NZ Government statements
6. TARIANA TURIA (Co-Leader—Māori Party) to the Attorney-General: Will the Government commit to establishing a settlement process to respond to claims being made by former patients of Porirua and other psychiatric hospitals, along the lines of the inquiry headed by Sir Rodney Gallen into abuses at Lake Alice Hospital; if not, why not?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Attorney-General): No; the Government’s view remains that the claims are materially different in important respects.
Tariana Turia: Does the Government accept that the claims now being made by former patients of Porirua and other psychiatric hospitals are essentially similar to the claims made by the former patients of Lake Alice Hospital for which the Government has paid compensation; if not, why not?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: No, the Government does not accept that. There are a number of differences: the Lake Alice Hospital claims allegations related to a confined period; the claimants were all treated by the same doctor; contemporaneous medical records enabled the circumstances to be well established and verified; and also, of course, an approach was made in that case for discussion in terms of allowing people’s stories to be heard. There are, therefore, some significant differences. Obviously, we shall await what happens through the court legal process.
Dr Jonathan Coleman: Who took the decision to withhold $35,000 from the compensation awarded to Mr Paul Zentveld by Sir Rodney Gallen, and did that person or persons also order similar amounts to be withheld from the 87 other second-round claimants in the Lake Alice Hospital case?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I cannot be certain of this, but my recollection is that that was a collective decision in the end, and was not the decision of an individual Minister.
Tariana Turia: Why has the Government decided to force the victims of mistreatment, who have already been severely traumatised, to go through the torment of court procedures in order to seek justice; and would the taxpayer-funded costs be better used to reach settlement with the claimants?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I accept these cases are always extremely difficult. I do not deny the issues around the way people feel about their experiences. But one of the more difficult issues that always comes into play in these kinds of considerations is what was generally accepted at the time these things occurred, not what is the general acceptance at the present time as to what should have occurred. If we do not actually ask the former question, the Government could be liable for an extraordinary wide range of compensation across an extraordinary wide range of issues.
Tariana Turia: Does the Government accept that the claims now being made by former patients at Porirua and other psychiatric hospitals are evidence of a widespread culture of violence and abuse towards psychiatric patients that existed between the 1950s and the 1980s; if not, why not?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: There have been many changes in culture. We regarded it as normal in the 1950s and 1960s to lock up large numbers of people in mental hospitals, perhaps for the remainder of their lives—sometimes, merely because they had an intellectual disability, not any form of mental illness. These days we do not accept such forms of treatment or behaviour as being within the norms of a modern society. That does not mean to say the Government should be paying compensation to everybody who was kept in a mental hospital in the 1950s and 1960s. We have to be very careful here about how practices and attitudes have changed over time.