I seek leave to make an explanation before asking the Minister for Correctional Services a question about overcrowding in prisons.
The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: Members would be aware of the current tensions at Yatala in particular in relation to staff shortages. The Public Service Association has stated that, over time, budget restrictions have limited the backfilling of staff who have been ill. We have had a number of other incidents within the past few weeks. There was an incident at the Adelaide women’s prison. The PSA has also highlighted the shuffling of approximately 30 prisoners per night between facilities. Rick Sarre stated that the high remand rate is having a very significant impact on the imprisonment rate. We also had the incident a couple of weeks ago where contraband was detected by prisons, and the PSA again expressed concerns that falling numbers of staff in prisons will increase workloads and limit the ability to conduct random searches. My questions to the minister are:
1. Have all the positions been filled today, or is Yatala in lock down?
2. Is the PSA correct when it says that the overtime budget has been cut?
3. What strategies has the government implemented to manage our prison population?
The Hon. CARMEL ZOLLO (Minister for Correctional Services): I first need to place on the record that the department has not cut or reduced budgets for prisons in this state. All budgets are allocated in accordance with a fair and equitable budget model, based on approved rosters and operational requirements. I also should place on the record that the Yatala prison is running at over its approved staff establishment. In July 2006, the department employed an additional eight staff at Yatala Labour Prison. Any claim by the PSA that staffing levels have decreased are simply wrong.
Security is not just about staffing and, at the same time as staffing levels have been increased, security systems and intelligence efforts have also been improved.
In relation to the lock down yesterday by the PSA at Yatala Labour Prison, I am advised that the matter was discussed at a meeting this morning. Following that meeting, the prisoners at Yatala Labour Prison were unlocked from their cells, and full operational services have resumed. I am further advised that consultation will now continue and that the focus will be on identifying and implementing appropriate and sensible measures that enable the most effective management of our prison at Yatala.
The PSA sought an urgent meeting with me and the matter was raised. As I said, I always try to ensure that I am available, and I was. I accommodated the request of the PSA and we met on, I think, 4 August. I indicated to the PSA representatives at that meeting that I expected my prison managers to manage and considered their actions to be both responsible and appropriate. I have full faith in my chief executive and the executive of our prisons in South Australia, and I reiterate that point to the PSA and correctional officers.
I think it is critical for the effective management of our prison system that we continue to explore opportunities and be responsive and flexible in meeting operational needs and the management of risk.
The honourable member also knows (and I am sure that nearly everyone in South Australia would be aware) that the department is assessing the infrastructure needs of the state’s prisons system. This assessment will be taken into account when determining any future investments. The government will also seek to improve services, and it is looking at a solution that will take us well into the future. I can appreciate that, with this cycle, if you like, in terms of funding—a delayed state budget because of the election—there would be—
The Hon. J.S.L. Dawkins interjecting:
The Hon. CARMEL ZOLLO: Sorry?
The Hon. J.S.L. Dawkins: Because of the election?
The Hon. CARMEL ZOLLO: Yes.
The PRESIDENT: The minister may not respond to interjections. They are out of order.
The Hon. CARMEL ZOLLO: I appreciate that the PSA would have some issues. It is a very active union, and any action it takes is a healthy part of our democracy.
The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: Sir, I have a supplementary question. Is the minister saying that the PSA is playing games with this activity?
The Hon. CARMEL ZOLLO: No, Mr President.