Contradictions and confusion: More questions than answers at government press conference

In a convoluted media conference, the Prime Minister and Corrections Minister repeatedly provided incorrect information about their planned prison spend-up.

The announcement promised a $1.9 billion investment in Corrections over the next four years.

The near 40-minute media conference raised almost more questions than answers – with Christopher Luxon and Mark Mitchell at times contradicting each other.

Both claimed some of the money would go towards an 810-bed extension to Waikeria prison – but then said that figure included 600 beds already funded and previously announced by Labour.

During the press conference Mitchell could not say how much the 810 beds would cost, other than to say it costs $120,000 per year to house and feed a prisoner.

From very early on they were asked if the 810 beds were in addition to the 600 already being built at Waikeria, to which Luxon nodded.

Mitchell then jumped in and said: “No no, so that’s in addition. At Waikeria we’ll have 600 beds that will come online at the middle of next year and then there will be an additional 220 beds that will come on with the new wing.”

He then corrected the 220 to 210 beds.

“This is budgeted inside the $1.9b,” he said.

When it was put to them there were only 200 new beds being built, not 800 as they had suggested in their press release, both Luxon and Mitchell said that was not the case.

But that was where the clarity ended with Mitchell then saying there will be 810 beds in total at Waikeria. That immediately put in doubt their earlier remarks that the 810 beds were in addition to 600 already budgeted by Labour and under construction.

Adding more confusion to the situation, Mitchell said: “Waikeria hasn’t been delivered, Waikeria will be delivered in the middle of next year.”

Waikeria does already exist as a prison and currently has capacity for 455 prisoners. The new 600 beds coming online next year are a separate facility at the Waikeria site.

Waikeria prison

Under questioning from RNZ, Mitchell confirmed of the 810 new beds, 100 of them were already budgeted for by the last government for mental health and addiction services, and another 500 were general prison beds.

He told RNZ, “we will be delivering 610 in May”. When RNZ asked if there were an additional 200 to come, Mitchell responded yes.

Luxon continued to reiterate it was an “810 bed extension” but did not provide detail about whether that was on top of the 600 the last government budgeted, or explain his answer being at odds with his minister’s answers.

Shortly after the conference ended, a correction was sent out – saying the new beds would actually come on top of those 600 already under construction.

Asked how much the extra 200 beds would cost, the corrections minister said it was “commercially sensitive” so they could not answer that, and while he did not want there to be any double-bunking as part of the new prison, he said he could not rule it out.

There were also conflicting comments about what the money was being allocated to.

Luxon told reporters the $1.9b injection over four years was made up of $442m in savings and $1.5b in new money.

He went on to say that the new funding was all “operating allowance” – that is, new money for new policy initiatives or cost increases – and not capital funding.

Mitchell then clarified the $1.9b did include capital funding.

Opposition leader Chris Hipkins said it was a “horrific performance” and there were many more questions than answers.

According to the news on Radio New Zealand

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