New Zealand: Farms Not Jails: Ngawha Press Release

legacyofcolonialism msbrown at
Fri Jun 7 16:06:07 BST 2002

From: indigenous sista <indigenous_sista at> 
Date: Thu Jun 6, 2002 0:57pm 
Subject: Farms Not Jails: Ngawha Press Release  

For Immediate 
June 5, 2002

Kaikohe Residents Joined by Supporters from Around the
Country to Protest New Prison Siting at Ngawha


Yesterday June 4, 2002 at Ngawha near Kaikohe
concerned citizens from Wellington, Rotorua, Hamilton,
and Auckland joined local residents of Kaikohe and
other parts of Northland to protest the construction
of a new prison at Ngawha. The decision to reoccupy
the site was instigated by traditional landowners
after exhausting their resources in a number of legal
strategies, which has left the Wihongi family and Gin
Spa Hotel with over $50,000 in lawyer and court fees.
In what was a ridiculous debacle, police moved on to
the site at 7am and arrested 37 people who were
peacefully protesting the prison siting at Ngawha. 
Some 20 members of Te Taumata Kaumatua O Ngapuhi nui
tonu (council of Ngapuhi elders) were on the site.
Surprised at not being given the opportunity to
mediate rising tensions between the police and
protestors, many of the elders became distressed and
refused to leave the site until they were eventually
handcuffed and shuffled to jail. Despite the presence
of Ngapuhi elders and young, Corrections Minister Matt
Robson invoked the Trespass Act on behalf of the

Court staff and duty solicitors failed to control
confused and outraged supporters at the District
Court, and local lawyers also failed to appear on
behalf of the protestors.  Rotorua-based lawyer
Annette Sykes agreed to represent their case pro-bono.
Arrested elders were later remanded-at-large by the
District Court Judge.  In an act of unconscionable
violence that mirrors the policing strategies of the
Spring Bok Tour, the remaining protestors, most of
whom were women were locked in their cell with a
police dog. They were eventually granted bail on the
condition that they not return to the building site or
block the entrance to the prison. 

The idea of building a 350-bed prison at Ngawha was
extremely controversial after feasibility studies
carried out by the Department of Corrections had
indicated concerns about its suitability.  A full
environmental impact statement has yet to be carried
out on the site that is famous for it's geological
activity.  Questions were raised regarding potential
threats that the area's hydrogen sulphide levels might
present for prison occupants.  High concentrations of
hydrogen sulphide are as lethal as cyanide.  It is
deleterious to electrical components, and its solution
in rainwater and oxidization can lead to a mild acidic
solution that causes accelerated corrosion in some
metals.  (See Nandor Tanzcos, "General Debate Speech
in Parliament, 17 May 2000.)
This particular concern was raised in parliament as
early as 2000 after the decision was made by Matt
Robson to give prison construction the go ahead
despite findings of a Department of Corrections survey
that had ranked Ngawha 34th on it's list of most
preferred sites.  A small group of trustees of Ngati
Rangi Ahuwhenua had previously offered the portion of
Ngati Rangi land in the Ngawha lease without
consultation with their beneficiaries. A meeting was
held later in March 2002 where beneficiaries voted
overwhelmingly against the use of their land for a

Soon after, the Corrections Department applied
pressure to a young couple, the Timberley's, who held
the land title for the property next door.  After
months of intimidation and threats to take their title
under the Public Works Act, the Corrections Department
succeeded in acquiring the property where construction
has now commenced.  In the meantime, local opposition
to the siting of the prison at Ngawha saw the creation
of a local petition that generated over 1600
signatures in one week.  

While there has been an organized campaign to stop the
construction of the new prison, the voices of the
people have failed to be heard through legal channels
such as the environment court or parliament.  This act
of desperation by local citizens to stop the
desecration of their historical wahi tapu (sacred
place) saw many who had never been arrested before
handcuffed and dragged away to cells. Among them were
Maori wardens who were deeply shocked by the ignorance
of police officials who failed to recognize that they
were on-site to perform their usual role as keepers of
peace and order.

Minister Matt Robson's response to the protests was
that "work must go on.E This flippant attitude toward
the over 70-year-old elders was also shared by
Northland MP John Carter. Carter accused the
representatives of the Ngapuhi Council of elders as
"not having any standing.E On national radio he
shared his irrational view, "I don't give a toss who
they are,Ehe said, "regardless of who they are, they
must go.E Activist Titiwhai Harawira responded by
clarifying to Mr. Carter that "the Ngapuhi elders were
not on site as protesters, but land owners.E       

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 features
such as fossilized kauri leaves, old mercury mines and
native ecologies.  Local citizens say the prison will
destroy the region's history and economy and will
provide an environmental disaster.  While the prison
may provide a temporary boost to local contractors and
businesses during the construction phases, the group
says these economic benefits won't last.  

Across the country, farmland, wildlife, rural people
and Maori hopes for economic prosperity are being
bulldozed to build new prisons.  "We need to
re-organise our priorities as a nation,Esaid one
supporter.  "Building prisons to incarcerate more and
more people is simply short-sighted.  In our
community, the real need is for schools, education and
other services.  People are coming together today to
say that we want good jobs and sustainable economic
development, not jails and prisons that focus on
punishment as opposed to meaningful rehabilitation.E


Ø	The experience of other rural communities with
prisons shows that over time land values decrease,
locally-owned businesses fail, and more attractive
industries do not want to locate in prison towns. 
(See "Thomas Michael Power, Lost Landscapes and Failed
Economies, Washington, DC: Island Press, 1996 p 24)

Ø	The infrastructure of Kaikohe will be stretched to
breaking point.  Because of the natural presence of
mercury in the areas groundwater, the water is
undrinkable.  Water will instead be pulled from
Kaikohe, which is already struggling to sustain
current water supply needs.  Similarly, the local
sewerage system is under strain and has been leaking
into ground water systems.  (See Nandor Tanzcos,
"General Debate Speech in Parliament, 17 May 2000.)

Ø	The cost of the prison is estimated to be $101
million.  Treasury has refused to give this much to
the Corrections Department.  It will provide $82
million and suggests that Corrections ask for the rest
from the Regional Development Fund.  The government's
Regional Developme

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