LAW ENFORCEMENT AND NATIONAL SECURITY (ASSUMED IDENTITIES) AMENDMENT
(CORRECTIVE SERVICES) BILL
The Hon. M. R. EGAN
(Treasurer, Minister for State Development, and Vice-President of the Executive Council) [9.28 p.m.]: I move:
That this bill be now read a second time.
I seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard
The Government is pleased to introduce the Law Enforcement and National Security (Assumed Identities) Amendment (Corrective Services) Bill 1999. This bill is evidence of the Carr Government’s ongoing commitment to law and order in this State, and in particular, its commitment to providing law enforcement agencies with the means to effectively target those suspected of serious crimes like drug trafficking.
Last year this Government implemented the Law Enforcement and National Security (Assumed Identities) Act 1998 to permit the Chief Executive Officers of authorised agencies to approve the acquisition and use of documents in assumed names for law enforcement purposes. The Assumed Identities Act was an important initiative in the fight against crime. It allows law enforcement and national security officers to obtain documentation such as drivers licences and credit cards in an assumed name and to use them in the course of their authorised duties.
In most cases, an assumed identity is needed when officers must have direct contact with suspects, for example, in undercover operations or to protect investigations into corrupt police or public officials. Officers involved in an undercover capacity are not the only ones who require the protection of an assumed name. Others include technical staff and surveillance officers who need to carry out their duties under assumed names.
The Department of Corrective Services, State Investigative and Security Group employs surveillance officers to investigate drug trafficking in jails, alleged corrupt activities by Corrective Services staff, and inmates who breach the conditions of their parole or other release programs. The SISG has been operating since November 1994. It plays a major role in protecting the safety of inmates, visitors and staff in New South Wales correctional centres.
It is evident that it is necessary for the Department of Corrective Services to be an authorised agency for the purposes of this Act, so that investigators can better target the problem of drugs in prisons. An important function of the SISG is to verify inmates’ compliance with the terms and conditions of temporary leave of absence under section 29 of the Correctional Centres Act 1953. This includes work release, and day and weekend leave schemes.
In order to carry out their duties, SISG officers sometimes have to give proof of their identity in order to maintain contact with a person they are investigating or to protect the integrity of a covert operation. It is essential that in such circumstances officers can give an assumed name. Otherwise their own safety or the integrity of a case they are working on could be jeopardised.
Corrective Services investigators have been using documentation in assumed names such as false drivers’ licences which they obtained under the ad hoc system that existed prior to the introduction of the Law Enforcement and National Security (Assumed Identities) Act. The Act now restricts the issue of such documentation to authorised agencies only. At present, agencies authorised to use the Act are the:
•New South Wales Police Service
•New South Wales Crime Commission Independent Commission Against Corruption
•Police Integrity Commission
•Australian Federal Police
•Australian Secret Intelligence Service
•Australian Security Intelligence Organisation, and
•Australian Customs Service
There is a clear need for the Department of Corrective Services to be included as an agency authorised to use the Act. Without the support for law enforcement activities that the Act provides, the department is not able to carry out essential services to protect the public. Equally importantly, Corrective Services needs access to assumed identities for its officers so that they can identify drug trafficking in jails and mount effective operations to prosecute the criminals involved.
This bill builds on the Government’s previous initiatives in the fight against crime. It will permit officers employed by the Department of Corrective Services to obtain documentation in assumed names and use it in the course of their official duties. In order to do this, the bill makes a small amendment to section 3 of the Act to include the Department of Corrective Services in the definition of authorised agency, and the Commissioner of Corrective Services in the definition of Chief Executive Officer.
The Hon. M. J. GALLACHER
This bill is further evidence that the Carr Government is pulling out all stops to give police and other law enforcement agencies the powers and the tools they need to do their job. I commend the bill to the House.
(Leader of the Opposition) [9.28 p.m.]: The Opposition supports the Law Enforcement and National Security (Assumed Identities) Amendment (Corrective Services) Bill. This is extremely important legislation with respect to the administration of law, especially with regard to serious offences that are currently taking place within the Corrective Services system of New South Wales. Honourable members would be fully aware that criminal activities take place behind bars and involve inmates - by themselves, with the assistance of people outside the criminal justice system or, even worse, with the assistance and support of officers of the Department of Corrective Services.
This legislation gives legal security to officers involved in the identification of criminal activity within the corrective services system in New South Wales whether that is activity of inmates or employees of the Department of Corrective Services. This legislation will protect those who assume undercover identities, referred to in the context of current legislation as assumed identities. This measure relates to officers undertaking undercover duties within the jurisdiction of the Department of Corrective Services. I note the interjection by the Hon. R. S. L. Jones, "Yes, you would know all about that." That is correct, as for a period of time I operated under an assumed identity in the criminal jurisdictions of this State.
The Hon. R. S. L. Jones:
A hippy at the Cross.
The Hon. M. J. GALLACHER:
The honourable member rightly points out that I was a hippy on the streets of Kings Cross. The honourable member is probably the only member of this Chamber who has seen photographs of me operating in that undercover capacity.
The Hon. R. S. L. Jones:
I will not show anybody.
The Hon. J. H. Jobling:
Have you seen the Hon. R. S. L. Jones in his undercover capacity?
The Hon. M. J. GALLACHER:
When I showed him the photograph, I asked, "Who do you think that is?" When I identified it as a photograph of me the honourable member was quite surprised. I was in the role of an undercover officer of the New South Wales Police Service trying to do our best to eliminate corrupt members of the New South Wales Police Service. It was a time in my police career of which I am very proud. I understand fully the difficulties experienced by officers who perform such duties, whether in the New South Wales Police Service or for the Department of Corrective Services.
I take this opportunity to pay tribute to those who perform undercover duties within our corrective services, because that would be one of the most difficult law enforcement jobs in this State. The confined environment of a corrective institution affords an undercover officer who is identified limited opportunity to escape. Officers who perform this line of duty should be commended in the strongest possible terms.
The Opposition supports the legislation, on which it has had discussions with the Government. I congratulate in particular the personal staff of the Minister. They have given great assistance in dealing with the concerns that the Opposition has put forward. They have been more than prepared to come back to Opposition members to discuss and negotiate relevant issues and the implications of officers with assumed identities working within corrective institutions and generally performing their duties under the criminal law. I thank in particular one member of staff of the Minister for the consultative role he undertook on this legislation.
The Opposition had some concerns about the operation of some aspects of this legislation. They related to ethical and health issues with regard to assumed identities being undertaken by health professionals and clerics. Certain amendments have been incorporated to address the concerns of Opposition and crossbench members. Therefore the Opposition will not have to express any outward concerns about the application of this measure. This is a necessary legal measure to protect those who operate in this manner. The Opposition is pleased to support the bill.
The Hon. R. S. L. JONES
[9.35 p.m.]: The Leader of the Opposition has come a long way: from an assumed identity of a hippy at the Cross to the assumed identity of Leader of the Opposition in this House! Considerable discussion has taken place between my office, the shadow Minister for Corrective Services and the office of the Minister for Corrective Services since the second reading of the bill in the Legislative Assembly on 22 September. I understand that the Hon. A. G. Corbett’s office also has been involved in the discussions on the problems that we perceive with the legislation.
On the first reading, I was extremely concerned that the powers accorded to Corrective Services officers by the bill had the potential to be abused. Prison officers naturally exert extensive power over inmates, and it is crucial that safeguards are imposed on those wishing to adopt assumed identities as outlined in the bill. In addition, I was concerned that, despite the passing of legislation in 1997, the post of Inspector General to the Department of Corrective Services had not been filled until very recently. Thus a long-awaited independent avenue for dealing with complaints and monitoring the activities of the department were not available to inmates at a time when the powers of departmental officers were being increased.
Due to these concerns I drafted an amendment, to move in Committee, stalling the proclamation of the legislation until the post of Inspector General had been filled. I was also supportive of the amendment that was drafted by the Hon. A. G. Corbett. It is not necessary now to move my amendment because the first Inspector-General was appointed on 26 October, just six days after the terms of my amendment reached the ears of the Minister. I am gratified that the Minister acted so quickly. Mr Brad Hazzard in another place also was very much involved in those discussions.
For this reason, and because of the safeguards offered in the cognate bill recently drafted by the Government, the Corrective Services Legislation Amendment (Assumed Identities) Bill 1999 can now be supported. My support is conditional on the stated commitment of the Minister that both pieces
of legislation will be proclaimed at the same time. The timing of debate in the Parliament, as long as it occurs before the end of the session, does not matter. What is crucial is that neither bill is proclaimed before the other.
I have seen a draft of the cognate bill, and I am satisfied that its proposals cover the concerns raised by Justice Action, the Law Society and the Reverend Harry Herbert. It also therefore incorporates the amendment that was circulated by the Hon. A. G. Corbett. I will, however, raise some issues that canvass why it is important to have limitations on the powers provided for in the bill. Recent investigations by the Independent Commission Against Corruption have shown that there are serious problems in the Department of Corrective Services. I quote from the most recent report, released in November 1999, titled "Fourth Report: Abuse of Official Power and Authority":
This report deals with yet another example of corrupt conduct, what in essence amounted to a very real and significant abuse of power. It serves as a salutary warning of the danger that exists where individuals are given extensive power and control over the everyday actions of other individuals.
The legislation before the House seeks to add the Department of Corrective Services to the list of authorised agencies under the Law Enforcement and National Security (Assumed Identities) Act 1998. That Act allows officers from the New South Wales Police Service, the Independent Commission Against Corruption, the New South Wales Crime Commission, the Police Integrity Commission and various national crime and security agencies such as the Federal Police and the Australian Security Intelligence Agency to assume false identities during the course of their duties.
Under the legislation, officers from those agencies may acquire false drivers’ licences, birth certificates and passports to authenticate an assumed identity. In practice, it allows authorised officers legitimately to portray a fictional identity, complete with authentic identification, to gain intelligence in order to catch criminals or inform on corrupt officers.
The royal commission into police corruption noted that assumed identities had been used by crime agencies for some time, and therefore the legislation introduced in 1998 regulated a previously unregulated system. The Minister for Corrective Services said that the ability to use an assumed identity is only intended for officers of the State Investigative Security Group [SISG], despite there being no evidence supporting this in the bill before the Parliament.
I am hopeful that some of my concerns about the potential for abuse of power in the bill will be offset by the cognate amending bill, which will limit the use of assumed identities as it applies to all officers. However, I urge the Minister to ensure that authorisations to use assumed identities are limited to officers of the SISG. I therefore support the comments made by the Positive Justice Centre:
The SISG is already the most secretive group within the most intransparent of government departments . . . Every precaution should be taken to assure that [their] existing powers do not extend by legislative omission to employees beyond this group and clear guidelines must be implemented to assure that only a utilitarian minimum number of DCS/SISG employees are authorised to wield this sought after power.
The SISG conducts investigations into drug trafficking in gaols and alleged corrupt activities by Department of Corrective Services staff. The unit also undertakes investigations of serious misconduct by inmates, including escape plans, and monitors inmates who are on work or day release programs when there is reason to suspect that they may be breaching their conditions of leave. The SISG has an annual budget of $6 million.
While the SISG may conduct some worthwhile activities, I am concerned that there is no independent scrutiny or oversighting of its activities, and the potential for abuse of power in the bill is great. The reporting requirements of the SISG are relatively informal, with the commander of the SISG meeting with the Commissioner of Corrective Services fortnightly to inform him of their activities and only infrequent meetings with the Minister.
Even though the Department of Corrective Services is required to report on the number of assumed identities that have been authorised throughout the year, there is nothing to stop officers from the SISG from assuming the identities of prisoners, Legal Aid representatives, drug and alcohol counsellors, academic or medical researchers, religious clerics or official visitors who inspect the prison from time to time.
Making false and misleading representations is a clear intention of the Law Enforcement and National Security (Assumed Identities) Act, which is amended by this bill. As the Minister said in his second reading speech in 1998:
Assumed identity documents must appear normal and officers must be able to use them as if they are real. Therefore it is important to remove any offences that might otherwise attach to their authorisation, issue or use.
This includes, but is certainly not limited to, such things as making false or misleading representations or creating false or misleading records of any kind. Specifically the bill ensures
that anything misleading regarding the acquisition, provision or the use of assumed identities that is done in good faith by officers of an authorised agency or an issuing agency is not unlawful and does not constitute an offence or corrupt conduct.
Clearly, the bill may allow officers from the Department of Corrective Services to mislead prisoners in the care of the department as well as have the potential to corrupt officers in the department. It is completely unacceptable that prisoners could be unknowingly duped into providing personal information about their drug habit to a correctional officer, who could then use the information against them. Should the powers outlined in the bill be used in this way, the effect of the breach of trust on harm minimisation would be unthinkable. As Justice Action noted:
Prisoners already have the justified apprehension that any information they may give about their drug use will lead to sanctions. Requests for bleach, which can be used to sterilise syringes, are often met with cell searches, urine tests and increased harassment of visitors. If prisoners could have no faith in the information they gave a "counsellor", "solicitor", "doctor", "peer", or "priest", the tiny observation window society now has on activities in its prison system would be firmly shut. Any chance of managing blood born diseases or risk taking behaviour would be lost.
If abuses of power have been documented at the managerial level in the department by the Independent Commission Against Corruption [ICAC], there is a very real chance that abuse of power and breach of confidence can also occur in the undercover activities of the SISG.
The Hon. A. G. Corbett drafted an amendment to ensure that the SISG cannot impersonate a range of persons, including a doctor, medical researcher, social worker, psychologist, drug and alcohol counsellor or any other health worker, legal practitioner or a member of the clergy. Such an amendment is crucial to the legislation and my support of the bill is conditional on this amendment being accepted in Committee. Fortunately, this amendment will be incorporated into the Correctional Centres Legislation Amendment (Assumed Identities) Bill.
In addition, the power offered to Corrective Services officers in this legislation is particularly unchecked when consideration is given to the watchdog provisions of other State agencies that are authorised to have false identities. For example, the New South Wales Police Service is oversighted by the Police Integrity Commission; the Police Integrity Commission is oversighted by a bipartisan parliamentary committee. ICAC, another authorised agency, is also overseen by a bipartisan parliamentary committee. Such oversighting would ensure that any breaches of power or corruption in the course of activities could be reported and dealt with independently and in a timely fashion.
No such provision exists for officers from the SISG, nor more broadly for the Department of Corrective Services. This led me to my amendment to stall the proclamation of the bill until an inspector-general was appointed. Currently the ability of inmates to lodge complaints occurs in an ad hoc organisational environment. I will quote two paragraphs from ICAC’s latest report on the department to illustrate the importance of this point. The report states:
Correctional officers exercise a great deal of power over inmates. That is a natural consequence of incarceration and the relationship between inmates and correctional officers. Conversely, inmates are relatively powerless in that relationship. When conflict arises between a correctional officer and an inmate, the latter does not have the luxury of being able to avoid the situation by absenting himself, at least not lawfully from the correctional centre.
This situation is exacerbated by the fact that most of the time there is little or no scope for external scrutiny. Whilst inmates have access to official visitors and can make complaints to the Ombudsman, the Governor of the correctional centre or the commission, in most cases this will not provide an immediate remedy.
The report continues:
If correctional centres are to be properly administered, it is essential that those in positions of authority and power exercise and be seen to exercise their authority fairly. To do otherwise sets a bad example for other like-minded officers to follow and serves to perpetuate the distrust and animosity which often exists between inmates and correctional officers.
Thus the harm caused to the Department by the conduct of Kelly -
a person who was the subject of an ICAC investigation -
goes beyond the harm to the particular individuals the subject of his actions. The examination of his conduct brings into sharp focus the imperative of appointing highly ethical and capable persons to management positions within the Department.
As noted, despite the passage of legislation in 1997, the Government had failed to appoint an inspector-general for the Department of Corrective Services. I recognise that the New South Wales model of an inspector-general is considerably diluted when compared to Commissioner Nagle’s suggestions in 1978. For example, the post is not independent and does not have to report to Parliament, as Commissioner Nagle recommended.
However, it remains an incremental step towards an open and transparent prison system
which is accountable to the community and its elected representatives. I am pleased that an appointment has been made but I am disappointed that the appointment of the inspector-general occurred only after much prodding by the community and the threat that this legislation would not be proclaimed.
In fact, when the shadow minister for corrective services noted that I would be moving an amendment to stall the proclamation of the bill until an inspector-general was appointed, it took only six days for Mr Lesley Le Compte to be appointed as the inaugural inspector-general. I hope that Mr Le Compte takes up his post with enthusiasm and provides a genuinely independent avenue for oversight and investigation in the prison system.
The negotiation process on this bill has been considerably drawn out but I believe that significant safeguards have resulted from it. The discussions with the shadow minister for corrective services, Mr Brad Hazzard, have been particularly fruitful. I also welcome the Minister’s efforts in responding to concerns of a number of honourable members, including the appointment of an inspector-general and the use of the powers proposed in the bill. The proposed cognate bill alleviates my concerns, and I am pleased that the Minister has taken on board the concerns of the members of the crossbench and the Coalition and has come up with viable solutions.
Reverend the Hon. F. J. NILE
[9.47 p.m.]: The Christian Democratic Party is pleased to support the Law Enforcement and National Security (Assumed Identities) Amendment (Corrective Services) Bill. This minor bill gives the Department of Corrective Services the power to be an authorised agency so that its State Investigative and Security Group [SISG] can operate effectively.
I have been informed that the group has been using assumed names for law enforcement purposes without the legislative authority that is already conferred upon the New South Wales Police Service, the New South Wales Crime Commission, the Independent Commission Against Corruption, the Police Integrity Commission, the Australian Federal Police, the Australian Security Intelligence Service, the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation and the Australian Custom Service.
Perhaps during the ICAC investigation of corrupt prison officers the gap in the list of authorities was identified, and so this bill was introduced. During hearings of the Royal Commission into the New South Wales Police Service, the commissioner stated that the use of assumed identities is essential to the success of some types of investigations, including, but not restricted to, undercover operations.
The State Investigative and Security Group [SISG] within the Department of Corrective Services employs surveillance officers to investigate drug trafficking in gaols. That is most important because honourable members often hear of the widely held view in the community that it is easier to get drugs in prison than it is on the streets. If that is true, far more extensive efforts are needed to get rid of drugs in prisons. Therefore undercover activities are needed to ensure that visitors or prison officers do not give drugs to prisoners.
The efforts by that group also include alleged corrupt activities by the staff of the Department of Corrective Services and inmates who breach the conditions of their parole or other pre-release programs. SISG has been operating since November 1994. It also plays a major role in protecting the safety of inmates, visitors and staff in correctional centres. Quite often honourable members have heard of bashings within the prison system. Such bashings could occur if prisoners think that a prisoner is giving information to the police or others about drug trafficking and other matters. Those prisoners need to be protected within the prison system by undercover activity. The Christian Democratic Party is pleased to support the bill.
The Hon. A. G. CORBETT
[9.51 p.m.]: The Law Enforcement and National Security (Assumed Identities) Amendment (Corrective Services) Bill permits the Commissioner of Corrective Services to authorise officers from the Department of Corrective Services to acquire and use assumed identities. That would enable an officer of the State Investigative and Security Group [SISG] to legally assume a false identity in order to carry out surveillance activities.
The bill creates a circumstance in which officers from the Department of Corrective Services could falsely represent a person who would normally have a working relationship with a prisoner that is characterised by trust, such as a doctor, medical researcher, social worker, psychologist, drug and alcohol counsellor or any other health worker, legal practitioner or member of the clergy. It is vital that the confidentiality of those relationships is maintained in order that those people can effectively carry out their duties when working with prisoners.
Should the bill pass without amendment, prisoners will be aware that the counsellor or doctor whom they trust may, in fact, be an officer of the SISG who is compiling information about their
activities. Prisoners may then decide to keep their drug or sexual activity secret for fear of information being used against them. The consequent risk would be a potential increase in deaths by overdose and incidence of blood-borne and sexually transmitted diseases, which are already very high in New South Wales prisons.
The Minister has assured me that it is not the intention of the bill to empower SISG officers to assume identities as nurses or counsellors, but for them to obtain vehicle registrations in fictional company names. However, it is important that prisoners trust workers inside gaols. I had intended to move an amendment in Committee to ensure that prisoners can feel confident about the integrity of those providing medical, legal and counselling services inside gaols.
After negotiating with the Minister for Corrective Services, Mr Debus, and the shadow minister for corrective services, Mr Hazzard, we have come to an agreement that the amendment I proposed will, instead, be incorporated in a new bill soon to be introduced in Parliament. That bill will protect the integrity of human service professionals working in prisons. Therefore, I will support this bill, which the Minister for Corrective Services has stated will not be proclaimed until the new bill restricting the types of assumed identities available to officers of the Department of Corrective Services is also proclaimed.
I thank the Minister and his staff for their work on this matter and for the genuine manner in which they conducted discussions with my staff. I also thank the Minister and Mr Hazzard for their demonstrated concern for the welfare of prisoners. Mr Hazzard co-operated very effectively with me and my staff in this matter. That process shows the benefit of co-operation between the various sides of politics, and the positive outcomes that can be achieved. I also welcome the Government’s recent appointment of the first Inspector General of Corrective Services. I hope that the Inspector General will ensure that there are appropriate ethical practices within corrective services facilities. I support the bill.
The Hon. Dr A. CHESTERFIELD-EVANS
[9.55 p.m.]: I support this bill. I am always very concerned about bills that increase police powers to conduct various undercover surveillance operations, particularly in relation to drugs in prisons. Given the rapidly rising prison population, the huge cost of building and maintaining prisons, the social harm that we reap from that poorly invested money, the management of the dispossessed in our society due to global capital and technological forces, and the rise of drugs through prohibitive policies in the prison area, it is obvious that we have failed to learn the lessons of Australia’s history.
Such policies did not work with convicts when the industrial revolution swept through Britain more than two centuries ago, and it is not working now. If honourable members assume that prison is not the way to treat offenders with drug problems and those in poverty, it seems odd that they now say that this bill provides a great and better way to control the drug problem in prison, which from all accounts is worse inside prisons than outside them, although I am not and do not pretend to be an expert on what happens in prisons.
The high incidence of hepatitis C in prisons suggests that there is still a lot of needle use in prisons. Prisoners sharing needles are incubators of, and provide a transition mechanism for, diseases that are harmful to prisoners and to society in general. It is worrying that by supporting a bill one may be seen to be strengthening the framework which that bills supports. In fact, I would not want to be seen to be supporting an approach to the drug problem and society’s problems that this bill assumes as part of its very nature.
Justice Action is a new group that is trying to get a better deal for prisoners and trying to get society to see the error of its ways in the way it uses prisons as a blunt and ineffective instrument of social change. It is interesting that in its press release dated 11 October Justice Action said:
The Department of Corrective Services should not be granted powers which can be so easily and catastrophically abused and restrictions should be placed on undercover activities by any body, State or Federal, which have the ability to compromise faith in professional confidentiality.
At that stage the group was concerned that the identity that could be assumed was that of priests, counsellors, doctors and other health professionals who were "the tiny observation window society now has on activities in the prison system". Those issues have been addressed as a result of co-operation by the Minister for Corrective Services, the Hon. A. G. Corbett and some others so that the identities that may be assumed are somewhat limited.
Certainly if undercover groups are going to go into prisons they should do so in a regulatory rather than an unregulated framework. I support this bill although I really do not support its framework at a more global level. This bill amends the Law Enforcement and National Security (Assumed Identities) Act 1998. It appears that the Government
neglected to include the Department of Corrective Services, the Independent Commission Against Corruption, the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation, the Australian Federal Police and the New South Wales Police Service in the Act.
The State Investigative and Security Group [SISG] falls within the Department of Corrective Services. Its job description seems a little rubbery. The Minister for Gaming and Racing, and Minister Assisting the Premier on Hunter Development - who delivered the second reading speech in another place - seemed to be saying that SISG’s main job was to tackle the problem of drug trafficking in prison.
During the Address-in-Reply debate the Minister for Corrective Services added that the SISG undertakes surveillance of inmates who are on work release or day leave. Its tasks, therefore, are unclear. It is always worrying when a measure that is passed to deal with one problem is used for another purpose. The 1997-98 annual report of the New South Wales Department of Corrective Services stated that the SISG conducted 27 large-scale visitor interdiction operations that yielded various drugs and drug-taking implements as well as 36 large-scale drug interdiction operations involving inmates. That is the only information in the annual report about the SISG, and there are few details.
The SISG also investigates corrupt conduct by other Corrective Services staff. The trafficking of drugs in gaols is sometimes a two-way street, and it is obviously easier to get drugs into prisons if a Corrective Services staff member is involved. The problem with the SISG using assumed identities is that a number of the people who have relationships with prisoners, such as social workers, drug and alcohol workers or clergy, are bound by confidentiality provisions. If the confidentiality of those relationships is compromised, the rehabilitation of prisoners will be slowed.
Prisoners, particularly those who are drug-addicted, are distrustful of most people at the best of times. If they are not able to trust the people supposedly working to help them, they will not be able to address the problems that they need to overcome. This is a particular problem with injecting drug users, as there is always the problem of the outbreak of blood-borne diseases such as HIV, AIDS and hepatitis C.
The high rate of infection in prisons was identified in the report of the Standing Committee on Social Issues inquiry into hepatitis C entitled "The Hidden Epidemic" and an earlier report by the Corrections Health Service entitled "Inmate Health Survey", which was released in November 1997. The amendment proposed by the Hon. R. S. L. Jones is unnecessary as I understand that the appointment of the inspector general has already occurred. The inspector general will act as an ombudsman in the Department of Corrective Services, and will oversee all correctional centres, investigate and make recommendations on administrative matters and conduct inquiries into other major problems in the correctional system.
The Government made an election commitment in 1995 to appoint an inspector general as recommended by the Nagle royal commission in 1978 and later by the Wood royal commission. The Coalition in the other place made much of the fact that no appointment had been made by the time of the Wood recommendation. The Minister has said that appointment action has been put in train, and that is encouraging. The success of the position of inspector general will depend on the calibre of the person appointed and whether that person can gain the support of the department in performing the role of an ombudsman.
Internal investigative bodies always have difficulties, as the police internal affairs branch has found in the past. The question is whether the inspector general, working inside Corrective Services, can be sufficiently independent to be effective in the job. If the inspector general does the job well, it will be a good thing. However, if the position is used to cover up wrongdoing in Corrective Services, the Ombudsman would be a more effective investigative body.
I am pleased that the Hon. A. G. Corbett and the Minister have reached agreement on what identities can and cannot be used. Having been given that assurance by the Minister and assuming the appointment of the inspector general, I support the bill, though I do not think that prisons are the answer to society’s problems or its drug problems.
The Hon. M. R. EGAN
(Treasurer, Minister for State Development, and Vice-President of the Executive Council) [10.03 p.m.], in reply: I thank honourable members for their support for the bill, which I commend to the House.
Motion agreed to.
Bill read a second time and passed through remaining stages.