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Tuesday, 7 June 1994
Page: 1424

Senator LEES (Deputy Leader of the Australian Democrats) (6.55 p.m.) —I move:

  That the Senate take note of the document.

This report outlines the South Australian government's progress regarding the implementation of the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. It is a sad coincidence that while we are assessing the implementation of these recommendations by the South Australian government, that government is actually looking at closing a correctional facility that houses many Aboriginal prisoners in South Australia, and that is the Port Lincoln Prison.

  This is a deliberate flouting of the recommendations of the royal commission and would adversely impact on Aboriginal people from right across Eyre Peninsula. The closure would be, indeed, in direct contravention of the aboriginal deaths in custody report and would certainly place the lives of Aboriginal people at risk. Unfortunately, Aboriginal people make up 25 to 40 per cent of the prison population at Port Lincoln. Already we have families travelling from as far away as Ceduna to visit relatives in that prison. Those families, together with people from the peninsula, would have a lot further to travel if the nearest facility were Port Augusta. It was a specific recommendation of the report that Aboriginal prisoners should not be placed in institutions that are a long way from their relatives.

  We also have concerns about the South Australian government's truth in sentencing legislation because it basically removes any remission for good behaviour. This has the effect of not just increasing the prison term but of removing the incentives for prisoners to behave themselves—for prisoners to try to make an effort so that they spend less time behind bars. We believe that this is already leading to unrest in remand centres and can see continuing unrest if this problem is not addressed.

  Right now we have the so-called audit report in South Australia that is recommending even further cuts to the South Australian prison system. This so-called audit report is not a true audit, and the document contains that disclaimer. The report exaggerates the state's debts and financial problems. It has used statistics very selectively and has not at any stage looked at the social impact of the recommendations for cuts in services. It has not looked at the different needs of South Australians. It has not looked at the social impact of the huge decrease in employment opportunities in the public sector. It has not considered the impact of any of the rises planned in charges or, in some cases, the move to introduce charges for basic services, particularly in the areas of health and education.

  The report has not looked at the outcomes in South Australia. In the area of health it has not looked at South Australia's particular special needs. We in South Australia have one of the lowest income profiles of any state and that is obviously directly related to the very high unemployment level. There is also the age of the population. Unfortunately, the state government is going to use this report, which it commissioned, for its own ends—in other words, it was really just a razor gang—to further cut funding for prisons and the Port Lincoln facility is just going to be one of the casualties.

  The federal government cannot walk away from this either. With ever declining general purpose grants to the states, if the federal government has a real commitment to Aboriginal people and to implementing the recommendations of this report, we will see additional funds specifically allocated for correctional facilities to make sure that the recommendations of the Aboriginal deaths in custody report can be fulfilled.

  Debate (on motion by Senator Margetts) adjourned.