Wednesday 24 June 2009
Legislative Council
Estimates Committee B (Singh) - Part 1


Mr Dean
Mr Finch
Mr Gaffney
Mr Wing
Ms Rattray-Wagner (Chair)
Ms Ritchie
Hon. L Singh MP, Minister for Corrections and Consumer Protection; Minister for Workplace Relations; Minister Assisting the Premier on Climate Change 

Department of Corrections and Workplace Relations

Lisa Hutton, Secretary
Michael Stevens, Deputy Secretary
Robert Williams, Deputy Secretary
Chris Jacoora, Department Liaison Officer
Graeme Barber, Director, Tasmania Prison Service
Ginna Webster, Acting Director, Community Corrections
Roy Ormerod, General Manager, Workplace Standards Tasmania
Chris Batt, Director, Office of Consumer Affairs and Fair Trading
Stephen Morrison, Director, Finance

Ministerial Staff 
Stuart Beswick, Head of Office
Geraldine Moorhead, Office Manager
Pat McConville, Adviser
Michelle Lowe, Adviser

CHAIR - Staff numbers, did we actually get that figure?  I do not believe we did.

Mr FINCH - And can we also get some indication as to how your overtime has been tracking in recent years?  If we could get some indication such as from the past couple of years whether this has increased?

Mr WILLIAMS - I can actually give you that today.  I can go through the budget allocation of the last three full financial years and then what we actually spent on overtime:  In 2005-06 we budgeted $1.2 million and we spent $2.2 million on overtime in that year, which was an overspend of just over $1 million; in 2006-07 the budgeted amount went up by about $900 000 and was $2.1 million, and the amount spent on overtime was $3.3 million; and in 2007-08 the amount budgeted was $2.2 million and $3.8 million was spent, which is an overrun of $1.5 million.  Those figures are internal budget allocations, internal to the Prison Service, as opposed to allocations from Government.  They are internal measures.

Ms SINGH - So you can see, Mr Dean, that my commitment to look at exploring a new model of annualisation is very important when you look forward at how we are going to meet our budget.  That is something I met with unions about this week and canvassed with them.  We are going to work with them to negotiate further an overtime component within an annualised structure for correctional officers as we go forward.

[10.45 a.m.]
Mr DEAN - I take it that penalty rates for working Sundays and all of that is already a part of the basic salary paid.  I take it that has already been annualised - has it or not?

Mr WILLIAMS - There is a component added into the salary which covers not necessarily working overtime but the fact that people work at times when they would normally get a shift penalty.  So they get paid a single rate on a Saturday instead of the overtime rates.

Mr FINCH - These figures that you have given us, it is not about the penalties for working weekends and shifts, this is purely overtime, is it?

Ms SINGH - Yes, which is double time.

Mr FINCH - I must say that I am gobsmacked at the figures here.  I am curious, because you have to make people work longer, about what is occurring to their own work situation in respect of working beyond the normal agreed time of eight or nine hours or whatever the shift is.  This money could be used to employ the extra staff to cover off on having to pay overtime and putting people's health under threat through working extra shifts.

Ms SINGH - Mr Finch, you raise a really important point, and that is the work life balance component of looking forward into an annualised model.  The fact is that, if you do have people recalled for overtime, they are working much longer shifts.  Wearing my Minister for Occupational Health and Safety hat, obviously there is a health and safety component that needs to be addressed as well.  Not only does looking at annualised salaries allow us to look forward to meeting part of our budget, but also it looks at some of the changes that I think are important when we talk about a healthy work life balance within our correctional officer work force going forward.  That is important.

This example highlights some of the challenges that we face within the corrections system. We have continued to recruit.  We had a recruitment program that was completed in April.  I was very pleased and privileged to be able to attend the graduation of those new recruits -

CHAIR - Of those six people.  With due respect, minister, this is all information that the Committee has heard and we really need to move it along.  Can we have the number of staff and the breakdown of those staff?

Ms SINGH - The number of staff full-time equivalents as at May this year in the Tasmania Prison Service was 351 and the number in community corrections was 50.  If you want to know just the numbers for custodial staff in the Tasmania Prison Service, currently there are 252 full-time equivalents.  The prisoner to custodial staff ratio is approximately 2.1 to one; that is, 2.1 prisoners per custodial staff member.  Obviously the number of staff we have has to complement the number of inmates that we have, but of course that ratio does not take into consideration the allocation of staff to relevant shifts and excludes inmates accommodated as patients at the Wilfred Lopes Centre because that is part of Department of Health and Human Services portfolio.  The progressive daily average prisoner population, which we have gone through before, was 520 as at the end of May and then we have to ratio that with the correct number of custodial officers.

Mr WING - Could you please tell us the cost per day of keeping a prisoner in the correctional services division and, if it varies between the various facilities, if you could give us the variation.

Ms SINGH - The cost per day I draw firstly from the 2009 Productivity Commission report on government services which is publicly available.  In that 2007-08 Tasmania recorded the second highest cost per prisoner day of all States and Territories because it always looks two years retrospectively.  At $248.50 Tasmania's costs were higher than the national average cost per prisoner per day of $206.80.  However, in real terms this is a slight decrease from the adjusted cost per prisoner per day of 2006-07 when it was $250.90.  When broken down into open and secure facilities, Tasmania's costs were $203.50 and $254.10 respectively.

The growth in the period from 2005 to 2007 reflects in part the costs of commissioning the new prison at Risdon but also increases in health costs and correctional officers salaries during that period and the introduction of prison-based initiatives designed to assist in prisoners' rehabilitation and re-integration.  Some of these high costs for us are because of the small population of our prison numbers.  It is a bit like running a house, it does not matter if you have a few people in there or one person, you still have to pay the mortgage, you still have to run the hydro, heating, water and so on.  Similarly with the prison, we have a number of high fixed costs of running a prison system which we cannot avoid, no matter the numbers of inmates in there.  It is reasonable to expect that Tasmania's costs per prisoner per day would be higher than other jurisdictions in that vein, and the cost per prisoner per day is expected to remain stable as we go forward in the coming years.

Mr WING - One factor in the increase in outcosts may be that other States that have privately run prisons as well as State run prisons are in a stronger negotiating position with unions dealing with remuneration and working conditions, because our working conditions and remuneration were certainly more generous 10 years ago.  And the very establishment of our select committee I know gave leverage to corrective services management in dealing with unions to get a more favourable deal.

Ms SINGH - I have the statistics here for all States and Territories in relation to the cost per prisoner per day.  As I talked to you earlier about Western Australia who have implemented the annualisation, if it was just salaries that brought the cost per prisoner per day down, I would think that WA's costs would be a lot less than what it is, which is $224.90.  I do not think it is just about salaries of correctional officers.  It is about a lot of those fixed costs when it comes to running a prison.  But as part of the plan we can look at ways to see how we can reduce those fixed costs, such as the use of energy and how much our energy bills are.  Maybe we can look at innovative ideas.  I know a certain business developer in Hobart is looking at putting wind turbines on top of buildings.  There are all kinds of ways that we can look at how we can bring some of those fixed costs down.

Mr WING - You spoke about equipping prisoners for their release.  What measures are in place to deal with pre-release matters?

Ms SINGH - There are a number of pre-release programs run by a number of NGOs that come into the prison such as the Salvation Army's supporting prisoners pre and post release program and the Red Cross's Inside Help pre-release program. We also have our own Integrated Offender Management unit that runs various programs to prepare inmates pre release and provide them with the support that they need.  The ones run by NGOs are very lengthy.  There is Good Beginnings in Launceston that run the prisoners and their families program, helping them to re-integrate with their family stronger before they are released; drug and alcohol counselling by Holyoake; Anglicare run the debt and money matters program, a very important one for their financial situation coming out; break even gambling programs by Relationship Australia; life coaching by City Mission Hobart; Excel Prison was the Salvation Army one I showed you; and I have mentioned the Red Cross one.  Centrelink very importantly go into the prison pre release to help inmates organise their relevant forms to be able to receive Centrelink benefits.  That is all organised pre release.

Mr WING - How long do they have to wait for the first payment after release?

Ms SINGH - I will ask Mr Williams to comment on that because he comes from previous employment in Centrelink so he has quite a lot of knowledge related to that program.

Mr WILLIAMS - If all things go to plan, the payment is normally available the day they are released if they are getting the crisis payment.  The Centrelink service goes into working with the other providers to make sure that things like accommodation are under way so that people have the best chance of coming out with money in their pockets to find accommodation, feed themselves and get set up.  The first day is the best outcome.