Letters / Cries from voiceless to prevent further suicide

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“Our family’s experience of the interaction between the mental health and the justice systems for our family member was as traumatic as the incident that led to them being held in custody,” says our lead letter this week.

WE write to echo concerns of racism in the Alexander Maconochie Centre prison expressed in Jon Stanhope’s column “The shameful politicians who don’t give a stuff” (CN March 4).

As Canberrans, we struggle to get a voice to be heard, but how do we alarm those who put this in the “way-too-hard basket”?

The case Mr Stanhope outlined was not an isolated incident of strip searching a female detainee in view of male detainees. 

Our family’s experience of the interaction between the mental health and the justice systems for our family member was as traumatic as the incident that led to them being held in custody. 

Suffering from schizophrenia, our family member was also placed in the Crisis Support Unit. They were similarly strip searched, and reports that women are also placed in the same unit, in different cells. This is in combination with 23 hours a day seclusion. At particular angles, yes, males are able to see into female cells. So denial cannot continue, that this could not happen. 

Concerns regarding mental health treatment and Corrections accommodation and culture have been raised through submissions to three separate inquiries – two to the ACT Inspector of Correctional Services and one to the ACT Legislative Assembly Youth Mental Health inquiry, plus meetings with the former Minister for Mental Health and Corrections. 

Racism is reported as the primary concern, but also what is compassionate treatment for those suffering mental illness or cognitive impairment?

The ACT government reports a focus on justice reinvestment – that is, funding services and practices to prevent or divert those most at risk from entering the criminal system.

So stop denying and act – increase your focus and investment on supporting those with a mental illness, including those from the indigenous community. 

Such an approach is both compassionate and cost-effective. Funds seem to be available for more inspectors or commissioners, what about core services? 

Equip community support services to address core needs, better integrate police and mental health services, re-invigorate and speed-up the work on the Disability Justice Strategy, better resource the mental health, justice health, alcohol and drug services, and Corrections so they can research and undertake alternate evidence-based activities.

Please attend to cries from those of us trying to prevent further suicide, self harm and harm to others.

Names and address withheld

Where are the women’s voices?

FOR the second time in as many weeks, columnist Jon Stanhope has proved himself to be one of the few “true believers” in Canberra who displays political and personal integrity. 

What’s wrong with his former ACT government colleagues (Labor and Greens) that they would ignore the appalling treatment handed out to an indigenous woman at the Alexander Maconochie Centre?

In particular, in the light of the present events in the federal parliament, where are the decent women in the ACT government? 

I’d expect them, even if their male colleagues don’t have the bottle, to be yelling at the tops of their voices for an official inquiry into the poor woman’s treatment. 

It’s ironic that the only female voice heard so far, has been that of the ACT Liberals’ Elizabeth Kikkert.

So come on Labor women – show what you are made of and stand up for another woman’s basic human rights.

Eric Hunter, Cook

Something is very wrong

IF what columnist Jon Stanhope reports (“The Shameful politicians who don’t give a stuff”, CN March 4) really happened, then there is something very wrong in the Alexander Maconochie Centre. Nobody should be treated like this regardless of their race.

Assuming the males and females are segregated, why would there be male officers and detainees in the women’s area? Surely there are cameras in the AMC that can verify or refute these charges. 

All this being said, why is Jon so surprised at the Barr government’s behaviour, they never have “given a stuff” about the people of Canberra, they continually go against the wishes of the public and do what they want all the time. They keep spending on non-essentials and do not fix all the problems or keep their election promises.

If the people of Canberra keep voting them in, they only have themselves to blame.

Vi Evans, via email

Lot of work behind the scenes

WHAT Michael Moore says in his column, “More Ministers, but fewer days in house” (CN March 4) is fair enough, and in my almost 14 years working as a political staffer in the Assembly (I retired last year), I, too, often despaired of the steady reduction in the number of formal sitting days.

But I think Michael should also consider the work of the several Assembly committees (he mentions Estimates, which is but one of many).

As Michael would know well, these committees review and inquire into a vast range of issues and spend a great deal of time “sitting” in those exercises. 

Committees, in our unicameral parliament, not only provide the checks and balances that Michael talks about, but also give citizens an opportunity to input directly, either by written submissions or, in many cases, in-person appearances, to give evidence before those committees. 

So, in a sense, the work of committees more directly interacts with citizens than do the formal sittings of the Assembly.

Clearly, the Assembly’s formal sittings are crucial to the good governance of the ACT; it is here that our legislation is proposed, debated and made. It is often the case that debates will continue for many hours to ensure all MLAs have an opportunity for input and to enable consideration of amendments. 

There also are times when proposed legislation is referred to committees for inquiry (although sometimes politics, or simply sheer arrogance of numbers, will usurp that good process) and this is when the checks and balances really come into play, especially when these inquiries involve citizen input.

Let there be no doubt, MLAs, whatever their political colour, work very hard for our community. It’s just that a lot of it is behind the scenes.

Clinton White, Wanniassa

Patience, my friend, patience

TO Robert Ardill, (“Seven Days”, CN March 4): you need to be patient. I waited 20 months for a reply from Roads ACT via Access Canberra (to a repair request I submitted) that told me the problem area had been inspected and added to the works program for repair. 

To give them credit, the work was carried out four days later. 

Is this a record for both slowness and quickness? 

So, patience my friend, patience.

Barry Peffer, Nicholls 

Beholden to the property industry

THE Inner South Canberra Community Council’s page in “CityNews” (March 4) refers to the “ACT Government Planning Review” and says: “We agree with the comments recently made by chief planner Mr Ben Ponton that the current rules-based system is producing sub-optimal outcomes”. 

In fact, as reported in “The Canberra Times” on February 26, Mr Ponton says “the current territory plan forces the territory’s planning authority to approve unsuitable developments”, supposedly because developers just do whatever the “rules” say.

It’s not the rules-based system that is the problem. Developers ignore the “rules” and the planning authority fails to enforce them. 

A recent Giles Street, Kingston, redevelopment proposal was for an eight-storey building where the building height “rule” was two storeys. The proposal also ignored another six relevant rules as well as performance criteria. 

Only the outrage of local residents and the intervention (just prior to the ACT elections) of government members Barr and Rattenbury seems to have stopped this egregious proposal, at least for the moment. 

Who would benefit from moving away from a “rules-based system”? The planning authority, which would be even less constrained in making arbitrary and inexplicable decisions. Developers and their planning consultants who would no longer have to pretend they comply with rules. NOT the community, who would have difficulty arguing their case if quantitative tests are removed. 

Perhaps the real reason the planning authority feels “forced to approve unsuitable developments” is more to do with their own competence and their beholden attitude to the property industry, rather than the “rules”.

Richard Johnston, Kingston

Why does it have to be so hard?

I COULD not help but reflect on some stark similarities between Paul Costigan’s column and the guest article by Mark Parton in the “CityNews” edition of March 4.

As Mr Parton suggests, the ACT government has strangled the supply of land in favour of units and apartments – a far more lucrative supply of revenue for the government. Mr Costigan notes the perceived need for additional car parking and laments the lack of consultation and the government’s ignoring of the WCCC.  

But why do we need more car parking? Could it be because the high-rise Molonglo suburbs that have sprouted in the last few years have pitifully inadequate infrastructure and thus residents of Molonglo come to Cooleman Court for their shopping and services?

The Minister for Something has got it all back to front. In my view, getting facilities into Molonglo will reduce the pressure on car parking in Cooleman Court. Why is this so hard? 

He got it back to front at another point, too. Issuing a tender document before the area was rezoned smacks of an arrogance of a tired government (despite the election having been only months ago) which does not consider transparency or due process as relevant.  

Remember, voters did not support the previous government in the election and voted for more Greens at the expense of Labor and the Liberals. It’s apparent (in my humble view) that voters could not stomach either major party and were left with the least unpalatable crew as the alternative.

David Hannaford, via email

Parton’s on the right track

LIBERAL MLA Mark Parton’s ideas about dual-occupancy “densification” of our existing suburbs, versus intrusive blocks of flats, are generally okay (“Infill prices kill dream of owning a house”, CN March 4). 

However, builder-developers (who needs them, when land owners can commission an architect, and get their “dual-occies” built, via competitive tendering, virtually wholesale?) will generally only provide the minimum required amount of sunny private open space – currently six metres in diameter (28.3 square metres) per dwelling. That needs to be at least a mandatory 100 square metres each, still with a minimum dimension of six metres, for healthy family living, with space for say, a shed, gardens, trampoline, trees and maybe a pool. 

That would help preserve the appealing green swathe of backyard environments running through and defining our suburbs. It would also curb the proliferation of grossly over-sized dual occupancies with puny “alfrescos”, increasingly being taken up as sterile, inflationary Airbnbs, because they’re no good for families. 

The approval of more basement or partial-basement garages could also be considered for dual-occupancies, to maximise open space (currently, they’re only permitted if the block frontage is more than an atypical 30 metres, on aesthetic grounds – a restriction apparently not regarded as relevant to the blight of two double garages side by side in your typical one-street-frontage dual occupancy.

Jack Kershaw, Kambah 

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