Inspector of Correctional Services Bill 2017 Amendments
Madam Speaker, I stand to speak in support of the foreshadowed amendments moved by Mrs Jones. Along with the rest of the Canberra Liberals, I welcome greater oversight of our correctional facilities in the ACT, including Bimberi Youth Justice Centre, which, as we all understand, has its own troubled history.
The recommendation for the creation of this inspectorate arose out of a tragedy: the death of man who was in the custody of this Government. As Mrs Jones has already noted, it is a bitter irony that in a jurisdiction that lacks the death penalty, we still have prisoners dying in custody. I genuinely hope that this new office will be in a position – with real capacity – to help prevent any more such tragedies.
For this to be the case, however, it is essential that the new inspector be genuinely independent. As we all know intuitively – and as numerous experts have repeatedly pointed out – external oversight requires full independence in order to function correctly.
I have been in this position for barely a year, but in that short time, one of the most common complaints that I have heard from a variety of Canberrans is that effective external scrutiny is lacking in this territory. Some of these complaints and concerns have even been raised by those who have been tasked with providing some of this scrutiny. We in this chamber should be concerned.
They say that perception is reality, Madam Speaker. And so when a number of Canberrans feel that those who are responsible for providing external scrutiny in this territory are too entangled in, too obligated to, the Government to perform their functions, then we have a problem.
Such concerns were raised earlier this year by Mr Bill Bashford, who pointed out that as one of the Government’s Official Visitors for Children and Young People, his job required him to report directly to the very same directorate that supposedly he was independently monitoring, creating a serious conflict of interest.
The simple solution, as I see it, is to remove any possibility of suspicion. Mrs Jones’s amendments seek specifically to do this. Protecting the integrity of the inspector’s selection by requiring broader consultation with and scrutiny from a standing committee just makes sense. Making this office-holder’s selection the responsibility of the full Assembly and not just the Executive is a prudent move.
A government that refuses to allow for this broad scrutiny and consultation inevitably appears like it has something to hide. Already the Legislation Act requires that a Minister, before making appointments to other statutory appointments, must consult with a standing committee and await their recommendation. I should think that this Government would wish to avoid the appearance of a political appointment at all costs. Why should this important appointment be treated any differently?
We live in a day and age, Madam Speaker, when, according to those who measure such things, cynicism towards government is increasing. Citizens worry about ‘hidden agendas’ and policy moves that look like elaborate defence mechanisms designed to protect those who sit in positions of power. Sensible governments that remain in touch with ordinary citizens understand that they must take steps to dampen such fears. Wise governments happily put into place robust mechanisms that demonstrate their commitment to fairness and independence of oversight.
Anything else, Madam Speaker, looks and feels wrong to so many of those who have spoken to me over the course of the past year – who have personally witnessed what can go wrong when external oversight is not robust enough. And so I encourage this Government to be both sensible and wise. I commend Mrs Jones’s amendments to this Assembly. Thank you.