The Beehive building

Ministry disputes WorkSafe finding in Court

04 July 2016.

The Ministry of Social Development (MSD) is disputing aspects of a WorkSafe prosecution relating to the murder of two of its Ashburton staff after pleading guilty to a charge under section 50 of the Health and Safety in Employment Act.

MSD Chief Executive Brendan Boyle explained the guilty plea as a pragmatic step. “Proceeding with defending the charge as a whole would be a pointless exercise given the courts had already determined that Russell Tully was solely responsible for the murders.

"If I thought there were more insights to be gained by going to a full trial, I would do so unhesitatingly. Former Police Commissioner Rob Robinson and Deloitte Managing Partner Murray Jack, backed by a senior advisory team that included representatives from Australia’s Centrelink and the ANZ bank, found nothing could have stopped a motivated murderer like Mr Tully.

"MSD is disputing the aspect of WorkSafe’s prosecution relating to its interpretation of what a safe office layout should be. I do not accept that organisations working with the public need to do that from behind barriers.

"For MSD, and for the public service as a whole, interacting with clients in an atmosphere of relative openness is a key to successfully working with them. WorkSafe believe a more rigid and less welcoming approach is required even though the Ashburton attack was at the most extreme end of risk for any agency that deals with people – public or private.

"There are potential far reaching consequences for all entities that deal with the public, if WorkSafe's perspective on this matter is allowed to stand," Mr Boyle said.

"We have absorbed the painful lessons of Ashburton. There is no point drawing out the legal proceedings, and spending time, money and the trauma of putting our staff through another draining and emotional court process.

"That is why we have pled guilty. Not because it somehow implies an ability to have stopped Mr Tully, but because it will help bring closure for us," Mr Boyle said.

"WorkSafe has indicated that there are some practicable steps MSD needed to take to ensure a safe working environment for all staff. Our plea recognises that to some degree.

"We had been steadily implementing many of these steps before the Ashburton tragedy, and we increased the pace of implementation following it. These steps had no causal link to Mr Tully's crimes. The security of all MSD staff is a top priority for the organisation," said Mr Boyle.

"We would never knowingly put our staff at risk. Ashburton was extraordinary in that Mr Tully was motivated to kill. Nothing can stop someone intent on mayhem.

"What Ashburton did do was to accelerate a programme of security improvements we had been implementing since 2011, and the tragedy certainly provided additional learnings for us. This year’s Budget has provided more money to further enhance security across our network of sites."

Mr Boyle said he hoped today’s plea will bring everyone at MSD a step closer to putting the horror of 1 September 2014 behind them.

"All the investigation and analysis that has been done since Ashburton has added to our knowledge about security and to the enhancements that we have made, and continue to make, while confirming that someone motivated by evil intent is very difficult to stop.

"I am confident that we have taken the necessary steps to ensure as best we can Ashburton is never repeated. People working in and visiting our offices can feel confident that we are committed to keeping them as safe as we can recognising the work we do is among the most difficult but necessary in the public service.

"While today's action brings to an end the most disturbing chapter in MSD history, it does not stop our commitment to ensuring the safety of our staff and clients. It also does not mean we will forget Peg Noble and Leigh Cleveland, or the other staff who continue to be deeply affected by the events of that day," Mr Boyle said.

Media contact: MSD media team 04 916 3496

The Beehive building
Print this page.