Page 3818 - Week 10 - Wednesday, 27 August 2008

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The government has boasted that this prison project will be on time. However, the opening days keep slipping. The ribbon was to be cut in August. Now it is September. Some journalists have been trooped through for previews, but the opening ceremony keeps slipping. It may yet slip even further. The minister may like to enlighten the Assembly on what exactly is the latest time frame for commission of the prison and what are the cost implications of a delay in the opening of the prison.

The opposition support the bill but we do note our many concerns about the temporary collapse of the strip-search regime and the delay in X-ray arrangements. This was a preventable situation and should not have arisen. (Quorum formed.)

DR FOSKEY (Molonglo) (7:38): We have before us a bill to amend the Corrections Management Act 2007 to permit strip-searching of detainees when the chief executive believes it is “prudent” to do so. In briefings arranged by the minister’s office, my office has been advised that the amendments will increase the onus on the chief executive to justify ordering a strip search. But this reassurance is not backed up in the wording of the amendment. Given that this bill will inevitably pass today, I can only urge the government to maintain a very close watching brief over the exercise of these powers and to work very hard to ensure that they achieve what they think they will achieve and are not abused or used any more than is absolutely necessary.

Section 113 of the current act provides that the chief executive may direct a corrections officer to strip-search a detainee only if the chief executive suspects on reasonable grounds that the detainee has concealed contraband. Monday’s Canberra Times contained an article by Noel Towell which revealed that the Ombudsman recently gave the department of corrective services legal advice that they did not have the power to routinely strip search detainees in the absence of any reasonable suspicion. I wish to acknowledge the opinion piece by Bill Bush in today’s Canberra Times, which has informed this speech.

Presumably these amendments are designed to rectify the situation from the perspective of corrections officers and to grant them the power that they had always assumed they had. The Attorney-General is quoted in the article as denying that security has been compromised in the absence of these powers. I agree with him in that, as previously explained, under existing section 113 searches are permitted if there are reasonable grounds of a security risk. If this is the case, why are these amendments needed?

I have no qualms about granting corrections officers the power to conduct strip searches if they really do have reasonable grounds and if there are no alternative means to deal with the situation, such as surveillance, cell searches, sniffer dogs or metal detectors. But, as I shall surely detail, strip searches carry their own costs and should not be a routine part of the operations of ACT corrections services.

Proposed section 113C introduces a new stand-alone power. No longer must there be a suspicion of concealment on reasonable grounds; it will be enough that the executive thinks it is prudent to conduct a search and that the detainee may have had an opportunity to obtain a seizeable item.

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