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Monday, 4 September 1989
Page: 885

Senator PETER BAUME(5.39) —I move:

That the Senate take note of the paper.

The death of anyone in custody is a tragedy and there have been far too many deaths of Aboriginal persons. This report of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody is a very welcome one, but it raises the wider issue of deaths in custody generally. I wish to spend a few moments reiterating some matters which were raised in the Senate by Senator Jenkins some months ago about some recent unsavoury events which have left a bad taste and which represent unfinished business as far as some of us are concerned. I refer to some deaths in custody about which some questions remain as to whether there was due process and a proper duty of care exercised.

I remind honourable senators that the first was the death of Daniel Victor Taylor, who died while in prison and was found at autopsy to have an acute necrotising fungal meningo-encephalitis. That may or may not have been treatable. The point is that it was missed when it should have been detected, and this man died. For those who wish to read the account of the coroner's inquiry, the impression arises that the events which occurred for that prisoner, in that prison system, with that illness, were unsatisfactory. Another unsatisfactory matter about that case was that it was revealed at the coroner's inquiry that this particular prisoner had been receiving methadone-I take it he must have had a heroin addiction-and that at or about the time he became ill his methadone was reduced, not because he no longer needed it but as a control mechanism, as a punishment in fact, for certain behaviour he had exhibited in the prison. As a result of that, it was assumed that the symptoms he then developed, which proved to be his terminal illness, were in fact the symptoms of opiate withdrawal-an unavoidable and a quite tragic occurrence.

The second case I wish to mention to the Senate was the case of Nicholas Searcy. This was raised with me by a member of Senator Jenkins's staff who was, in fact, the mother of this young man. I think Senator Jenkins referred to that case, inter alia, in the speech she gave on the adjournment one night. Jennifer Searcy is properly grieving and properly angry about what happened to her son. This was a real tragedy. This was a Jamie Partlic type of story. This young man was a brilliant student, who was committed to the prison for 17 days for a minor infraction. While in prison he developed an illness and died from it. I believe it was another case of encephalitis. Again, not only was there some delay in making a diagnosis, not only was there a delay in instituting proper treatment, but during the time of treatment there was some behaviour which attracted much criticism. I believe this young man was chained to his hospital bed. This was a death in custody with some very unsavoury elements to it.

The third case was that of Malcolm Hatch, who died of meningitis after he had been transferred from Cessnock Prison to the prison hospital at Prince Henry. He died there on 18 July 1988. The fourth, of course, is the case of Jamie Partlic. We know that he did not die, but he has been severely brain injured during a very brief time in hospital; he was a fine defaulter. What should have been a few days in prison has ended up as a life sentence, because he will never recover.

I know the prison medical service in New South Wales, and I know and like the director of the prison medical service. I know they wish to care for prisoners who come under their care. But the population with which they deal is not representative of the community at large. It is more prone to illness; it is more prone, obviously, to some of these illnesses; and it is quite apparent from these cases-quite apart from the cases of Aboriginals who have died in custody-that people with serious illnesses were not picked up as early as they should have been. There is more illness in prisons, there are more problems. There is a duty of care which falls on the authority which I do not believe is being discharged properly in the States of Australia, and I consider that we have a real problem requiring community attention in the years to come.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Burns) —Order! The time allotted for the debate on Government papers has expired.