Page 3816 - Week 10 - Wednesday, 27 August 2008
detainee has a seizeable item concealed on them. This proposed section 113C is targeted at detainees who are returning into custody—for instance, remandees on their way from rehabilitation programs, returning from court or being transferred from New South Wales prisons. The section is qualified by the requirement that the power may be exercised only where there is not an effective means available for scanning the detainee at the time.
The bill also has a requirement for the chief executive to produce policies and procedures to guide officers in the execution of their duties. I note that strip searches are regulated in a different way from body searches, for which there are different and more extensive protections under the existing provisions of the Corrections Management Act 2007.
On face value, the new replacements are sound provisions. They widen the strip-search powers under section 113. They are an improvement on the old provision. The opposition will be supporting the amendments. Notwithstanding our support for these changes, it is important that I put on the record our concerns over how the amendments arose. The minister alluded to only part of that background in his speech last week. There is quite some story behind this saga. It would have been informative if the minister had been more forthcoming with all of the facts.
The bill was introduced only on Thursday last week. It has not been subject to committee examination. The government is seeking to sneak this one through with the minimum possible time for debate and scrutiny. It is another example of the government’s practice of rushing in bills and bypassing the committee system. It is not only bypassing opposition scrutiny but also running from its own backbench who, we have seen in the past week, have started to join in criticism of this government.
The prison is due to open its doors in September. It is disappointing, to say the least, that the government is bumbling around at the 11th hour trying to put in place new legal arrangements which it has not properly put through the processes. Strip searching is currently suspended, so why the shambolic and last-minute attempt to change the laws?
According to the Canberra Times a little over a week ago, on Saturday, 17 August, there was an edict from Corrective Services saying that detention officers were henceforth banned from routine strip-searching of prisoners. This unexpected ban was imposed because of legal advice to the Stanhope government from the ACT Ombudsman telling them that routine searches at the Belconnen Remand Centre were in breach of the law. The minister did not mention this legal advice when he spoke in this place on Thursday; nor did he inform the Assembly of the sudden and unexpected ban on strip searches.
According to media reports, the ACT Ombudsman advised the government that strip searches were rendered illegal under the government’s own legislation which it had passed in December, namely the ACT Corrections Management Act. The minister has some serious questions to answer about when he was aware of the legal ramifications of his own legislation. His legislation in December created the problem and is one of the reasons why we are back here in August seeking to stitch the situation back together with amending legislation. It is quite amazing that the power to conduct strip