Statement by the Ministry of Social Development Chief Executive, Brendan Boyle, on the WorkSafe District Court sentencing

06 December 2016.

The Ministry of Social Development (MSD) acknowledges the sentencing today relating to the charge brought against the Ministry by WorkSafe New Zealand.

I’d like to be clear that this charge is in no way linked to the actions of Russell Tully. The Judge’s decision, released in September, found that the actions of a lone, mission orientated gunman were not reasonably predictable and that she was not persuaded that a physical barrier would have prevented or minimised the terrible harm caused by Mr Tully. However the Judge did make some recommendations relating to the broader physical and operating environment for our Work and Income offices, which we are implementing.

We will never forget the victims of this shocking crime, our colleagues Peg Noble and Leigh Cleveland and their families. We continue to support the staff in Ashburton who survived, and their families. Their lives have been changed forever by the events of that day. I want to thank them for their courage and fortitude throughout the legal proceedings that have been a significant part of their lives for the last two years.

As I said at the time the charge came before the District Court, our guilty plea was a considered step, as I saw no merit in putting our staff through the pain and anguish of yet another court case relating to the tragic events in Ashburton on 1 September 2014.

However, I did feel duty bound on behalf of the public sector, and other organisations that have extensive public facing operations, to challenge a particular aspect of the WorkSafe charge. This related to the interpretation of what a safe office layout should be.

It is essential that we keep our staff safe at work, but we also need to make sure that our offices are welcoming places where our staff can work with the people who need our help and support in a positive and constructive environment.

We have always accepted that there were aspects of our security approach that needed enhancing. This work was happening before the events in Ashburton and it was accelerated following the Ashburton shootings. An independent review of our progress in enhancing our security settings, conducted by EY earlier this year, confirms all the recommendations of the independent security review conducted immediately following the Ashburton shootings have been implemented, or are well underway to meet our two year timeframe.

As we move forward and put the legal aspects of the tragedy behind us, we will continue to make sure we do everything we can to keep our staff and our clients safe.

As you will appreciate, the events of 1 September 2014 were very traumatic for my staff. Constant reminders of that day through media coverage of the murder trial and sentencing, and the WorkSafe charge, have been difficult. I want to publically acknowledge and thank my staff for their incredible resilience throughout this time, as they have gone about the important work they do for all New Zealanders.

I would like to thank MSD’s Crown Counsel for the work they have put into representing the Ministry in these legal proceedings. The implications of aspects of the WorkSafe charge and the Judge’s subsequent ruling have far reaching consequences for how Government departments and the private sector conduct their public facing business. I am sure the repercussions of that ruling will be felt for years to come.

MSD is working together with other government agencies to understand the implications across Government and work through how the Public Service will respond.

Editor’s note:

When a crown agency takes legal action against another crown agency, any fine awarded by the Courts is a notional one, to provide a sense of transparency and consistency with other offenders. However, no actual sentence or fine is imposed, and no money is paid.

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