LAW ENFORCEMENT AND NATIONAL SECURITY (ASSUMED IDENTITIES) AMENDMENT
(CORRECTIVE SERVICES) BILL
Debate resumed from an earlier hour.
(Blue Mountains - Minister for the Environment, Minister for Emergency Services, Minister for Corrective Services, and Minister Assisting the Premier on the Arts) [8.56 p.m.], in reply: At the outset, I make some observations on the role of the Security and Investigations Branch of the Department of Corrective Services. I will also respond to some of the issues raised by the honourable member for Wakehurst. The Security and Investigations Branch of the Department of Corrective Services undertakes investigations of serious misconduct by inmates, including escape plans and attempts to smuggle drugs into prisons. It undertakes surveillance of inmates who are on work release or day leave when there is reason to suspect that those inmates may be breaching the conditions of their leave.
Reports on persons other than inmates would occur in circumstances where, for example, an inmate is engaged in an activity such as trafficking in drugs in collusion with a staff member. In that case, any report would necessarily involve an examination of the conduct of both parties, not only the inmate. I believe it is important to make those circumstances clear to avoid any misapprehension on the part of the House or the public. The Security and Investigations Branch reports directly to the Commissioner of Corrective Services at a fortnightly meeting which is also attended by the Director of the Professional Standards Branch, who is a lawyer, and a senior seconded police officer, who is in charge of investigating allegations of criminal conduct within the prison system.
As a result of a longstanding protocol recommended by the Independent Commission Against Corruption [ICAC] which is designed to keep investigations and operations separate, operational staff do not attend this meeting. The State Investigative and Security Group [SISG] has been involved in joint operations with police, especially the seconded police of the Corrective Services Investigation Unit. As a result of these operations, since the beginning of 1998 no less than 276 charges, summonses and court attendance notices have been issued against inmates and visitors for offences involving the attempted importation of drugs and drug equipment into correctional centres.
The SISG has undertaken joint operations with the ICAC to enable the investigation of corrupt conduct. For example, when a drug and alcohol worker was suspected of an improper relationship with an inmate at Long Bay, video surveillance obtained by the SISG was provided to ICAC and resulted in the corrupt activity of the worker being exposed. It is also the primary internal affairs investigative body within the department and investigates disciplinary matters of a serious nature but which do not amount to criminal conduct. The SISG is subject to all legislation which regulates the conduct of any correctional officer, including the Correctional Centres Act and associated regulations as well as the Public Sector Management Act.
Their conduct is subject to the scrutiny of external accountability bodies such as the Ombudsman and the ICAC and all the safeguards in various legislation such as the Listening Devices Act and the Telecommunications Interception Act. I emphasise that the charter of the SISG, as well as its standard operating procedures, have been subject to scrutiny by the ICAC. SISG officers have been trained by the Australian Federal Police and undergo ongoing training with the New South Wales Police Service. The point of the legal changes proposed in the bill, of which the honourable member for Wakehurst seemed entirely oblivious, is to make the SISG more accountable and subject it to a regulatory regime.
The legislation provides for the authorisation of relevant documentation for the acquisition of assumed identities for use by law enforcement and national security officers in the course of their duties. It arises as a result of a recommendation by the Wood royal commission that the ad hoc and unregulated assumption of identities that occurred in the past presented dangers of both accountability and officer safety. The SISG had engaged in joint operations with the Police Service, the National Crime Authority and the ICAC. Without status under the Act, SISG officers could not participate in such operations without risking either their lives or the lives of officers from other agencies. Without the participation of the SISG many operations involving prisons would not be effective. It is evident, therefore, that we had to make this legislative correction.
Operations such as the combined operation which foiled an attempt by Ivan Milat and George Savvas to escape from Maitland gaol would have been impossible without this group. As another example, a number of years ago a work release inmate was suspected of drug-related activity and various forms of white collar fraud using companies owned by that inmate. The inmate had a close confederate who worked in the Roads and Traffic Authority [RTA]. I emphasise that this matter has been successfully wound up and the offenders apprehended. SISG operatives obtained car registration under the name of a fictional photographic company and were able to tail the inmate and obtain proof of his activities. If that car had been registered to the Department of Corrective Services, the inmate’s confederate within the RTA would have been able to run checks on the licence plate and thus discover that he was under surveillance, thereby endangering staff and the operation.
I remind the House that by way of safeguard provision under this legislation, the chief executive officer must ensure that a record is kept of all approvals given, including sufficient details to create an audit trail. Records must be independently audited every 12 months. The Act also requires certain information to be reported in an agency’s annual report. Officers found to be misusing an assumed identity are subject to the agency’s internal disciplinary system and, depending on the nature of the misuse, may be liable to criminal prosecution.
I turn now to some of the grandiloquent claims made earlier in the evening by the honourable member for Wakehurst. I will not detain the House by spending much time at all on his extraordinary claims that he and, even more incredibly, his successor as Opposition spokesman for corrective services during the last Parliament actually drove the process of reform in the prison system. The briefest and most cursory examination of Hansard
will show the absurdity of that proposition. It is important, however, that I respond to the proposition that the Department of Corrective Services is, as the honourable member seemed to indicate, riddled with corruption. That claim is absurd. For three years the ICAC has been conducting a most rigorous and searching analysis of the conduct of the department. Any claim of corruption, any allegation, has been referred to the ICAC for analysis. Indeed, if inmates or other people have made allegations to me, I have arranged for them to be referred.
Point of order: The Minister is misleading the House. I did not make allegations of gross corruption in the Department of Corrective Services. I pointed out that there had been a number of ICAC reports, and that was all.
Mr ACTING-SPEAKER (Mr Mills):
Order! Allegations of misleading the House should not be the subject of a point of order.
Hopefully the Minister will now address the issue of the appointment of the inspector-general.
Order! The member for Wakehurst should make such allegations by way of substantive motion. There is no point of order.
The Minister should answer the question, he has had three hours to think about it. He has had dinner.
And you have had a lot to drink. If inmates or other persons had made that sort of allegation to me, I would have arranged for them to be referred to ICAC forthwith. [Quorum formed
Point of order: I am encouraged by the number of members who have appeared out of the woodwork. I ask the Minister, who does not normally behave as he just did, to withdraw his allegation or assertion. He knows it to be untrue and it was not in keeping with his normal character. I ask him to withdraw it and keep this debate on a level footing.
Order! Did the honourable member for Wakehurst find the words of the Minister objectionable?
I found it objectionable that the Minister would make the assertion about me that he just made, yes, and I ask him to withdraw it.
Do you find that offensive?
Yes, I do.
The member finds the words offensive. I ask you to withdraw them.
Yes, I withdraw them. A few individual cases of corruption amongst officers have been uncovered. They have been uncovered, fully investigated and prompt action has been taken. Those officers are no longer with the department. On the whole, considering the enormous challenges in any correctional environment, the prison system has come through with very few black marks after three years of persistent and systematic oversight by the ICAC. Of course, there is no room for complacency, but to date those reports have re-enforced my belief that the vast majority of prison officers are hard-working men and women who would find corrupt activity appalling.
Those cases that have been the subject of findings by the ICAC have been investigated by the surveillance team of the SISG. I do not think the honourable member for Wakehurst would seriously think that ICAC would risk using the surveillance staff of the SISG if it had the slightest suspicion about their integrity. Commissioner O’Keefe has gone out of his way to acknowledge the assistance and co-operation given to him by my office, by the commissioner and by the investigation unit of the Department of Corrective Services. One might investigate the credibility of the proposition made by the honourable member for Wakehurst, which seemed to be that the lack of an inspector-general had interfered with the fight against corruption. It has not.
The agency that investigates corruption and which has the statutory function in this respect is the Independent Commission Against Corruption. If I, my office, the commissioner, the inspector-general or, indeed, the Ombudsman receives a complaint raising a reasonable suspicion of corruption as defined by the Independent Commission Against Corruption Act, all those people have a statutory obligation to refer it to the ICAC for assessment, and investigation if the commission so chooses. To make it perfectly clear, the inspector-general will resolve complaints, improve complaint handling within the department and make recommendations for systemic administrative improvement. The inspector-general will not undertake investigations into corruption. That is the work of the ICAC. The fight against corruption has been vigorously pursued, and that will continue. The process of recruiting the inspector-general has been a long and laborious one.
Now we get around to the facts. Tell us more.
I will keep on saying what I intend to say however many times you interject. Recruitment consultants Morgan and Banks have conducted recruitment and advertising campaigns. After the first such campaign - that is to say, when we went through all the ordinary administrative steps necessary to recruit a relatively high-level official - a panel including the present Ombudsman,indeed, the proposed new ICAC commissioner, Irene Moss, delivered a report to me indicating that no appointment should be made from that round of applicants. A second campaign was commenced and further interviews conducted following the recent Drug Summit. The independent panel having conducted further interviews, I am pleased to be able to inform the House that in recent weeks I received a recommendation from that independent panel.
A recommendation for the appointment of an inspector-general was made, and I am able to inform the House that that recommendation is undergoing the arcane processing systems of the central agencies of the Government. I expect an announcement to be made at some relatively early date. Following his words tonight no doubt the honourable member for Wakehurst will applaud the appointment of an
inspector-general, and I look forward to a considerable degree of bipartisanship when the inspector-general commences work. If the honourable member doubts my account, I invite him to speak to the appointee at the appropriate moment in the near future.
When can I do that?
The honourable member can ask this person when he or she is appointed. The appointment of the inspector-general could not be more timely. Commissioner O’Keefe of the ICAC has made no secret of the fact that as his term of appointment concludes he intends to release reports of a number of outstanding investigations, some of which arose from inquiries within the Department of Corrective Services. When those reports are concluded they will no doubt include a number of recommendations for systemic administrative reform and will suggest future directions for change.
The appointment of an inspector-general means that the changes can be bedded down and the process of ongoing reform can continue. Although this may not be strictly within the leave of the bill, I say again that the inspector-general will resolve complaints. He or she will improve complaint handling in the department, make recommendations of a systemic nature, and not investigate day-to-day corruption as such. With those remarks, I commend the bill to the House.
Motion agreed to.
Bill read a second time and passed through remaining stages.