2 Sep 2014

Armed guards step too far - Bennett

5:53 pm on 2 September 2014

Placing armed guards at Work and Income offices is a step too far but staff will be asked what measures they want implemented, Social Development Minister Paula Bennett says.

Watch Paula Bennett address the media in Ashburton this morning

Her comments follow yesterday's shooting of three staff at Ashburton's Work and Income office, two fatally. The names of the three have not yet been released.

Russell John Tully, 48, appeared in the Christchurch District Court this morning charged with two counts of murder and one of attempted murder.

He was remanded in custody to reappear on September 23.

Social Development Ministry chief executive Brendan Boyle told Morning Report a security guard was at the Ashburton office but was unable to prevent the shooting.

However, neither he nor Ms Bennett saw armed guards as an option.

"The idea of a having our guards armed we would think is taking it a step too far but we will be looking at reviewing our security arrangements, and that could be part of what we look at," Mr Boyle said.

Ms Bennett met the "extremely traumatised" staff from the Ashburton office yesterday and would do so again today. Part of her discussions would be asking what they wanted implemented but she did not see armed guards as an option.

"I think that's a step too far," she said.

Minister for Social Development Paula Bennett addresses the media in Ashburton.

Minister for Social Development Paula Bennett addresses the media in Ashburton. Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

About 200 people a year were trespassed from Work and Income offices, with about 80 to 100 verbal assaults and 11 assaults in the past six months.

Work and Income staff saw 1.7 million New Zealanders a year and in the past three years there had been 77 violent incidents, she said.

"Those 77 we'd rather not have but we're going to take careful steps to ensure staff safety but we also have to listen to them about what they want, and be sensible."

Public Service Association National Secretary Richard Wagstaff said more extreme security measures should be considered to protect staff from violence.

"Perhaps, in consultation with the police, we should think about how can keep people well away and make sure that those people don't pose a risk that this person clearly did."

Greater security at Work and Income offices should also be considered, Mr Wagstaff said.

Police this morning at the scene of the fatal Ashburton shooting.

Police this morning at the scene of the fatal Ashburton shooting. Photo: RNZ

Ashburton Mayor Angus McKay told Morning Report he believed it was an isolated incident and any security changes should not be excessive.

"Best to have a discussion without being in a cage ... it's just how people talk, they react differently if there's really, really, really tight security," he said.

"Yes, there may be some way that security can be improved but just how far do we want to go in New Zealand."

Stories of bravery

Shooting accused Mr Tully had emailed MPs about the difficulties he was having finding somewhere to live. However, Ms Bennett was satisfied he had been offered enough help.

"He was getting everything he was entitled to," she told Morning Report.

"He was offered accommodation more than once ... He was fixated on a particular house that he was never going to get, quite frankly, because it was a big house for a family and not for a single male.

"He was offered other assistance that he chose not to take.

"I really think that the staff went out of their way to help him."

Armed police walk into Ashburton Police Station.

Armed police walk into Ashburton Police Station. Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson


Ms Bennett described the actions of those staff in the aftermath of the shooting as "incredible".

"One went back and helped the injured when she didn't know whether she was safe or not. She didn't know where he was and yet she still went back and helped a colleague," she said.

"Then there are stories of clients, or beneficiaries, who had just left and heard the shots and came back to check on case managers. One of the case managers ... she got across the road and the first person she saw was one of the clients she'd just been with who came up and just hugged and hugged her."

Ms Bennett said she simply could not explain how traumatised the staff were.

Meanwhile, a 38-year-old man will appear in Hastings District Court today over an incident at the Hastings Work and Income office yesterday.

Police said they were called to the office about 3.20pm after reports of a man armed with a knife threatening an employee. The man was arrested within 10 minutes.

Sunrise over Ashburton.

Sunrise over Ashburton. Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson