Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2006 Week 5 Hansard (9 May) . . Page.. 1384..
MR SPEAKER (continuing):
determined that the matter proposed by Mr Stefaniak be submitted to the Assembly, namely:
The state of justice and corrective services in the ACT.
MR STEFANIAK (Ginninderra) (3.51): Mr Speaker, in addressing this most important subject, I will be addressing mainly some of the problems and issues in relation to finances as the government puts to bed its very difficult budget, a difficulty brought about by its own incompetence in booming good times, as the Chief Minister tells us we have. I too delight in seeing six or seven cranes in Civic. That reminds me a bit of scenes in Victoria under the Kennett government. Despite that, surprisingly, as we have seen, the ACT is on an economic slide, due to the mismanagement and, dare I say, economic illiteracy of the Stanhope government. Even the great GST and stamp duty bonanzas seem to have disappeared into a great sinkhole of spurious grand visions, such as the arboretum and, dare I say it, a prison project which, whilst I am very supportive of it, I wonder whether we need at this time, due to the government's economic mismanagement.
We are now on track for an estimated operating loss of $390 million. There is very little left in the kitty, by the government's own figures, very little left in our unencumbered cash reserves. Even our credit rating is on amber alert. We see the results of mismanagement everywhere in the reduction of services. As with everything else, justice and corrective services have been affected and are suffering.
In the public accounts committee inquiry earlier this year into an Auditor-General's report on courts, the ACT Bar Association lodged a submission which stated that the DPP appears to be significantly underresourced. The barristers called on the ACT to implement a South Australian model whereby the courts would have an independent administrative body with its own budget. The association submitted that the adequacy of funding for the territory's legal aid office also was not addressed in the Auditor-General's report, which found Canberra's courts to be amongst the slowest and most expensive to run in the country.
Just on that, as some members might know, not all that long ago I visited the Magistrates Court and the Supreme Court. Whilst the Supreme Court seems to be operating fairly well, there are some significant problems in the Magistrates Court, including low staff morale, the fact that the court has to get permission from central office even to take on board an ASO4 officer and the fact that for the last couple of years it actually had its budget cut by about $1 million.
There are problems concerning corrections officers. They are no longer in court, and delays are being experienced as a result. Previously, when reports were due from corrections officers, they were able to give them verbally. That often means further adjournment of cases. So there are some significant problems there in relation to that court.
I was pleased to see that steps were being taken, as best they could, by the magistrates themselves and by the practitioners, including the legal aid people and the DPP, to streamline and improve the efficiency of how the lists run. Indeed, steps will be taken to have common rules between the Supreme Court and the Magistrates Court. Those are all