Under fire Sam Lotu-Iiga demands answers after reports of fights, drug use and violence.
Under-fire Corrections Minister Sam Lotu-Iiga has hauled in prison operator Serco for an urgent meeting today to explain a series of embarrassing and violent incidents which have led to calls for his resignation.
Mr Lotu-Iiga called the meeting with the company's Australasian executives last night after becoming increasingly concerned about the number of stories emerging from the Serco-managed Mt Eden Correctional Facility.
These included reports of fight clubs, widespread drug use, under-staffing and extreme violence.
"I will be making it very clear that if there is anything else they need to tell me, now is the time or they will be facing consequences," the minister said.
Earlier, Mr Lotu-Iiga faced calls to resign after the Labour Party presented evidence that he was warned in a select committee meeting on June 24 about prisoners being dropped from a balcony at the Mt Eden prison.
That contradicted Mr Lotu-Iiga's earlier claim that he learned about rumours of "dropping" prisoners only this week.
Last night, the minister insisted that he had not been made aware of the full extent of Mt Eden's problems at the committee meeting.
"The transcript of the select committee shows that Mr Davis raised an accusation only of prisoners being thrown off balconies," he said.
"If Kelvin Davis was alluding to a practice known as 'dropping' he did not make it clear that it was widespread, that it was a practice that was ongoing, nor did he refer to it as 'dropping'."
Prime Minister John Key said yesterday he had total confidence in his minister. But he also indicated that he would be concerned if the minister was told about violence at the Serco prison and had failed to act.
Mr Key defended National's prison privatisation policy, saying that violence was not limited to private jails.
MPs questioned whether Serco was hiding or downplaying violent incidents to make sure it hit its performance targets, which came with financial incentives.
Mr Lotu-Iiga admitted yesterday he was informed only this week about an incident in May in which 10 prisoners barricaded themselves inside Mt Eden prison. He insisted this incident was not a riot, despite the presence of an Advanced Response Team.
Mr Davis used parliamentary privilege on Tuesday to allege that an inmate in Mt Eden had been the victim of a "dropping" incident and had later died. The Herald revealed the inmate was Nick Evans, 25, who died in Whangarei Hospital last month.
Serco now "under notice"
Questioned on TV3's Paul Henry this morning Mr Lotu-Iiga continued to insist he had only heard about the 'dropping' allegations this week.
"I heard about them this week, nothing was mentioned in the select committee about dropping," he said.
However, it became clear he was referring to the term 'dropping', as he confirmed Mr Davis "did mention allegations about people being thrown over balconies".
"No, he brought up this term called 'dropping' this week," Mr Lotu-Iiga said to accusations he had heard about the allegations a month ago.
"The allegations he brought forward, I asked Mr Davis if it was such a concern why hasn't he brought any evidence since he brought it up at select committee. That's because he has none."
He accused Mr Davis of "playing politics".
It also emerged in the interview that Mr Lotu-Iiga's meeting with Serco at 11am today, which had been portrayed as an urgent meeting called by the Corrections Minister, was in fact "our regular meeting".
However, he said he would be "asking them to answer the questions around some of those allegations, and to fully cooperate with the review, and I'm also asking them to fully communicate with me if there are any issues that arise in their prisons".
"All I'm asking them is to come clean with me, the Department of Corrections, but especially to the people of New Zealand."
He confirmed that he had "not been communicated certain information before it's hit the media".
He would not go as far as to say Serco had deliberately hidden such incidents from him, "but they haven't elevated it", he said.
Serco was now "under notice", Mr Lotu-Iiga said.
"There will be serious consequences if some of these allegations prove to be true."
He was unable to say whether Corrections would cut its contract with the prison operator if the allegations were proven.
"We don't know, there are a number of clauses in the contracts, fines, penalties, but it's too early at this stage to make that conclusion, he said."Let's see the review then form our conclusions from there."
- With additional reporting from NZME News Service