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Canberra Today 18°/21° | Monday, December 6, 2021 | Digital Edition | Crossword & Sudoku

Indifferent Labor ministers just can’t say sorry

“Shane Rattenbury acknowledged the hurt and pain of the Aboriginal woman at the centre of the travesty and tendered, on behalf of the Greens, his regret and sorrow at her treatment,” writes columnist JON STANHOPE

THE recent report, prepared by the ACT Inspector of Correctional Services into the strip search of an Aboriginal woman in the AMC was, unsurprisingly, the catalyst for a motion of no confidence in Corrections Minister Mick Gentleman. 

Jon Stanhope.

The motion, moved by shadow minister for Aboriginal Affairs Elizabeth Kikkert, engendered an important debate about the extent to which the human rights of detainees in the prison are increasingly honoured in the breach.

In her speech, Ms Kikkert gave an excellent summation of what our expectations of the AMC should be in respect to the human rights of people in detention and of just how alarmingly short of meeting those expectations we currently fall. Anyone interested in this issue might wish to get hold of the relevant Hansard.

In response to the motion, Minister Gentleman and Deputy Chief Minister Yvette Berry spoke, in the main, about the wonderful staff employed at the prison, and completely ignored the existence of the Aboriginal woman at the centre of what was described, by the Inspector of Correctional Services, as a degrading and traumatising experience. Neither of them acknowledged her existence nor empathised with her in response to the horrid ordeal she had endured. They expressed no regret or concern about her treatment or sympathy for the hurt she suffered.

Their attitude to this very serious incident, which struck me as not dissimilar to Scott Morrison’s initial reaction to the Brittany Higgins revelations, was completely at odds with that of their ministerial colleague and Greens leader, Attorney-General Shane Rattenbury, who delivered a speech of sensitivity and substance. 

Acknowledging his role, and that of his party, as members of the government and hence subjects of the corrections inspector’s damning report, he spoke openly and honestly about the shortcomings exposed in the report and the need for continuing reform in the management of the prison. 

Importantly, he acknowledged the hurt and pain of the Aboriginal woman at the centre of the travesty and tendered, on behalf of the Greens, his regret and sorrow at her treatment.

Opposition Leader Elizabeth Lee also spoke with genuine compassion and highlighted the need for all of us to remember that at the centre of this controversy is a human being, one of us, a Canberran.

To provide some sense of how the debate on the report of this deeply troubling incident unfolded I have extracted a couple of sentences from each of the speakers that I think capture the essence of their respective views and attitudes. 

Attorney-General Shane Rattenbury. .. sorry.

Elizabeth Kikkert: “As we know, this talk of a human-rights compliant prison has just become a way for the Labor-Greens government to push a narrative that they care about vulnerable people. They are preening false feathers.”

“I wish to impress on anyone with a stake in our prison management that this prison is in our city. It is in Canberra. Canberra is our home. Canberrans can be rightfully proud of many aspects of the city. Unfortunately, we have areas where we do not perform well and one of them is the prison.”

She concluded by quoting Gandhi: “The true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members.”

Mick Gentleman: “Let us be clear this motion is a stunt.”

“I am confident that we are doing a good job and learning from each new hurdle. I thank Corrections staff for their dedication in providing care and support for detainees throughout this time. I am told that over the weekend several staff cancelled leave plans to take on extra shifts.”

Yvette Berry: “Significant work is happening out there to improve the lives of detainees by ensuring that our staff and the officers out at the AMC are properly respected and trained to be able to continue with that work.”

Shane Rattenbury: “The report is difficult and distressing to read. It outlines a traumatic incident involving an Aboriginal female detainee at the AMC.

“I would like to express my concern at both the treatment and the findings in the report and say there is clearly more to do. The report raises a number of issues that require careful consideration by the government”.

“We as a government need to empathise with the individual who was subject to the strip search. Therefore, on behalf of the ACT Greens, I express our sorrow to the individual. I know this cannot take away the memories or experience, but I hope it can provide some comfort, no matter how small.”

Elizabeth Lee: “Let us think about detainee A. Her name is Julianne. She is not a statistic, Minister. She is a young First Nations’ woman. She is a victim, a survivor of sexual assault. She is a Canberran. She is far from perfect. But who of us is? 

“She is someone who needed government support and did not get it. Instead, what she got was another cold, callous, unsympathetic response from this minister. Unlike what this minister has reduced her to, she is not another statistic. She is a human being, just like you and I, and she deserves to be treated with dignity and have her human rights upheld.”

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Thank you,

Ian Meikle, editor

Jon Stanhope

Jon Stanhope

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