English: Cabinet backs Lotu-Iiga
By Sarah Robson
Senior cabinet ministers are backing under-fire Corrections Minister Sam Lotu-Iiga as he continues to face pressure over allegations of violent behaviour inside Auckland's privately run Mt Eden prison.
Deputy prime minister Bill English was the first to offer his support to Mr Lotu-Iiga in a speech at the National Party's annual conference in Auckland today.
Mr English acknowledged Mr Lotu-Iiga has had a tough week.
"We all get our turn in the media and this last week it's Sam and he has the total support of the cabinet and the caucus," he told party members.
"He's dealing with the challenges of managing New Zealand's most dangerous people in New Zealand's toughest place, Mt Eden prison, and we will support him through that."
Mr Lotu-Iiga has been facing criticism over the handling of Serco-operated Mt Eden prison after "fight club" videos and a string of allegations about violent incidents, including a death at the jail.
Mr English told reporters he thinks Mr Lotu-Iiga has handled a "difficult situation" well.
"Managing prisons is very challenging and here there's been a tragic result.
"You've got someone who's died and you've got all the politics around it and the challenge of managing prisons - it's about as difficult an issue as you can get."
Former corrections minister Anne Tolley, who now has the social development portfolio, also made a show of support.
"Isn't Sam doing a fantastic job this week?" she commented during a panel discussion.
Meanwhile, Mr English said it was important to get to the bottom of the allegations that have been raised.
But he said the scrutiny Serco will face over its performance will be "a lot closer" than that given to the public prison service.
"They have to run prisons better than the public sector because that's what their contract says and if they don't there's penalties for it," Mr English said.