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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2002 Week 1 Hansard (12 December) . . Page.. 145 ..

Break-ins at disability group homes

MR CORNWELL: My question is to Mr Stanhope as Minister for Health. I refer to the recent report of break-ins at 21 disability group homes. Can you advise the Assembly whether the government has investigated security at these group homes and why it took 21 break-ins to occur before an investigation into the security of these places was undertaken? It seems that there were a large number of break-ins before something happened.

MR STANHOPE: I thank Mr Cornwell for the question. I think it is a particularly important question. I was very disturbed on being advised early in the period of our government taking over that there was a significant and serious issue in relation to break-ins at a number of group homes. It was particularly distressing. All of us would be concerned that somebody is prepared to target the homes of the most vulnerable members of our community and to do so on what appears to be a deliberate and systematic basis.

Having regard to the fact that so many group homes have been burgled, broken into and violated, one is left with no option but to assume that there has been a quite deliberate campaign by somebody who, unfortunately, knew the address and location of those houses. I think that there were some similarities in the modus operandi of those engaged in the activity.

As you say, Mr Cornwell, there have been 22 burglaries within disability group homes since June. The burglaries actually commenced whilst you were in government. The majority of the burglaries, I understand, commenced in June and continued through that period. The majority of the offences have occurred in the Belconnen area and some of the houses have been burgled more than once. With one exception, the offences occurred whilst the houses were vacant. Entry generally was gained through windows that were broken. As I say, there is some concern at the similarity of the offences. In many instances, significant amounts of cash have been removed and there has been a real similarity, as I say, about the modus operandi.

The police were called in relation to each break-in. The disability program people took immediate steps. They have liaised constantly with the police. They have sought assurances from the police about the security arrangements, as you would expect. They have sought assurances from the police about the most appropriate way of ensuring and guaranteeing the security of these homes. The disability program director and the police have developed a program and strategy of seeking to ensure the greatest possible security. The range of issues that have been discussed and agreed between disability services and the police go to steps required to minimise the amount of money on the premises, maintaining normal diligence, assessing the adequacy of lighting, removing shrubbery which conceals entrances, and assessing the need for safes within the houses.

Chubb Security have been engaged to provide, in addition to enhanced police patrols, additional private security for each of the homes. The department has liaised with all parents and guardians around the issues. They have been involved and consulted at all times. Staff have been instructed to be aware of the issues and they have been asked to take appropriate and necessary steps as a result of what has been happening.

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