Indigenous issues remain at Alexander Maconochie Centre

I thank Mrs Jones for bringing forward this important motion which highlights the Government’s repeated failures in this space.

As the Shadow Minister for Indigenous Affairs I feel it is important to speak to government policies and government failures when they impact our indigenous population. In the case of the Alexander Maconochie Centre, indigenous inmates have long suffered from a system that is haphazard and dysfunctional.

On 7 August last year, nearly nine months since the Moss Review recommendations were made following the tragic death of Steven Freeman, two indigenous inmates were bashed so severely that they had to be hospitalised. These indigenous inmates were brothers. Despite the severity of their bashing, the inmates’ mother was not informed of their bashing until the next day – and in fact first found out about their condition via a friend. This is not good enough.

The Minister reported that there was extensive CCTV footage of this incident. If there was, why did it take so long for the perpetrators to be charged for this assault? And why was the notification to the next of kin procedure not followed and the mother of these men not informed properly?

This is yet another failure of the Alexander Maconochie Centre.

Minister, it seems that despite you being in charge for 5 years, despite the many recommendations made by reviews, and despite the extensive funding provided to this facility – you are not able to make the AMC live up to its human rights’ mandate.

The issues of lack of safety and mismanagement continue to plague the prison. Ms Julie Tong, the Chief Executive of Winnunga Nimmiyujah Aboriginal Health Services has highlighted these issues and has asked the Government to reconsider the way the AMC co-locates vulnerable people with hard core, violent criminals. Ms Tong highlighted that the current mix is compromising rehabilitation programs and is jeopardising the jails goal to be human rights compliant. This is a view backed up by Canberra University School of Law and Justice Head Professor Lorana Bartels who has also pointed out the challenge of having all detainees – unsentenced and sentenced, max to min, men and women - in the same facility.

Sadly, it was these types of inmates who were charged with the vicious bashing of the two indigenous brothers in August of last year. Axe murderers, prisoners with links to bikie gangs and violent career criminals should not be able to inflict grievous bodily harm against inmates at AMC. And then when these incidents do occur, it should be reasonable to expect that swift action be taken to notify the next of kin and prosecute the offenders. But of course, this is an area of the prison that is failing. Much like the accidental release of a dangerous prisoner who was meant to remain in custody on a further remand warrant.

On 16th December last year, staff at the Alexander Maconochie Centre mistakenly released the prisoner from custody. It is understood that the prisoner had a dangerous and violent criminal history and his release potentially threatened the safety of members of the community. Despite this, the prisoner remained in the community for approximately 3 days before it was realised that an error had been made. It’s clear that the Minister’s management of this facility is not working. Surely it’s the most fundamental of prison rules: don’t let the inmates walk out the front door!

The AMC has systemic problems, and this is just the latest in the long and continually growing list. The Minister ought to look at why his systems are failing, how this prisoner could possibly be allowed to go free, and advice what steps need to be taken to address this issue.

This is a fundamental part of corrections policies, and at the moment, the Minister is failing. For too long now these issues have been highlighted by experts and leaders of the Canberra’s indigenous community and it is time the Government start listening.

Action needs to be taken and that is why I support this motion today.