Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1998 Week 11 Hansard (8 December) . . Page.. 3298 ..
MR RUGENDYKE (continuing):
Concerns were raised by Mr Stanhope regarding searches and the like. My personal experience is that in this sort of work the ability to search prisoners or remandees is an important consideration. There have been many occasions when dangerous implements have been located during searches of prisoners. Whilst I understand Mr Stanhope's concerns regarding the liberties of arrested people, I do lean towards the need to take into consideration the safety of custodial officers in their work. So, whilst the powers of search pose a difficult and vexing question, I do believe that they are necessary to carry out effectively the entire functions of the custodial officers. It is also the case that police will not have to babysit custodial officers on escorts. So, Mr Speaker, I applaud the Government for this commonsense legislation.
MR HUMPHRIES (Attorney-General, Minister for Justice and Community Safety and Minister Assisting the Treasurer) (9.55), in reply: I want to thank members of the Opposition and the crossbenchers for their support for the package. It is important, as Mr Stanhope said, that we use the resources available to us in the most effective way. It seems to me to be a matter of little doubt that it is inefficient to use a fully trained police officer as a custodial escort. Members of the Australian Federal Police these days have a very high degree of training, much higher than might have been the case 20 or 30 years ago. Very often these people have university degrees. They are trained in a whole series of negotiation techniques and in the management of increasingly sophisticated equipment. They are not the Mr Plods of years gone by. It seems quite silly to have people with such high degrees of training basically acting as prison warders and shuffling people from cells into paddy wagons, taking them out of the paddy wagons and putting them into cells at the remand centre, back and forward, and so on. That is not an efficient use of a very valuable resource.
What this legislation does is permit a regime to be set up to allow our custodial officers to now focus on the task of doing that job and that job alone, and doing it well, in a framework which allows them to get both job satisfaction and appropriate protection for the work they do. Mr Speaker, I think it is important to acknowledge that this is not just about downsizing some area, taking away officers because they are needed somewhere else. Even if we had enough police officers to be able to afford to shovel some into the area of custodial escorts, I would say that that would be a poor use of their time and a poor way of being able to give them a high degree of job satisfaction. Mr Speaker, I think it is appropriate that we focus on this kind of regime to achieve a better outcome in both respects.
Let me respond to the suggestion made by Mr Stanhope that we should incorporate search powers in the legislation rather than in regulations. I did see the comment in the scrutiny of Bills committee report and I agree with what Mr Rugendyke has had to say about that. The fact is that search powers are extremely important. They need to be available to officers. They obviously also need to be flexible enough to be changed as the circumstances require, to deal with emerging problems and issues within the context of our remand centre, our periodic detention centre and so on. Mr Speaker, if they are built into the legislation, with the time that it takes to get legislation before this house, the time that has to be found to pass it, gazette it, enact it and so on, you may lose time in an environment where you need to be flexible and able to move quickly to address some emerging problem. So I do not support the contention that they should be in the legislation.