Update: Prison’s new oversight committee comes at a cost

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Inside Alexander Maconochie Centre. Photo: by Andrew Finch

ACT taxpayers are set to pay a former Victorian police chief commissioner $2000 a day to tackle issues that has continued to plague Canberra’s prison system.

It has been revealed at the Estimates Hearings on Wednesday (February 24) the high price it will cost after Christina Nixon was named the new chair of the oversight committee to address ongoing systemic racism at the Alexander Maconochie Centre.

But the the ACT Opposition accused the government of only coughing up Ms Nixon’s hefty wage bill to keep Minister for Corrections Mick Gentleman at arms length from taking on his responsibility.

“I fear that creating an oversight committee is the minister’s way of being totally hands-off in his management of the AMC and not taking any personal responsibility for the failures of the government,” opposition spokesperson for corrections Elizabeth Kikkert said.

The Labor-Greens coalition reshuffled the ministry following their election win last October after Mr Gentleman inherited the portfolio from Greens leader Shane Rattenbury, who once claimed he knew nothing about the alarming treatment of prisoners inside of AMC that had included a female prisoner once stripped search in front of male inmates.

After an oversight committee was formed weeks after the election, Mr Gentleman had considered reports from the inspector of corrections and the implementation of the recommendations, but is set to have little say on the blueprint for change.

“The minister already knows what needs to be improved and he has the resources he needs to implement these changes: his staff, the directorate staff and the inspector,” Ms Kikkert said.

“His appointment of Ms Nixon as the head of the committee is unsurprising – in her time as the Victorian police chief commissioner, a Royal Commission was critical of her hands-off approach. This is a demonstration of the government’s inability to get the job done right.”

Mr Gentleman declined to comment whether the money paid to Ms Nixon on the public purse represented good value that would ensure it secured the right outcomes for AMC.

“It’s extremely disappointing that Mrs Kikkert has decided to attack the newly-appointed chair and oppose action to improve working conditions for corrections staff,” he said.

“(But) I’m committed to addressing the issues raised with me by staff and in recent reviews, particularly ensuring our staff are well trained and resourced.”

The prison staff had complained about training gaps that coincided with riotous behaviour inside the prison that was blamed on staff numbers and poor rosters that lacked more effective, up-to-date training.

It heads a list of issues on both sides of the prison walls that includes to maintain transport and security to escorts offenders between the courts and cells, and human rights lobbying of recourse for inmates on actions inside the prison that does not exist through the ACT  ombudsman or correction services, but through the official visitors’ program.

The Human Rights Commission, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander groups, the Justice and Community Safety Directorate, the Community and Public Sector Union, AMC and representatives from official visitors will join Ms Nixon on the oversight committee.

“I am looking forward to working closely with the Minister for Corrections and committee members on the development of a blueprint for change to address these important issues,” Ms Nixon said.

“As chair of this oversight committee, I will take the lead role to ensure the representatives voices are heard and that support is available as we work towards building a culture of trust.”

On the day of the Black Saturday bushfires, Ms Nixon had famously attended a hairdressing appointment, a meeting with her biographer and a dinner at a fine Melbourne restaurant on the worst day of all the fires soon after she had been appointed to the Victorian Bushfire Reconstruction and Recovery Authority to oversee the recovery and rebuilding operation.

She defended criticism at the time after stepping aside from the high-profile role of the first female chief commissioner of police in Australia.

“It was not my job to swoop in and take control,” Ms Nixon said back in 2009.

“When you have good people, who are more skilled in emergency management than I am, you let those people do the job.”

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