Crimes (Administration of Sentences) Amendment Bill 2016

Dr HUGH McDERMOTT ( Prospect ) ( 11:01 ): I speak in debate on the Crimes (Administration of Sentences) Amendment Bill 2016. As we are all aware, prisons are filled with convicted criminals. Sadly sometimes these criminals continue to commit crimes from within the prison, often on fellow prisoners but also on prison guards and staff. The victims within prisons deserve access to efficient and transparent justice. Very rarely are members of this House given the opportunity to see legislation introduced by the Minister for Corrections. Nonetheless, it is pleasing to see some promising legislation in this portfolio. Supporting magistrates and prison officers is something that I agree with, and I am sure the same can be said for all members of this House.

Under new section 227, the bill will streamline the functions of magistrates in correctional facilities. All of the functions of a visiting magistrate will be conferred upon any magistrate who visits a correctional facility in New South Wales. New section 253B of the bill must be treated with caution. This amendment would shift the burden of proof to the defendant, rather than the prosecutor. This Parliament has a responsibility to carefully respond to legislation such as this that would change doctrines within the legal system. I understand that a priority in this legislation is to protect prison officers, but the law must follow due process and justice must be seen to be done. I have concerns that moving the burden of proof to the defendant creates a grey area in the law in regard to dealing with crimes committed within prisons. I believe the legal profession will be concerned about this change.

Under new sections 253H to 253N, further clarification and expansions of the powers of correction officers to perform their required duties is explained as per the intent of the legislation. These powers will include the power to stop, detain and search persons and vehicles in a place of detention and its immediate vicinity. Items may be seized by correctional officers to be used as evidence. Under new section 253I, corrections officers will be granted the powers to arrest with regard to an offence under this Act. An arrested person must be taken as soon as possible to an authorised officer as defined by the Law Enforcement (Powers and Responsibilities) Act 2002. This again is reasonable, as corrections officers are the first on the scene when a crime takes place within a prison. They are at the coalface of having to deal with criminal activity within these facilities.

New section 253J clarifies search powers in correctional facilities. This section provides safeguards on searches on children and what clothes can be directed to be taken off during a search, and requires searches by an officer of the same sex as the detainee. New section 253M increases the time a person may be detained from one hour to four hours. This makes it closer to the maximum detention time as prescribed in the Law Enforcement (Powers and Responsibilities) Act 2002 for people detained by police outside correctional facilities.

It is important to note that major parts of this amendment bill give clearer oversight to magistrates as well as to the administration of sentencing and justice in New South Wales prisons. However, I have grave concerns about whether these incremental reforms in this amendment bill will provide corrections officers with the resources they need. Under the Baird Government, we have seen repeated failures by the Government in relation to prisons. Despite being aware of these failures, the Minister has failed to act. I note a recent photograph on the Minister's Facebook page where he is inspecting prison guards during one of his—

Mr Gareth Ward: Point of order: I take my point of order under Standing Order 79. I do not see what the Minister's Facebook page has to do with the bill before the House. I would ask—

Mr Chris Minns: You're about to find out.

Mr Gareth Ward: You're a member of the Opposition, there is the Temporary Speaker. You will learn eventually.

TEMPORARY SPEAKER ( Mr Adam Crouch ): Order! I remind the member for Kogarah and the member for Kiama to address their remarks through the Chair.

Mr Gareth Ward: Mr Temporary Speaker, I ask that you ask the member for Prospect to return to the leave of the bill. I know the member has elucidated his argument well, but I think he is detracting from the overall spirit of the bill.

TEMPORARY SPEAKER ( Mr Adam Crouch ): I ask the member for Prospect to return to the leave of the bill.

Mr Chris Minns: Sit down, you backbencher.

TEMPORARY SPEAKER ( Mr Adam Crouch ): Order! The member for Kogarah will come to order.

Dr HUGH McDERMOTT: If I am given some latitude, I am speaking about corrections officers and the impact they have. Mr Temporary Speaker, I was about to explain that but the member for Kiama is wasting my time.

Mr Gareth Ward: What was your ruling?

TEMPORARY SPEAKER ( Mr Adam Crouch ): The member for Prospect will return to the leave of the bill.

Dr HUGH McDERMOTT: I noticed the look of uncertainty on the faces of those corrections officers as they saw a Minister of the Government continue to walk past them in that situation. Under the pressure of public sector layoffs, skyrocketing prison populations and an increasing threat of violence, our corrections officers are being let down by the Baird Government. Furthermore, in June this year the Baird Government announced $3.8 billion for an extra 2,800 beds in prisons—that equates to $1.36 million per bed. Of course, the Minister promises that this funding will deliver some 7,000 beds, although ABC reports were rightly sceptical about this claim. Then the Government sacked prison teachers, which will only contribute to the recidivism rate of prisoners in New South Wales increasing.

In July this year tear gas and gunshots were used to control a brawl in Goulburn prison. In fact, Steve McMahon from the Public Service Association said there had been a noticeable increase in prison assaults in the past 18 months, which corresponds with the current Minister's time in the portfolio. Mr McMahon also noted that the overcrowding had led to violence related to religious tensions. Corrections officers are justifiably on the edge, and the Baird Government is doing nothing apart from making the prison population bigger. Then there is the issue of prison escapes. Once again, the Minister needs to step up and take responsibility. Of course, ministerial responsibility is an unknown concept within the Baird Government. In August this year three men escaped from Brewarrina Correctional Centre. In July this year two men escaped from a prison in Ivanhoe. In April a 45-year‑old inmate escaped from a prison in Albury. In September 2015 another inmate escaped from Goulburn Correctional Centre, where he was held under minimum security.

In August 2015 a maximum-security inmate in jail for armed robbery escaped from the Goulburn Correctional Centre. And so it goes on. In September the Brothers For Life gang boss was caught with a mobile phone in Goulburn SuperMax prison. In another blunder last month a New South Wales corrections officer was revealed to have an inappropriate association with a former Penthouse Pet in exchange for allowing an inmate to make telephone calls. There is problem after problem and mistake after mistake by the Minister for Corrections, who is not taking responsibility for his portfolio once again. I commend this bill. This amendment bill has some good parts to it and makes administration of justice within the prison system better and more transparent, but the real failing is the failing of the Minister for Corrections within the Baird Government, and that is having an adverse effect upon the corrections officers and the justice system within New South Wales.

Be the first to comment

Sign in with

Or sign in with email

    Comments