31 May 2018

Twyford rules out apology over meth tests

7:46 pm on 31 May 2018

The Housing Minister has been labelled a hypocrite for failing to apologise or compensate hundreds of tenants who were kicked out of their state houses after flawed meth testing guidelines were used.

Phil Twyford

Housing Minister Phil Twyford said there would be no apology or compensation from the government after hundreds of tenants who were kicked out of their state houses because of flawed meth testing guidelines. Photo: RNZ / Richard Tindiller

Phil Twyford has ruled out any compensation or an apology to the victims despite having relentlessly championed their cause when he was in opposition.

When Mr Twyford became housing minister last year he immediately asked the country's top scientist to review the country's meth contamination standards.

Sir Peter Gluckman's report was released this week - and revealed the country has been gripped by a moral panic - and meth residue posed no risk to health at all.

Mr Twyford said hundreds of tenants were needlessly evicted by Housing New Zealand and it wasted more than $100 million on unnecessary decontamination.

His colleague, Justice Minister Andrew Little, last night said an apology was warranted.

"If Housing New Zealand or any landlord has kicked out a tenant on the basis of testing that we now know to be bogus ... and has totally uprooted an innocent person's life then at the very least they are owed an apology," Mr Little said.

Mr Twyford would not be interviewed today, but in a statement said there would be no apology or compensation from the government.

Two years ago in opposition, he was livid that the housing agency was deliberately misusing meth tests to evict its tenants.

"This whole fiasco shows a staggering level of incompetence by Housing New Zealand... It seems that they have strong-armed some of those tenants into paying tens of thousands of dollars of clean-up fees again on the basis of dodgy testing," Mr Twyford had said.

"It's got all the hallmarks of Housing New Zealand being caught up in some kind of moral panic and doing massive social and financial damage."

A few months into his new gig as Housing Minister, it appeared Phil Twyford was going to carry on in the same way.

On Checkpoint in December he personally apologised to one tenant and promised change was to come.

"It was so bad and it was so wrong what happened that Robert deserved an apology," Mr Twyford said at the time.

"The moral panic around methamphetamine contamination of houses has been drummed up and exploited by a meth testing industry that saw an opportunity to make a dollar."

But now with no blanket apology and no compensation, Auckland Action Against Poverty spokesperson Alastair Russell said that was hypocritical.

"To have moral integrity you need to have a consistent apporach when you're in government or when you're out of government," Mr Russell said.

"If your approach changes depending on your status as either opposition or government then that's an appalling situation."

Mr Russell said he did not understand why the government would compensate farmers for a biosecurity breach that saw Mycoplasma bovis enter the country, but won't compensate those who were harmed by Housing New Zealand.

"If that's okay for the farmers it should be okay for low-paid workers and beneficiaries to be compensated for the failings of Housing New Zealand - I don't see a difference."

Housing New Zealand's chief executive Andrew McKenzie refused to be interviewed again today.

He has never given RNZ an interview on his agency's meth testing policy and his communications manager said he never will.

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