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Ashley Youth Detention Centre Issues

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Wednesday, 2 December 2020

Tags: Ashley Youth Detention Centre


Since Estimates last week, the Greens have been contacted by people who work in or around Ashley. They are clear your claim that Ashley is safe is not backed by the evidence. We have heard testimony that there is indeed a culture of abuse and cover-up at Ashley, that the problems are not just historical. There is the notorious Franklin unit, allegations of regular rough handling, and of regular periods of isolation, otherwise described as detainees being unit bound.

As an example of what we are told, can you confirm one of the three staff members who was belatedly suspended from Ashley this year is the same person who was subject to the allegation of suspected rape in the 1990s, and that person, who held working with vulnerable people registration until his suspension, has in the past year undertaken strip searches of children?

Can you also confirm that a policy recommended by the Commissioner for Children to provide modesty gowns for young people during strip searches is not being adhered to, and when Ashley staff notified WorkSafe that no modesty gowns were available, a senior manager asked them to withdraw the notice?

We are hearing these disturbing stories from multiple sources. The Ombudsman's report also confirms the recent violent treatment of at least one child. There is both abuse and cover-up at Ashley, and either you are not being told what is happening, or you have decided to look the other way.

Do you stand by your statement that Ashley is a safe environment for young people?



Madam Speaker, I thank the Leader of the Greens for her question. I note that there were many questions and allegations in her contribution. I am sure she will call me out for not answering all of them.

I want to go to what we are doing at Ashley, against the backdrop of concerns raised. I can assure members, and those listening, that any matters raised with my department, concerns around conduct of staff and practices at Ashley, are taken seriously and fully investigated. The recent standing down of three staff members at Ashley on the basis of concerns regarding allegations of historical incidents is evidence that our department takes those matters seriously. Of its own volition, it has instigated its own inquiries and taken the precautionary measure of standing staff down, pending the outcomes of those investigations. Those investigations will roll into the commission of inquiry commencing early next year which will have the full support and cooperation of my department. In regard to the culture and practices at Ashley Youth Detention Centre, we have made reference to the redesign of Ashley as a piece of infrastructure. We have spoken about the bricks and mortar changes which are about to commence there to turn that older corrections facility into a therapeutic detention facility for young people.

The changes that have been made are not just about the bricks and mortar. We are progressing key initiatives to ensure Ashley is a therapeutic environment for detainees. We have introduced a new learning and development framework to ensure all staff are trained to deliver a therapeutic model of care; the appointment of a clinical practice adviser to provide therapeutic and clinical advice to Ashley Youth Detention Centre staff; a new model of care which includes practice frameworks describing how and what services are delivered at Ashley; and implementing the safe centre framework, an adaptation of the safe wards model used in mental health facilities which aims to reduce conflict and ensure greater safety for staff and residents.

We intend to continue with the redevelopment of Ashley as a built facility but also with the redesign of the model of care that is undertaken inside its walls -

Ms O'CONNOR - Point of order, Madam Speaker, under standing order 45, relevance. I have waited because the House needed to hear some of that, but there were specific questions that the minister should at least seek to answer, or come back into the House and provide information on. This is really serious, Madam Speaker.

Madam SPEAKER - I have to rule that is not a point of order. But I ask the minister to try to answer those questions.

Mr JAENSCH - Thank you, Madam Speaker. The member has referred to specific concerns raised and reported on in the Ombudsman's annual report. I can confirm that the department has supported the Ombudsman's recommendations and has already progressed a number of key initiatives to enhance the capacity of the workforce and governance arrangements. I have mentioned some of those but we will continue to do so.

In relation to the practices of searching, in the Estimates hearing I gave a detailed account of the procedures that have been adopted now based on recommendations from the Commissioner for Children and Young People and others regarding how the dignity of young people is protected, but also the importance of there being searches which have found contraband, drugs and knives that otherwise would have entered that facility, and we need to maintain a regime that protects the people inside, both staff and residents of Ashley, from those sorts of items entering the facility.

Ms O'Connor - Can you make some inquiries about that direction from senior staff to withdraw the notice?

Mr JAENSCH - I further encourage the member, if she is in possession of any information about concerns, to please raise them directly with the department.

Ms O'Connor - I've already done that.

Mr JAENSCH - My point is do not save them up to raise them in question time. If there are concerns, please raise them. This member over the last fortnight on a number of occasions has conflated some different lines of evidence, information and allegations to the point of being close to identifying a person and alleging they have conducted a rape in the past. She has been advised that she has some of those links wrong and I think -

Ms O'Connor - We haven't got the rape allegation wrong. I know that.

Mr JAENSCH - I encourage the member in the remaining days we have in this parliament to consider her option of correcting the record.

Ms O'CONNOR - Point of order, Madam Speaker, under standing order 45, relevance. Before the minister flees the lectern, we need him to commit to coming back into the House and answering the question about whether a senior manager directed staff to withdraw a notice to WorkSafe about modesty gowns. You need to come back.

Madam SPEAKER - Unfortunately, I cannot direct him to do anything. It is up to him how he answers.

Ms O'Connor - Just do the right thing and say you will come back and update us.

Mr JAENSCH - I am happy to take further advice on the matter that has been raised by the member.