Page 247 - Week 01 - Wednesday, 13 February 1991

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Ministerial Statement

Debate resumed from 13 December 1990, on motion by Mr Collaery:

That the Assembly takes note of the paper.

MR CONNOLLY (4.16): Mr Speaker, the Opposition rises in this debate again, not because the Opposition view was not clearly put on the day this paper was originally tabled - because it was indeed very clearly put by Mr Berry at the time - but because there have been some subsequent events that ought to be brought before the house. In the paper the Minister assured the house that he was happy to report that an overwhelming majority of ACT prisoners interviewed in the survey of New South Wales prisons said that they felt that there was no discrimination against them.

Mr Berry made the point very forcefully then: The point is not whether ACT prisoners feel they are being discriminated against as opposed to New South Wales prisoners. If I as an ACT prisoner am being bashed and my colleague as a New South Wales prisoner is also being bashed or I am in overcrowded and insanitary conditions and so is my New South Wales colleague, I cannot claim to be being discriminated against; but I can claim that I am being subjected to cruel and inhuman conditions. That was the point made by Mr Berry when this matter was debated in December.

Since then, a person of no less authority than Mr Brian Burdekin, the Federal Human Rights Commissioner, has made a statement over the last weekend, on 10 February, that the condition of New South Wales gaols is inhumane and that the New South Wales prison system falls below the accepted international standards that Australia is required to implement. The most extraordinary statement that Mr Burdekin made - and the statement most shameful for any Australian - was when he said, "I believe a number of conditions in NSW prisons breach article 16 of the United Nations Convention Against Torture, which Australia ratified in 1989". I am sure that no member of this Assembly, and certainly no member who takes an interest in international humanitarian law - and a number of us in the Opposition do and we are aware that Mr Collaery has taken an interest in this matter over many years - would ever have thought when Australia ratified the torture convention that it would be alleged by a Federal Human Rights Commissioner that an Australian prison system fell below those minimum international standards.

We assumed that Australia was ratifying that torture convention in order to set the standards for other countries with less enlightened prison or judicial systems. We assumed that Australia, as is usually the case with international human rights conventions, was joining up as a standard bearer and a torch bearer for other parts of the

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