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Estimates Reply – Attorney-General

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Thursday, 16 September 2021

Tags: Westbury, Northern Prison, State Budget

Dr WOODRUFF (Franklin) - I will make some comments in response to questions asked of Ms Archer in her role as Minister for Corrections, Minister for Justice and Minister for Workplace Safety and Consumer Protection.

It is surprising and welcome news that the Government is looking at the location of the proposed northern prison site. There is an obvious and beautiful solution that can protect the natural values of the Westbury Brushy Rivulet Forest Reserve, which have already been described in this place numerous times.

I put on record the extraordinary work of Sarah Lloyd and her contributions to the natural sciences, in particular her contributions to documenting the many threatened flora and fauna in the Brushy Rivulet Forest Reserve. She is among a group of naturalists, ecologists, botanists and others who have done important work making additions to Tasmania's Natural Values Atlas, which has been a record of the extraordinary values that have been so poorly kept by the Department of Environment. Thanks to the work of these citizen scientists, this work is being added to our natural values list.

The Brushy Rivulet Forest Reserve was to be protected in perpetuity after being gifted by the Commonwealth Government to the Tasmanian Government. We heard from Ms Archer in Estimates that the Government is trying to wheedle out of its responsibilities under the agreement that was struck in the late 1990s to protect this in perpetuity and instead is trying to negotiation on the sidelines with the Commonwealth Department of Environment to have an offset for these natural values.

In the current situation the world finds itself in, both a global biodiversity crisis and a global climate crisis, there is no longer any plausible scientific basis for considering offsets to habitat that will take tens or hundreds of years to grow. Removing those habitats provides a direct threat to already highly threatened and endangered species. The idea an offset has been sought by the state Government is concerning.

An amazing opportunity has opened up because of the extraordinary work of the Greens, of people working passionately to protect children and young people in Tasmania and the many staff and ex-employees, particularly the children who have been through the Ashley Youth Detention Centre, and brutalised, abused and terribly neglected. Thanks to the bravery of Alysha and other people who have spoken out recently, the decision has finally been made by the Liberals to close the Ashley Youth Detention Centre.

It gives us, in three years' time, a place which is a cleared site of 32 hectares next to the Bass Highway. It has services already in place, electricity, water, roads, parking and it has facilities. It has 51 beds. It is a place that would be a wasted opportunity for anything other than an adult therapeutic centre. The Liberals must take up this opportunity. The people of Westbury hate the idea of having a prison on their doorstep. The people of Deloraine need to have that conversation but it is very clear from the conversations that have been reported to date that there is a very wide receptivity among the community to look at extending a therapeutic detention facility, to retain the staff who are employed there. The decision must be made immediately.

The current Brushy Rivulet site is a high-fire danger site. It is the most expensive site you could imagine on which to build a prison. I am confident that of the $80 million or so the Government has put in the forward Estimates for this project a vast amount will be chewed up trying to deal with the inappropriate site: the terrain, the rocks and the undulating ground. There will be an enormous amount of money spent just on raising the site to put a prison on it.

We look forward to the announcement that the Government will be moving the proposed site to the Ashley Youth Detention site as soon as possible.

I want to thank the minister for commitments she has made in Estimates, following up on conversations that I had last year about problems with Victims of Crime compensation. People making applications have had difficulties with the processes. It is important that we continue to improve this situation. People are very vulnerable when they are making these applications and need to be dealt with in a very careful, thoughtful, professional and intensely personal way. The money has to also be sorted out. Minister, I hope you will take actions shortly. I understand from staff that there will be advice coming to you in the next couple of months on this matter. I look forward to hearing that on behalf of the people who I have represented on this.

Wage theft is a huge problem in Australia. I raised the issue of the Victorian Government's Wage Theft Act 2020 and its support for action on this by the Fair Work Ombudsman. Wage theft is occurring at increasingly greater rates. It is a serious crime and it must be considered a crime. It is not enough to apply the penalties that exist at the moment. Penalties, even high monetary penalties, are clearly not having the effect that they need to when people keep committing wage theft, particularly large corporations. We need to look at criminal penalties. Victoria is doing this so there is no reason why Tasmania cannot be doing it too. Finally I want to finish my conversation about the Tasmanian Residential Rental Properties organisation. It is disgraceful that $100 000 has been committed to that organisation and it is really galling for ratepayers in Tasmania.