The Hon. CATHERINE CUSACK [4.01 p.m.]: Kariong Detention Centre is the supermax of the juvenile detention centre system. Members will be aware there are a large number of problems in the centre, many of which the Opposition has raised this week. They include the amazing story of unauthorised entry to the inner compound of Kariong Detention Centre by a large group of unwitting, elderly people in search of a coffee shop. The Minister says it never happened, that they were four old people looking for a prayer meeting at Baxter. I suggest the Minister watch this space.
The Opposition has raised the story of the worker whose nose was broken as a result of being assaulted by a detainee. Incredibly, the worker was forced to apologise to the detainee. The Minister says that the worker was not forced to apologise, that he volunteered. Apart from insulting our intelligence, the Minister's response is a further insult to the injured staff member. We also raised the case of the detainee who put a pillow slip over the head of a worker and set it on fire. The Minister confirmed this, but he said, dismissively, that the worker received minor injuries and was back at work shortly thereafter.
My information is that the worker was burned and badly shaken by the incident. He was saved by having short, cropped hair. The detention centre management made him drive himself to hospital. As a tribute to the worker, and not to the system, he returned to work the next day. I note that the Minister has at no time expressed regret about the incident or concerns for the welfare of that worker. The Opposition also raised the issue of the hole in the gymnasium wall that was, as a test of the Minister's credibility, reported by staff to the Minister on 27 July but as of this week had not been fixed properly.
We questioned the increasing number of adults in the detention centre system, which is at almost 30 per cent capacity—a trend that goes against the express wishes of the Parliament—and this too has been dismissed by the Minister. The spark that set the issue ablaze in the media this week was the Minister's announcement on Monday of a new objective classification system for detainees that will give the department more flexibility to move detainees around the detention centre system. The Opposition has grave reservations about the new system, and we hope to pursue the issue in estimates committee hearings tonight.
The reason the Minister is doing this is to make more room at Kariong Detention Centre. Detainees are being transferred not because of their behaviour and crime assessments, but simply to free up beds at Kariong for uncontrollable detainees. The Opposition believes there is a significant problem at Kariong Detention Centre. The solution lies not in reshuffling high-risk offenders across the system but, rather, in moving the 28 per cent of detainees who are adults into the adult system. The proposition is simple: adult criminals in adult prisons, and child detainees in the juvenile detention centre system. What could the Minister have done to prevent the emerging crisis in Kariong? First, youth workers at Kariong need to have appropriate powers to manage detainees under their control. They do not have the powers that are afforded police and corrective services officers, including the right to search and the right to restrain out-of-control detainees. They lack even the power to defend themselves when they are about to be assaulted. This must change.
Second, we must change the Kariong system of behavioural reporting. At present any staff member at Kariong Detention Centre who makes a negative report about a detainee has to deal with the fact that the "negative notes", as they are known, will be shown to the detainee. In effect, management is dobbing in the workers to the detainees. To my knowledge, Kariong is the only detention centre in which this practice occurs. If a detainee loses a privilege, he blames the staff member who made the report and seeks revenge against that person. The result of this policy at Kariong will not surprise members. After a rash of staff assaults, the youth workers have stopped making negative reports. The Kariong operating environment is poisonous; the detainees are so emboldened they even undertake explicit sexual acts in front of security cameras that they know are videoing the event. This type of swaggering arrogance is placing staff at grave risk. Workers at Kariong have told me bluntly that there is a virtual conspiracy between management and the detainees against the youth workers. Managers hold private meetings with detainees and show them the negative reports youth workers have written about them. Management have on at least one occasion stated to a group of the detainees that if they lose their pizzas and X-boxes, it will be the fault of the workers. "Blame the workers," management told the detainees.
Where does this leave the detainees? With this war going on between Kariong staff and management, how is it possible for any inmate to stabilise in the centre, let alone benefit from its programs? It is an appalling state of affairs. Last Monday the Minister issued a press release in which she responded as follows:
I have received updated reports today on all the incidents raised by the Opposition and I am confident that all have been professionally and appropriately managed to ensure the safety of the community, Juvenile Justice staff and other detainees.
The Minister is so locked into political spin that she is ignoring her duty of care to her own staff.