expected at this stage of the debate to be discussing the substantive issues within the bill. Instead we heard from that Minister a tirade of what I would call half-truths. There were claims that Spring Hill Corrections Facility was charging people to visit the prison. To clarify that I say yes, there was a charge; it was for a charitable event put on by Spring Hill Corrections Facility to raise money for the community, and those who went along to participate described it as a chilling experience.

In dwelling on that issue, I say that the Minister mentioned the escapes from prison under this Government. There were fewer escapes from prison under Labour; we pointed out our record of a reduction of 84 percent in escapes. The Minister claims that was because prison was such a pleasant experience. The new Minister came in and, overnight, prison became a chilling-to-the-core experience, it became a God-awful place, and suddenly prisoners were running for the hills. In fact, they are now escaping because the new Minister is in place—

Paul Quinn: I raise a point of order, Mr Chairperson. As I understood your earlier ruling, you ruled that the Minister was on the edge of speaking to Part 1. We are now, in fact, getting a—

The CHAIRPERSON (Eric Roy): I take the member’s point. In reality, even if one member strays that does not justify another one responding to things that may be irrelevant to the bill. There are ways in which members can make those illustrations, as long as they draw them back to some portion of the part of the bill that is under debate. That does not exclude analogy or comparison. I ask the member to continue.

Hon Clayton Cosgrove: I raise a point of order, Mr Chairperson. Without challenging your ruling, could I seek some clarification? Are you now saying that if a Minister makes, through the Chair, a number of claims that may be incorrect—to be as charitable as one can—there is an inability to rebut those claims within the debate, even though the Minister has brought them into the debate? I am sure my colleague was going to go on to the specific part and clauses of the bill, but she was first addressing things that the Minister had said, which were factually incorrect. I just seek your guidance.

The CHAIRPERSON (Eric Roy): In effect that is right, and I should have moved earlier. It has been a two-way thing, and we are just tightening up on that. It is probably my error that I did not lean on members a little earlier. This debate is specific to Part 1. Members can, as I say, make those comparisons. If there is inaccuracy, a response must be drawn back to the bill.

JACINDA ARDERN: Thank you for that clarification. I do not want to hold up the Committee’s discussion of this bill; obviously on this side of the Chamber we are in agreement with the bill going forward, given it was Mr Goff’s. I want to point out that we are, in fact, debating an amendment bill: an amendment to legislation that was drafted in 2004, again by the Labour Government, despite the claims, again by the Minister, that there were 9 years of inaction by Labour. That is, again, simply a half-truth and an outrage. I am very pleased that we are again able to debate, in this evening’s sector of discussion and debate, another one of Labour’s well-crafted bills.

There are two things that I want to dwell on. The reason for this bill was not to change dramatically what was contained in the original corrections amendment legislation; it was to tighten up, based on technological advancement, provisions that already existed in that legislation. Obviously the Government agrees with that tightening-up, as well. There have been technological advancements and we have, through practice, recognised from the implementation of the original legislation that we could improve certain provisions around contraband.

I want to dwell specifically on some of the outcomes of the Law and Order Committee’s discussion around Part 1 of the bill. The select committee came back to the House on clause 22(5), which stated: “knowingly has in his or her possession any unauthorised item while in prison.” I want to dwell on that. The word “knowingly” was used in that clause. The select committee came back and said that was perhaps too open for debate and was not clear enough for the courts, and, I think, very sensibly recommended that we replace “knowingly” with “without reasonable excuse,”. That shifts the onus from the court having to determine what knowledge was held by the individual or the accused and reduces the likelihood of innocent behaviour being captured. I think that is rightly so. Because the language in that provision has been tightened up, we have seen an increase in penalties attached to that particular provision as well, and that makes absolute sense.

I will not dwell on the other recommendations made by the select committee that roamed across Part 1 because, as members will see from the commentary on the bill, they are quite common-sense ones and merit the support of members of the Committee.

I would like to dwell, though, on one other aspect of Part 1: the discussion around contraband. We have already discussed the issue that we— again, I say “we” because the original bill was drafted by Mr Goff—have tightened up the search and seizure powers, the provisions regarding strip searches, and done a number of things that will enable us to tighten up on the occurrence of contraband. One of the biggest contributors to contraband, however, is the issue of the management of prison numbers and the ability of prison staff to deal with those numbers. I think the Minister has questions to answer on whether she believes the level of the current prison muster, which is set to increase under this Government’s flow of legislation, does anything to prevent offending. It does nothing to address the risks that we know contribute to offending, but rather looks at the other end of offending, around sentencing.

Hon SIMON POWER (Minister of Justice) : I listened with interest to what Jacinda Ardern had to say about various aspects of Part 1 of the Corrections Amendment Bill (No 2). In a former life I was on the Law and Order Committee, which considered this bill. I thought members might be interested in understanding a little more of the background to clause 6, which—interestingly enough—is the clause relating to religious and spiritual needs. This is, by and large, the “Catholic clause”—

Hon Clayton Cosgrove: Careful!

Hon SIMON POWER: I tell Mr Cosgrove that I am not criticising it; I am one of them. At the time we asked the then Minister of Corrections, Damien O’Connor, about it. Going by his surname, one would think he would have a bit of an interest in this clause. Clause 6 is particularly interesting because it amends section 79 of the Corrections Act by adding subsection (3): “Section 129(a)”—which presumably contains a restriction on alcohol in prisons—“does not apply to a prisoner who, during a religious service (whether inside or outside a prison), (a) consumes a small quantity of wine provided at the service by a prison chaplain or minister of religion for the purposes of the Eucharist, Holy Communion, Mass, or Communion, with the express authority of the prison manager or chief executive;”. There was quite a lot of debate in relation to the phrase “whether inside or outside a prison” about why any prisoner would be consuming wine outside a prison, and it was the subject of an interesting discussion.

I recall that the new subsection prompted quite a lengthy discussion at the select committee about other religious affiliations whose followers might want to participate in a particular ritual or ceremony that might or might not involve a small amount of alcohol. Then, from my memory, there was quite a lengthy discussion about whether these prisoners would be able to get hold of large quantities of these particular imbibements—if that is the right word. We had quite a long discussion about how much wine would be consumed while the ceremony was undertaken. More particularly, we discussed what it meant for religious orders that might have another—

Hon Clayton Cosgrove: Did you take a practical test?

Hon SIMON POWER: Well, it was an interesting discussion about whether we were, in effect, allowing prisoners with a religious affiliation that involved consumption of a small amount of wine—whether Catholic or Anglican; I am sorry, but I am not too good at getting past the Catholic rituals; I am not sure what the other rituals involve—to consume alcohol.

As I recall it, a further discussion about how much alcohol was involved became quite interesting and lengthy. We ended up talking—and I am getting to the point—about the reason for paragraph (b) of new subsection (3): “consumes a small quantity of wine or other alcohol provided at the service as part of the ritual of the religion in question, by the person conducting the service,”. The problem was that we had created an exception for people who were being held courtesy of Her Majesty in one of our prisons, but we also had to make an exception in statute in order for the visitors to the prison—the persons conducting the service—to be able to consume as part of the ceremony being undertaken. Once we had sorted out how the inmates could consume a small amount of wine as part of a religious service, we then had quite a lengthy discussion about how the people coming from outside the prison with the alcohol or wine were themselves able to consume it.

Then it got tricky: what if the person conducting the ceremony was an inmate? The question then became: where did that person get the alcohol from? Members can imagine that things moved all over the place in discussion of Part 1, although, as Jacinda Ardern pointed out, we had very straightforward discussions about the search of property, prisoners in cells, and staff lockers. At that time there was quite a concern that prison officials themselves may have been involved in the trafficking of contraband into prisons. There were lengthy discussions around issues relating to telecommunications, and the like. But I can tell the Committee that we spent a comparatively great deal of time on the issue of whether there should be alcohol in prisons, at all.

It took quite a lot of time to craft paragraphs (a) and (b) of new subsection (3). Members will notice that in the original bill there was only the one subsection, which went like this: “does not apply to a prisoner who, during a religious service (whether inside or outside a prison),”—I could never get my head around the “outside a prison” bit—“consumes wine provided at the service by a prison chaplain or minister of religion for the purposes of the Eucharist, Holy Communion, Mass, or Communion.” We had to get rid of that subsection—split it into paragraphs (a) and (b)—to make sure we caught both potential breaches.

There was then a much wider discussion about religious services that did not involve wine. It got trickier, because there was the question of whether inmates were legitimately participating in these ceremonies, or were using them to divorce themselves from the day-to-day running of prison routines—seeing the ceremonies as a way through the process of serving time in prison. I think I recall a discussion about the genuineness of participation in these particular areas. As the Hon Clayton Cosgrove will know, if there is participation, for example, in a Catholic service, certain things need to have occurred during the participant’s life: a first Holy Communion, and—I guess at a later stage—confirmation, although—

Hon Clayton Cosgrove: Baptism comes first.

Hon SIMON POWER: Oh, baptism does come first; Mr Cosgrove is quite right. So members can see that these sorts of bills often appear straightforward at first and as if they are the sort of legislation that could not possibly be opposed—and we do not oppose this; we think that the final realisation by Labour that it had to do something in this area was to be welcomed—but I again draw the Committee’s attention to this point: it is often the smallest clauses in the most effective bills that deserve the most attention.

DAVID GARRETT (ACT) : I will follow on from the Minister’s comments here, and say that this legislation points to how misguided the members of the Committee can be. This bill, the Corrections Amendment Bill (No 2), amends the Corrections Act, which is yet another example of misconceived legislation, in the same way the Sentencing Act is. In the ACT Party’s view, the ideal would be to scrub both of them and start again. They are both predicated on similar notions. In the case of the Sentencing Act it is that no one should be locked up unless he or she absolutely has to be, and in the case of the Corrections Act, which this bill amends, it is that the poor prisoners must have all their rights intact, aside from their right to liberty. I thought that right included the right to vote, but apparently a prisoner has to be fairly bad to lose that right.

I noted, too, on looking through the bill—I am a new member and had not seen it originally—this “Religious and spiritual needs” clause, clause 6. I was brought up a Catholic, and I am assuming—

Hon Clayton Cosgrove: Oh, lapsed?

DAVID GARRETT: —oh, well and truly lapsed, I tell Mr Cosgrove—that Mr Cosgrove was, too. But, from memory, I think that wine was only ever produced on extremely special occasions. They used to carry around some big frame thing, I think, but at most Communions, when I was dragged along as a child, we had the little piece of ice-cream cone and that was that. So the fact that there was any debate, at all, about introducing alcohol into prisons really demonstrates how utterly, utterly naive these members of the previous Government were. They assumed that the prisoners who had miraculous conversions to Christianity absolutely needed to have Communion. Those converted prisoners could not function without it; their spiritual soul would die. Their new-found religion would wither on the vine unless it was nurtured by the blood of Christ, in prison. Well, what utter nonsense! That assumes that they were not going to steal it; not misappropriate it in some other way, and not hoard or misuse it. It is utterly, utterly absurd.

But it all comes back to the assumption—in my view a totally ridiculous assumption—that prisoners should have the same rights as the rest of us. A person becomes a prisoner only if he or she has broken society’s norms. We talked about gang members in the last session. Gang members are outlaws—and I saw Mr Cosgrove listening with some interest, I think—who have proudly said: “We’re 1 percent, bro! We’re the ones who take no notice of the rest of you. You’re all just a pack of w٭٭٭٭٭٭.” Members can fill in the asterisks for themselves. But we bend over backwards to give gang members these rights. Why? It is totally absurd. These people are criminals.

I was in Arizona a couple of years ago, where there is no problem at all with saying that when people have committed offences and been convicted, they automatically that day lose the right to privacy. Their faces, their charges, and their sentences go up on the Internet. They do not have the right to wear what they like. They do not have the right to wear the sort of haircuts they like. They do not have the right to have salt. They do not have the right to smoke. They do not have the right to have sugar in coffee. And people see that as totally sensible. But here we are still debating whether prisoners should have Communion wine, and, if so, under what circumstances. Well, how silly—how utterly silly!

But having said all of that, I tell the Committee that obviously ACT will support the bill, because it is too big a task, frankly, at this point to rewrite the Parole Act and the Sentencing Act. We have to start somewhere, so I suppose we can pass small steps. What do people say? The longest journey starts with a small step. But I believe that clause 6, which amends section 79, really does say it all about the utter naivety of the previous Government.

SIMON BRIDGES (National—Tauranga) : It is good to speak to Part 1 of the Corrections Amendment Bill (No 2), and I must say I have been very interested in the content of the debate, at least in respect of clause 6, “Religious and spiritual needs”. I was very interested to hear what the Hon Simon Power had to say. It is obviously an interesting and important clause, which, as he says, attracted a lot of attention in the Law and Order Committee. For my part, as an Anglican, I want to say that the emphasis on Catholicism is not necessarily apt. Clause 6 is open to interpretation and could well cause the courts some problems. In subclause 3(a) the words “consumes a small quantity of wine” are open to interpretation. What to one person is a small quantity, to another may well be quite a lot. In the Anglican Church there are two ways to take Communion: one can dip a tablet in the wine or take hold of the cup. I suspect that taking hold of the cup could well fall foul of the law, whereas dipping the tablet in the wine would not. It will be interesting to see how the courts interpret that provision.

But, more broadly, Part 1 is the lion’s share of what is a very good bill. Its theme and contents are in Part 1. It is good that the Labour Government introduced this bill. It is a shame it did not ever get around to passing it, and doing something about the problems in the corrections system, which this bill will address.

David Garrett: It had only 4 years!

SIMON BRIDGES: That is right. It is a ridiculous situation where criminals find it as easy to get drugs and to do drugs inside prison as outside prison. Part 1 speaks to that, as well as to a number of other issues. It is a situation we have been faced with for 9 years under the Labour Government but which it did nothing about. Drugs get into prisons it seems, at alarmingly high rates. Part 1 also addresses the use of cellphones, which allows communications with the outside world, and, indeed, criminal conspiracies to occur from inside prison. It deals with drugs coming in and cellphone communications going out that, effectively, as has happened in the past, allow criminals to keep on going as they always have, whether they are inside or outside prison. There are many practical consequences from Part 1. It will clamp down on cellphone use, clamp down on drug use, and, interestingly, clamp down on mail going in and out of prison. It gives prison authorities the right to deal with mail in a much more discriminating fashion. That is for the good. I have certainly been involved in cases where mail coming in and out has caused problems. For example, mail has been sent out from prison to potential witnesses in trials telling them what to say at court, intimidating them, and causing them all manner of troubles. That is just the mail that is intercepted, and that is not good enough. Part 1 does something about that.

But it is not just the practical consequences of the bill that are worthy of comment. Fundamentally, it sticks in the throat of ordinary, decent Kiwis, of which there are many, many in my electorate of Tauranga, that drugs go into prisons, that prisoners can keep on doing drugs with impunity, that cellphones go into prisons, and that prisoners can keep on making calls to the outside world whilst in prison. Essentially, under Labour they could keep on doing in prison what they had always done on the outside. As I say, that is not just wrong, or something that has stuck in the throat of ordinary Kiwis; it is repugnant.

A party vote was called for on the question, That Part 1 be agreed to.

Ayes 112 New Zealand National 58; New Zealand Labour 43; ACT New Zealand 5; Māori Party 4; Progressive 1; United Future 1.
Noes 9 Green Party 9.
Part 1 agreed to.

Part 2 Amendments to other enactments

Hon SIMON POWER (Minister of Justice) : I will take just a quick call on Part 2, and, in particular, clause 32(2)(b), which relates to matters of interception of a private communication and proposes an amendment to the Crimes Act 1961 by further amendment of section 216B(4). I think it would be worth the Minister in the chair, the Hon Judith Collins, giving the Committee a bit of a guide on this issue of interception of communication, and, in particular, how crucial that form of surveillance will be. Members will note that my request is in direct reference to those matters as they relate to the Crimes Act. This is, from memory of what was said at the Law and Order Committee, a very complex matter that involves both Vodafone and Telecom having agreements of understanding—or something like that—with the Department of Corrections.

The other interesting thing, as I understand it, is that no one technology around a cell tower will work necessarily at all prisons. Different types of technologies have to be used in different types of prisons, depending on their configuration, and, obviously their location. For example, at the old Mount Eden Prison, my understanding from the select committee, was that should those towers close to Mount Eden be blocked for the purposes of cellphone use within that prison—of course it begs the question why inmates have cellphones in the first place—there may be a risk that that will affect the wider population. So different technologies are used. I know that the Minister in the chair has a particular interest in this matter because I heard her discuss it briefly in Part 1. But I think that in reference to the Crimes Act and the amendment to that enactment, it would be worth the Committee getting a bit of further information from the Minister.

Hon JUDITH COLLINS (Minister of Corrections) : I thank the member who has just resumed his seat, the Hon Simon Power, for that very helpful contribution to Part 2. He is quite right: there is very, very involved technology in terms of this area. The reason for that is the topography of the area, and what else is involved around Mount Eden Prison. It is in an extremely built-up area; the motorway is right beside the prison. There are all sorts of issues, but I can tell the Minister that the Department of Corrections has made very good progress in that regard, and we are getting far better cooperation from the other agencies that need to be involved in this issue than we had before the election. Certainly, since the election the department seems to have realised that this is an extraordinarily important issue.

As that member has referred to, this issue is very important going forward. I have certainly been appalled by the knowledge that in the Operation Web case there was so much use of cellphones in and from Pāremoremo maximum security prison, including all sorts of guises used in order to access it. Then we found out that it was our own department, under a Labour Government, that not only allowed this to happen but also entered into signed contracts between the Department of Corrections, Vodafone, and Telecom to have cellphone towers placed inside Pāremoremo maximum security prison. That was one of the stunning results of my asking questions about what was really holding up this issue.

Of course, the department is taking this extremely seriously now. Its staff are working very well with Telecom and Vodafone to address it. As the member quite rightly said, it is very difficult to address the issue of cellphones cited inside the prison, because blocking mechanisms have to be used to stop cellphone access from within the prison. At the same time, cellphone access needs to be allowed for the legitimate users around the area of Pāremoremo. From what the Department of Corrections has said in its reports to me, it looks like that is now progressing.

We had some issues with some of the providers, and one in particular that needed to have some discussions about just how serious this issue is. We cannot have our prisons, particularly our maximum security prisons, being used as a base for major drug-dealing as they were under the previous Government. It is extremely important that we give the Department of Corrections the power and ability to deal with this.

I heard all sorts of excuses about the fact that cellphones did not used to be as small as that back then, so nobody thought about the possibility. Frankly, that is just rubbish. Many of us had very small cellphones in the late 1990s, in 2000, and in 2004. SIM cards have been around for a very long time, too—particularly for those who use the Vodafone network. We understand that. There have been all sorts of excuses handed up, and none of them have been acceptable. At the end of the day, we did not see the previous Minister getting excited about this, and we did not see ministerial involvement until the change of Government. That is one of the jobs that Ministers have to do: they have to provide leadership, they have to say that standards are going to be expected, and they have to be held to account.

Certainly, it is incredibly important that this legislation goes through, and that is why we are very supportive of it. I am sorry to hear that the Greens are not supporting it. I do not know why they would not want to have this provision dealt with. I am pleased that Labour finally brought this legislation to Parliament before it was thrown out of Government, and we are very happy to help get it through the House.

A party vote was called for on the question, That Part 2 be agreed to.

Ayes 112 New Zealand National 58; New Zealand Labour 43; ACT New Zealand 5; Māori Party 4; Progressive 1; United Future 1.
Noes 9 Green Party 9.
Part 2 agreed to.

Clauses 1 to 3

NATHAN GUY (National—Ōtaki) : It is worthwhile making a contribution, particularly on clauses 1, 2, and 3, including the title. I can think of a whole lot of names for this bill: the “Corrections Amendment Bill (No. 2)”, or the “Labour Sitting on its Hands and Doing Nothing Bill”, and the list could go on. Fortunately, this is a Government that is keen to progress things and get on top of this legislation. It is important to realise the parameters of this bill. We have had some very good contributions from the Committee this evening, and I thought it worthwhile summarising this bill and what it captures. It captures a lot, and it has gone through a very robust select committee process. It will toughen up what happens at the moment in the Department of Corrections, and I believe that it is very important that we do more. The Minister, Judith Collins, made a very good contribution, talking about the cellphone towers and the current plans the Minister has lined up in that regard. They are simple little things like extending the powers for searches, which one would presume was common sense. This is making another important step progressing towards that.

In regard to toughening up on contraband—we all know that this stuff is smuggled through; it is thrown over the fence. Things have to improve in that regard. We have heard the Minister talk about prohibiting communication. These prisoners are very shrewd. They can get on the cellphone or the landline and have coded conversations. Some of them can run gangs from inside the prison fence. This bill goes quite a long way towards toughening up the law in that regard.

We had very good contributions from other members on this side of the Chamber this evening. Simon Power talked about the special contribution made through the select committee process. All in all, this bill is a step in the right direction, and I commend the Minister for bringing it forward to the Chamber this evening. This is a very, very busy Government. We are getting on, and we are trying to make our communities safer.

METIRIA TUREI (Green) : I will make a very brief contribution to this debate about the Green Party’s opposition to the Corrections Amendment Bill (No 2). My former colleague Nandor Tanczos spoke on the bill’s first reading and was involved when this bill was at the Law and Order Committee. He opposed this legislation at the first reading on behalf of the Greens, and none of the concerns that he raised in the earlier stages have been dealt with.

I note that the Minister of Corrections spent quite some time at the beginning of the Committee stage of this bill talking about how dangerous it was for staff in prisons, but this legislation actually attacks staff in prisons. The Minister herself has displayed contempt for staff in prisons in the past, and she did so again most recently today, with her failure to show any support for the head of the Department of Corrections.

It is a bit difficult to take the Minister’s concern for prison staff seriously when she is passing legislation that will increase the powers of search in non-prisoner accessible areas, thereby increasing the level of surveillance on staff at a time when staff are under siege—that is absolutely true—when the political environment for Department of Corrections staff is extremely difficult, and when the financial support for prison staff in terms of the resources they need to manage the culture inside prisons is very difficult for them to access. What do we do? We end up passing legislation in this Chamber that makes it even more difficult for staff to feel confident that they have the confidence of this Parliament and of the community to do the job that is so important—that is, to protect the community and keep the community safe. The Green Party will not support this legislation.

CHESTER BORROWS (National—Whanganui) : I rise to add a voice in support of the Corrections Amendment Bill (No 2), in its closing stage. A lot has been made by members on the other side of the Chamber about the reduction in the number of prison escapes during the tenure of the last Government, in comparison to the number of escapes that occurred before then. The point needs to be made that people liked being in jail when Labour was in charge. We need to make another point—if prisoners do vote, they tend to vote Labour. If they take the time to vote—and they do have the opportunity to vote—it is the natural assumption one can make from looking at the demographics of those who are in jail. If people know anything about the nature of law and order issues and who is committing offences—or at least who is getting caught, why they are getting caught, and who is getting banged up; I am prepared to accept that—they tend to come from the demographic in society who vote Labour. That is just the way it is. It is stating a fact, and members opposite should not take umbrage.

This bill complements recent security and surveillance improvements, such as the new fences that the Hon Clayton Cosgrove mentioned, cameras, motion detectors, which sounds a bit messy but I guess they are there, microwave sensors, and expanded drug-dog teams. The point is that over the time of the last Government, technology increased to such a degree that it was easier to import contraband into prisons.

There has been growth in the gang population in prisons and in their ability to continue to do business there, and technology has advanced such that cellphones have become smaller and smaller, so they can be hidden in the smallest of dark and inaccessible places. The National Party was accused of having done nothing about cellphone carriage in those dark and moist places when it was previously in Government, but the fact is that the last time National was in Government cellphones were the size of a brick. It was a hell of a lot more uncomfortable then to carry one of those around, hidden on one’s person.

Over the last 9 years National has consistently highlighted the unacceptable levels of contraband within prisons. It was interesting to note, for instance, that Rachealle Nāmana, the killer of 23-month old Lillybing, who was released from prison, claimed that while she was in prison she had access to a range of drugs, including P, and she downloaded pornography on to a cellphone. In 2006 a prostitute was found on site, in the prison. An inmate had placed an order by cellphone for a prostitute to come to the prison. Again in 2006 an inmate of Christchurch Men’s Prison was sending obscene text messages to women. Of course we know that inmates have been able to intimidate witnesses and staff members, and have been able to use contraband to further their exploits while they are in prison.

It is timely that this legislation is coming through. It is an indictment on the previous Labour Government that it was unable to move forward its own legislation. It was so besotted with trying to move legislation such as the Electoral Finance Act, and the emissions trading scheme, through the House that this slipped right past. I am very pleased to be part of a Government that is moving forward with these very necessary legislative devices to be able to control behaviour in prisons. To pick up on the point made by the previous speaker from the Green Party, I say that we are very much concerned about the safety of prisoners. None of us would like to be in jail, and none of us would like our family members to be there, but the fact is that prisoners are at risk when they are in jail and they need to be kept safe. That is the nature of holding people in custody.

But we also need to be very concerned about the ability to intimidate and to assault people who are employed within the corrections system. We know that people have been intimidated. Staff members have been contacted at home, and the heavy has been put on them to carry contraband into prisons. We notice too, with the proclivity of gang involvement in prisons and around prison areas, that they have access almost whenever they want it to get contraband in and out of jails, one way or another, using mules to carry it. It is interesting to note, too, the ability of gangs to intimidate people who live in State houses, as reported on the front page of the Dominion Post last week. Of course, this occurred at Pōmare, which is not very far at all from Rimutaka Prison. Those gang members who have taken over a whole neighbourhood are very much in danger of taking over whole prisons. This legislation is a timely antidote for the suppurating mess that our prisons have become under the previous Government.

A party vote was called for on the question, That clause 1 be agreed to.

Ayes 112 New Zealand National 58; New Zealand Labour 43; ACT New Zealand 5; Māori Party 4; Progressive 1; United Future 1.
Noes 9 Green Party 9.
Clause 1 agreed to.

A party vote was called for on the question, That clause 2 be agreed to.

Ayes 112 New Zealand National 58; New Zealand Labour 43; ACT New Zealand 5; Māori Party 4; Progressive 1; United Future 1.
Noes 9 Green Party 9.
Clause 2 agreed to.

A party vote was called for on the question, That clause 3 be agreed to.

Ayes 112 New Zealand National 58; New Zealand Labour 43; ACT New Zealand 5; Māori Party 4; Progressive 1; United Future 1.
Noes 9 Green Party 9.
Clause 3 agreed to.
  • Bill reported without amendment.
  • Report adopted.