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Tuesday, 22 October 1974
Page: 1844

Senator KEEFFE (Queensland) - I want to make further reference to a subject I raised in his chamber approximately a week ago and to give a little more information which I think is highly necessary. When I made a previous submission to the Attorney-General (Senator Murphy) seeking additional Australian Government funds for the upgrading of the prison system in Queensland and seeking assistance for a royal commission he assured me in a letter that he was investigating this matter. I thank the Attorney-General.

Most honourable senators would recall that as a result of my accusations on that occasion I was subjected to a rather unfair attack, in particular by Mr Herbert, the Queensland Minister in charge of prisons. I want to quote briefly from two or three transcripts of interviews of the Minister by various sections of the media on both radio and television. In one interview on 16 October the interviewer asked him in relation to the case I mentioned last week whether he was aware that an inmate had been found dead in the gaol. The Minister replied:

Well, it happens fairly regularly that we do find prisoners dead in the gaol.

The questioner then asked him whether that particular case concerned him and he said: 'No. ' He was further asked:

Well, this isn't the only report that Senator Keeffe has got. I wonder if I can get you another letter which he says he has got, and it says, 'A fellow inmate attempted to hang himself with some sheets in his cell. The warders found him and cut him down while he was still alive. I watched him die in the cell near me.'

Incidentally, that section of the letter was made available to that part of the media. The interviewer asked him:

How do you feel about that sort of accusation?

The Minister said:

Well, that one is one we were expecting actually and we happen to know the source because he told us before he was going what he was going to do, and that 's not true.

The interviewer said:

But you know that report. Is it true that an inmate was found still alive after he attempted to hang himself?

The Minister replied:

No. According to the report he hung himself and hewhen he- when the- officers there, the prison officers, used the usual type of resuscitation they use on hangings, and they were ineffective and the Government Medical Officer pronounced that life was extinct.

So then the interviewer asked:

So in those 2 cases you see absolutely nothing sinister at all?

Then the Minister said:

You don't take the word of a prisoner over the word of a magistrate, and that's what it boils down to.

That last sentence stands alone as an indictment of the system.

I want to quote briefly from a radio broadcast which was also made by the Minister. Prior to the interview with the Minister an Aboriginal was interviewed on the same radio station. The interviewer asked him how long he had been in Stuart gaol. The Aboriginal replied:

About 3 months to3½ months.

He was asked:

And how were you treated during those 3 months there?

He replied:

Like an animal. When I first went into the gaol for assault, I assaulted a policeman in Townsville- that's when I first went in there. As soon as I walked in- they bashed me as soon as I walked in there. They said: 'Oh, you are a bit of a fighter. We'll straighten you black bastards out'. When I went in there they bashed me up and they had 2 more come in behind me drunk, and they complained that they were crook, that they were sick. They got a bashing too, beside me.

The interviewer said:

You are saying that you got bashed when you complained of being ill?

He said:

Yes. By the prison warder as soon as I walked in the gaol. Then I complained again the next day and I got locked up in the cages for it. There were 1 4 of us in there, we 're all black.

A number of other references are relevant but I will not quote them in great detail here tonight. If the Minister or anyone else wants to look at this transcript he is welcome to it. The interviewer then said:

Well, Senator Keeffe has alleged that one prisoner who attempted suicide was just left and allowed to die. Does this surprise you?

The Aboriginal replied:

Oh, no, I'd expect that. Yes I would, especially up there. There's one died when I was there- in the yard, just fell over, and they didn 't give a -

It is a five-letter word-

About him, just lay there all day.

The interviewer said:

He wasn 't given any medical treatment?

The Aboriginal replied:

No. He just lay down and died. And they left him all day in the sun. Didn't even move him. After he'd died he was still laying there. It was 3 or 4 hours- just after dinner it was. All day, all day long they left him laying in the sun.

The interviewer asked:

Was he a black prisoner?

The Aboriginal replied:

He was a black, an islander.

Later the Minister was interviewed by the same interviewer, who said:

Well, I've just been speaking to an ex-inmate of the prison at Stuart Creek who backs up what Senator Keeffe has been saying.

The Minister replied:

That wouldn't surprise me at all. I suspect that ex-inmates have provided him with the information that he's working on- that's the circle I'd expect him to move in. But I'm prepared to accept the word of the officers within the service first.

I do not mind the slur from the Minister because I find that in many instances the ex-prisoners are more truthful than some of the people with whom the Minister knocks around.

A few days ago Mr Brian Davis, an Opposition member of the Queensland Parliament, asked how many deaths had occurred in Queensland prisons between 1970 and 1974 inclusive. He also asked what were the reasons for each death and in which prisons particular prisoners had died. He received the information that there had been 13 deaths over that period. The list of reasons ranged from coronary occlusion down to asthma. I was mystified to find also that one of the other causes of death listed by the responsible Minister was hangings. Obviously things are so bad in Queensland gaols that death from strangulation by hanging is classified as a disease. I have here another document- and all these things will be made available to a royal commission or to some other suitable type of inquiry at which the rights of the prisoners are protected. It is useless for Mr Herbert to say: Give me the letters. I want them in my hand. I want to see what I can do about individual cases.' I know what will happen about those people. They will receive longer sentences for passing out information about the way they are being treated.

A man who had served 3 months in Stuart Creek on a charge of possession of cannabis said that when serving he heard of several wrong treatments by officers, especially male rapings and that several were locked up for no apparent reason. He asked that his letter be added to a petition for better gaol conditions and he said: 'I stand ready to bear witness. ' The shadow Minister for Justice in the Queensland Parliament posed questions to the Minister after my statement here last week. I have here a condensation of the replies that he received. In particular he asked about the death of a prisoner at the Etna Creek gaol which is near Rockhampton. It was put down to paraquat poisoning. Two Etna Creek prisoners were involved. The death was allegedly as a result of mixing vanilla essence and methylated spirits in a gramoxone weedicide container. The Minister answered that the alleged paraquat poisoning was under police investigation and that the inquest had not been completed. That is a long time ago. According to the Minister, it is common practice for prisoners to manufacture illicit alcoholic beverages.

In reply to a query about a certain prisoner named Lionel Hill who had died from paraquat poisoning the Minister replied that he had no knowledge that the deceased had died from that cause. I think that the matter is so grievoulsy wrong that the body should be exhumed to make sure that the statement made at the time that he had died from something else was in fact true. The evidence indicates that it may not even have been true. We are getting considerable support from many people. I received a telegram from the Prisoners Action Group which states:

Prisoners Action Group and New South Wales Penal Reform Council supports your call for royal commission and federal funds.

The telegram goes on to state that the New South Wales system is also bad. I shall have further discussions with these groups.

I wish to make a number of other brief points which I feel are important. I emphasise that at no time did I accuse warders individually of doing any of the bashings around the place. What I complained about originally was the system. A system like this which is propped up at the top needs reforming right from the top down. Under these circumstances if a warder becomes sadistic, obviously he is merely a victim of the system. But let me cite a couple of other instances which happened within the last 2 years to 2% years. I believe that anything which occurred back to 5 years ought to be investigated by an independent inquiry. This is an accusation that approximately 2 years ago a naked Aboriginal girl was bashed by a male warder at Boggo Road Goal and left without medical attention for 4 days. There is a lot more information on that incident which I shall give at the appropriate time. In the second incident an island lady- I am not sure of the spelling of this name because I have had difficulty getting access to accurate prison records, but it appears to be a Mrs Palaskas- was dragged up the ramp at the gaol by her hair. She was not well. Allegedly, she died on the way to the hospital. In fact, I am told that she was dead before she was placed in the ambulance, but the whole case was hushed up. It is just not damned good enough.

There are accusations too that a number of female prisoners in this gaol have been bashed by male warders. Why should this happen? One of the reasons is that female warders will not stay in the place. At the moment there is only a handful in that gaol with 5 years service or more. Apart from these instances, I have at least one more of an unfortunate happening at Stuart Gaol in the last few weeks. I understand that this matter may be rectified, again because of the fear which follows the exposition of some of the things which are happening. It has been indicated to me that at least 20 ex-warders are prepared to make statements and to provide documents. But to get them before a royal commission it may be necessary to subpoena some of them because north of the border there are grave difficulties if somebody who is a government employee dares to give evidence. They may not keep their jobs. But all of these people are prepared to appear if a royal commission can subpoena them to give evidence. I take this as being truthful evidence because these people have proposed to me that in the near future I shall receive lengthy documentation on the case. So it may be necessary that I come back here in a week or so to give honourable senators the third chapter of this sorry story pertaining to the conditions of prisoners in Queensland.

I respectfully ask the Attorney-General to have a continuing look at my request and at the accusations which I have made. I stand by them. I repeat to the Queensland Minister that as far as I am concerned the evidence is available. When he sets up an independent inquiry where the rights of all people are protected he can then have all the information he wants. He will be snowed under by people coming from the community who want to tell him what is happening in Queensland gaols in this primitive system which might have been a happy state of affairs ISO years ago but which ought to be abolished and replaced with something better in 1 974.

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