Prison Crisis Impacting Police Operations


Mr GARDNER (Morialta) (14:37): My question is to the Minister for Correctional Services. Does the minister agree with the police commissioner that the government is playing musical chairs with remand prisoners in police cells and that this is now affecting police operations?

The Hon. J.R. RAU (EnfieldDeputy Premier, Attorney-General, Minister for Justice Reform, Minister for Planning, Minister for Housing and Urban Development, Minister for Industrial Relations) (14:38): This is a very important question, and it is something that involves a question that raises the issue of the efficiency and effectiveness of the whole justice system, from the point at which a person might be apprehended by the police through to the processing of that person through the court system, through to the admission or not of that person into a Correctional Services facility.

I heard with interest the comments made by the police commissioner today. That is one of the reasons why last year, in about July, we established the Criminal Justice Reform Council to look at these issues. It has as members of that council the Commissioner of Police, the head of the Legal Services Commission, the head of each of the court jurisdictions, the head of Correctional Services and my colleague the Minister for Police and Correctional Services.

The Hon. J.W. Weatherill interjecting:

The Hon. J.R. RAU: Indeed. That is why, at the swearing-in after the election, the Premier asked me to undertake the process of justice reform, which is intended to look at the whole system, that is, from one end to the other. The important point to make about this is that Corrections are a recipient of whatever product comes through the system. They have no control of how many prisoners come their way because that is determined by the police, who either do or do not grant bail at a particular occasion; it is determined by the courts, who do or do not grant bail; and it is determined by the statutes that this place passes, because they either require people to be imprisoned or they don't.

So, the idea that we can focus on Corrections as a single entity and say, 'Look, what's going on in Corrections?' is a complete fallacy and it misunderstands the position overall. There is no doubt that if you wanted to be simplistic about the matter you would be banging the drum of, 'Let's build more prisons, let's build more prisons.' It may be that, in time, prison capacity does need to be reviewed, and indeed I know the minister—

Members interjecting:

The Hon. J.R. RAU: Mr Speaker, I don't find anything funny about talking about prisoners.

The SPEAKER: The member for Unley is called to order.

The Hon. J.R. RAU: The Minister for Corrections has already got projects in the pipeline which are going to be addressing, to some extent, the requirements of the system. But, Mr Speaker, can I give you one example of where I think some useful work can be done which will ameliorate some of these problems? At the moment—

Mr Marshall interjecting:

The Hon. J.R. RAU: I'm trying to provide information to the parliament because I thought the parliament was interested in what's going on in our system.

Members interjecting:

The SPEAKER: The member for Kavel is called to order in order to support his previous warning.

The Hon. J.R. RAU: He's been distracting the others a bit, Mr Speaker.

The SPEAKER: Sorry?

The Hon. J.R. RAU: He's been upsetting the others from back there, I think. Where was I up to?

Members interjecting:

The Hon. J.R. RAU: Yes, remand prisoners. It is a well-known fact, if you look at the ROGS material, that in South Australia we have a higher proportion of prisoners on remand than in any other state.

An honourable member: Shame.

The Hon. J.R. RAU: Perhaps.

Members interjecting:

The SPEAKER: The member for Kavel is warned a second and final time.

The Hon. J.R. RAU: He's attempting to intimidate me, Mr Speaker. Oh dear, I'm out of time.

The SPEAKER: I'm afraid that's all we have time for.

Mr GARDNER (Morialta) (14:42): I have a supplementary, sir. Given the minister's comments that the corrections department has no control over who goes into their system, given that Corrections numbers, prisoner numbers, have increased by 10 per cent last year and 5 per cent in the first two months of this year, all of which was entirely predictable, and every day this year the prison system has been overcrowded, when are you going to take responsibility for the mess in Corrections and when are you actually going to deal with the fact that there is no long-term plan in the Corrections system?

The SPEAKER: That question is out of order. I see the Attorney is keen to answer it.

The Hon. J.R. RAU (EnfieldDeputy Premier, Attorney-General, Minister for Justice Reform, Minister for Planning, Minister for Housing and Urban Development, Minister for Industrial Relations) (14:42): If I'm given sufficient latitude I'm happy to answer that question. First of all, the first statement made by the honourable member for Morialta is what a famous American statesman would have referred to as a self-evident truth; that is, that the Corrections service does—

The Hon. J.J. Snelling: A priori.

The Hon. J.R. RAU: A priori, indeed. The Corrections service does not actually select its own people, believe it or not; they are selected by others. The second thing is, he then went on to say that these things are entirely predictable. Well, predictable according to what and whom, I would be interested to know.

Members interjecting:

The SPEAKER: The member for Stuart is called to order.

The Hon. J.R. RAU: If you would just let me, I am building this up to the eureka moment where the smiles will break out on their faces, Mr Speaker, when they realise that all this worry has been unnecessary. The situation is this: at the last election the Premier asked me to look at this question of justice reform, from beginning to end.

Members interjecting:

The SPEAKER: The Treasurer is called to order.

The Hon. J.R. RAU: As I was explaining, the fact that we have a large number of people in remand at any given time (that means in prison awaiting trial), one of the questions that we are looking at is, for example, how many of those remandees are short-term remandees? And if they are short-term remandees (say, people remanded for a fortnight or less) why is it that it was necessary for them to be remanded in custody at all in the first place, for instance? Do they represent, in fact, a danger to the public? Is the reason that they are on remand because they could not be put before a suitable—

Members interjecting:

The Hon. J.R. RAU: Anyway, is it because they were not able to be put in front of a magistrate to be able to have a bail application heard? Is it because police were not able, for whatever reason, to process an application for police bail? Is it because the charge actually should not at that time have been a charge but could have been—

Members interjecting:

The SPEAKER: The member for Heysen is warned a second and final time.

The Hon. J.R. RAU: Mr Speaker, it is very hard to add additional things to a cup that is full. It would appear their cup is completely full presently and further information is unnecessary.

The Hon. A. Koutsantonis: Their cup overfloweth.

The Hon. J.R. RAU: Their cup overfloweth with ignorance.

Mr Gardner: Two minutes ago you said this was no laughing matter and now you're trying to make jokes.

The Hon. J.R. RAU: No, I'm not. As I was trying to explain, there are many reasons why somebody winds up in remand, for example. Some of those reasons may be very good reasons; some of those reasons may be reasons that we should be looking at and paying a great deal of attention to.

It is my intention and the government's intention before the end of the year hopefully to be able to present a high-level paper which looks at the whole question of justice reform, not just focusing on Corrections—not saying, 'Corrections, it's all your fault'—not just focusing on the police and saying 'Police, it's all your fault', not just focusing on the courts and saying 'Courts, it's all your fault', but looking at the whole system, including the private profession, including the Director of Public Prosecutions, and including the Legal Services Commission, and asking the question: are all of you people cooperating in the best possible way?

Members interjecting:

The Hon. J.R. RAU: We will in that context also be turning our minds to the sentencing regime and whether there is an appropriate range of penalties available to the courts which add on to the alternative of imprisonment.

Mr GARDNER: Supplementary, sir.

The SPEAKER: Before the member for Morialta asks the question, I call the member for Colton to order.

Mr GARDNER (Morialta) (14:47): Supplementary, sir: can the minister guarantee that there will be enough holding cells for police to continue making arrests over the Christmas period, given that there is a nine-day courts recess and the minister's white paper that is going to solve all these problems certainly won't have been dealt with by then?

The Hon. J.R. RAU (EnfieldDeputy Premier, Attorney-General, Minister for Justice Reform, Minister for Planning, Minister for Housing and Urban Development, Minister for Industrial Relations) (14:47): I think that's out of order, isn't it?

The Hon. J.R. RAU: Mr Speaker, as an indulgence I am happy to answer a supplementary out of order question, and the answer is that we are making every effort to improve the system. We will continue to do so and we will be perfectly happy to engage with the member for Morialta and others about the quite bold solutions we will be putting forward. We hope they will engage with that in a positive way so that we can actually achieve meaningful change in the justice system.