Page 2433 - Week 07 - Thursday, 3 August 2017

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Commission investigation which had been ongoing for a couple of months. Last month ended with another report by the Canberra Times of a brawl on 16 July between two groups of detainees in which a youth worker who intervened was injured. The police are investigating, apparently. Three sources within the facility reported a state of constant turmoil for staff. Former detainees were considering a class action.

The first sitting week in August has shown that the minister is still unwilling to acknowledge the problems in Bimberi and seems incapable of showing leadership in fixing these problems. Her ministerial statement titled Update on Youth Justice in the ACT was largely devoted to Bimberi but reported on none of the wide range of serious concerns and incidents that have taken place at the facility.

Instead she took a swipe at the media for unsubstantiated allegations and sensationalist headlines. When challenged in question time about the Canberra Times report on the brawl and alleged assault of 16 July, she said it was unsubstantiated and sensationalist. She acknowledged that that particular incident did occur and it was referred to police. But when she was asked whether the police had concluded their investigation, she was not aware.

The minister is at the centre of public debate about a facility that is increasingly characterised by violence. The minister’s uninformed responses suggest she is uninterested in the level of violence and is resigned to violence being the norm at Bimberi. Asked in question time how many assaults by detainees on other detainees there were in the last year she replied, “I have asked my directorate to prepare a standard report on KPIs for Bimberi on various indicators.”

You would think, given all that has happened, that that kind of question, that kind of fact, would be front and centre. And when asked whether young people are informed of the real risk of assault at Bimberi, she replied, “These are young people who have often learned to use violence to express themselves. From time to time, therefore, it is not entirely unexpected that they would seek to express themselves in that way within Bimberi.” In effect, boys will be boys, Madam Speaker. That is the attitude of this government: “They are just expressing themselves”; “It is not entirely unexpected.” Unfortunately, the minister needs to take responsibility but she is unwilling to do so.

The minister has consistently failed to appreciate the seriousness of the problems at Bimberi and she has failed to respond adequately to those problems. She has ignored the concerns of detainees and staff, of the Human Rights Commission and of Amnesty International. She has been more concerned about stopping the problems being made public than about fixing the actual issues. She has been evasive and ineffectual and is perhaps out of her depth. The situation at Bimberi is dangerous. If left to continue without effective and responsible ministerial oversight, the risk of serious harm or perhaps death is quite possible.

This week the minister claims to have solved all the problems. She claims that by ticking off all the actions in the blueprint, all is well. If the first half of the blueprint, if the first five years, was a success, why do we have all these problems now? The minister’s statement that there is a new task force and a continuation of the current plan is worrying. It is delusional to think that the problems can be addressed through a mid-term report and the existing priorities.

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