Tuesday 26 November
Hansard of the Legislative Council

Consideration and Noting 
Report of the Auditor-General No. 3 of 2019-20
on Tasmania Prison Service


[7.06 p.m.]
Mr FINCH (Rosevears) - Mr President, I move -

That the report of the Auditor-General No. 3 of 2019-20:  Tasmania Prison Service - Use of Resources, be considered and noted.

Mr President, I just brought to the front of my mind Tasmania's health service and the prison service.  They are both broken and both need radical revision.  The report by the Auditor-General into the use of resources in the Tasmania Prison Service is damning.  The objective of that 2019‑20 audit was to form an opinion on the efficiency and effectiveness of Tasmania Prison Service's financial management of its custodial facilities.  Much of the report focuses on management efficiency and the use of funds.  Such subjects as community re-entry preparation, including rehabilitation and inmate quality of life, are within its scope. 

Over the years, we have had scrutiny of the Tasmania Prison Service through our budget Estimates.  The member for Windermere and I are long-time warriors in respect of what is going on at the TPS.  Each time we have a sense that 'Hello, they have to be getting the message that we have an eye on them and we are talking about overtime.'  Every year we have banged on about it while overtime has increased.  It was interesting to watch that process, that something as dramatic as we were presenting and showing the increase, showing the numbers, was completely ignored, or their systems were out of place to such an extent that they increased again the following year.  It might be best if I start by quoting the Auditor-General's conclusion - 

It is my conclusion TPS's financial management of the prison service did not perform, in terms of efficiency and effectiveness, with respect to the audit criteria or the objective of the performance audit, as a whole.  This is because TPS has not had a strong approach to modelling of future inmate numbers and associated staffing to ensure it has sufficient resources to run its prisons safely and securely.  Reporting of key areas of both financial and operational performance has not been as developed as they could be.  Workforce planning has not been fully developed, while improvements in the rostering of COs are needed to ensure the right staffing levels are achieved across the prison service.  TPS has acted to fill resourcing gaps by predominantly using staff overtime, which has had adverse consequences in the cost efficiency of the prison service and increased unplanned staff absences.

If it were an annual school report, it could be summarised as 'Could do better - much better'.  It is hard to plan the future management of a prison service unless there is a reasonably accurate way of predicting future numbers.  This could be hard when a government changes its policy on sentencing, which significantly increases the number of inmates.  That is the problem at the moment.  One of the report's recommendations is especially pertinent -

Improve resource and financial modelling that is more predictive and forward looking to more accurately reflect demand and therefore resourcing requirements, which should lead to more informed decision-making.

Staffing levels have not kept up with inmate numbers and as a result the overtime budget has blown out.  Inmate numbers rose from 472 in 2013-14 to 613 in 2017-18, an increase of 30 per cent.  The running cost per inmate is estimated at $306 a day.  If prison numbers are going to continue to increase by 30 per cent every four years, our prison service is heading for unsustainability.  Prison numbers at 30 June this year were 692.  If you multiply 692 by 306, you come up with $212 772. 

I find that mind-boggling.  We must keep more people out of prison.  There are plenty of alternatives to expensive imprisonment for many crimes - big fines, home detention, tight probation conditions and compulsory re-education.  I have spoken about this during the mandatory sentencing attempts by the Government.  If these alternative deterrents were widespread, we would only need to lock up those who are a danger to society, those who are likely to repeat violent acts.  Most importantly, we need to prevent crimes happening.

I made a number of points in my special interest speech last month.  One of them was intervention.  If I could quote a few paragraphs - is it okay?  I am on safe ground, am I?  I went before with one of my references and I had a big chuckle from the -

Ms Forrest - I only just said how brilliant the words were.

Mr FINCH - This is pretty good too, let me tell you.  Sorry, I digress, Mr President -

Prevention, of course, starts in the home and in the education system, where young males in particular should be more closely observed and mentored.  Good teachers can swiftly recognise problematic behaviour.  We need a system where problematic behaviour can be addressed - both in the school and at home.  Specially trained social workers are needed here to initiate early intervention. 

Peer pressure is a big factor in schools and often leads young males astray.  However, it can also work for the better, persuading young people that crime is a futile pursuit.  One problem, as I pointed out in a speech last year, is that young people have a poor understanding of the law and their rights.  This can be incorporated in curriculums ...

That reference shows I have not only spoken once, twice and probably more often, when we have covered mandatory sentencing.  More interaction between youth justice officials, police officers and the community is vital.  One more quote from last month's speech -

The usual political argument these days is that stiff sentencing and being tough on crime are effective deterrents.  It could be argued that the most effective deterrent is the certainty of being caught.  Looking at our deficient justice system more closely, we need to have a serious debate about the effectiveness of the present policies of recruiting more police, building more prisons, using mandatory sentencing and toughening parole systems. 

The message in this Auditor‑General's report is that our prison population is growing too fast and too unpredictably for efficient management.  The report offers a number of remedies. 

It is an important Auditor-General's report and the reason I wanted to make note of the report was so that we perhaps can take a closer look at what was actually contained therein, to highlight what is going on at the TPS and maybe shine a spotlight on what is occurring.

I urge members to support the motion.

[7.15 p.m.]
Mr DEAN (Windermere) - Mr President, I thank the member for Rosevears for bringing this motion on.  Had he not done it, I am confident I would have done so, or others might have.

Listening to the Auditor-General took me back in time.  I go back to the 2013 report, which the member for Rosevears was involved in as well, in relation to prison overtime.  The Auditor‑General's findings and many of his recommendations were almost identical to what we had in that report.  It was crazy.  I did not think I was hearing properly, to be quite frank.  When we did our inquiry in 2013, we provided two reports - an interim report and the final report - in relation to this matter.  A similar parliamentary inquiry was done in the early 1980s - 1982 or 1983 it might have been. 
We made the comment when we did our report in 2013 that we could have removed the names of those members of parliament from that report and put our names into it and it would have been the report that we came up with.  That is what we said.  I honestly do not know what is going on.  The member for Rosevears is absolutely right - it is failing, in my view, in many areas.  I accept that there have been a number of inmates coming in and I think it has moved from about 400-plus up to about 600 in a relatively short period.  I accept all that, but still, at the end of the day, a lot of work needs to be done on our prison.

Reading from the Auditor-General's overall report gives a fairly good understanding and assessment of what is going on.  I have taken a couple of comments from it here where Mr Whitehead said that TPS had not had a strong approach to modelling of future inmate numbers and associated staffing to ensure it had sufficient resources to run its prison safely and securely.  He said the modelling used for predicting inmate numbers had relied on a backward view and had not been predictive enough and that this had led to TPS struggling to cope with changes in Tasmanian government policy and sentencing, which significantly increased the numbers of inmates during the five-year period to 30 June 2018 -

In short, TPS did not have enough Correctional officers to effectively and efficiently run the prison service.

This was the position in the 1980s, it was the position in 2013, and it is still the position.

I will now get back to the speech I wrote on this.  I get quite upset and annoyed with this, to be very honest.  Again, the member for Rosevears and I harassed the ministers for corrective services year in, year out prior to 2013.  For about five or six years, we continually harassed them about the overtime and the way the prison was being managed.

Mr Gaffney - You cannot do that anymore, can you?  You are not allowed to harass people anymore, are you?

Mr Finch - No.  We have pulled back a bit from that.

Ms Forrest - Hold them to account.

Mr DEAN - We hold them to account.  We harassed them and I certainly do not mind admitting that because I could see very clearly what was going on.  I am going back from memory here, but when we started to take up the matter of overtime, it was about $3 million.  Over the years, despite what we were saying and the promises being made to us, the statement was made that 'We are now aware and will get on top of this and fix it'.  However, it continued to blow out and it went up to $5 million-plus over a very short period of time.  That is when we determined we needed an inquiry to find out what the hell was going on and that was the cause of the 2013 inquiry.  Sadly, nothing much has changed.

Mr Finch - During our investigations into that report we did some travelling, gaining some understanding of what was happening.  The member went to New South Wales to do a study of the prison service and brought back their process of controlling overtime, and it made sense to everybody, including the prison service - and what has happened?  Nothing occurred.

Mr DEAN - You are right - despite promises we were made that these things would happen, our findings and recommendations would be accepted and all the rest.  Yes, I went to New South Wales off my own back, paid for it myself and went to the New South Wales prison service where I spoke to a number of very senior people in the organisation about how they were running their prison system.  That was the information I brought back here that helped us construct our final report.  Simple things like centralised rostering had more or less gone a long way towards fixing the issues they had in New South Wales.  They had similar problems with overtime and all the rest, but a centralised rostering system, a fairly basic sort of thing, helped fix that. 

At the time the prison service here used a rostering system that was all over the place, each little area was responsible for its own rostering and so on, and that changed.  Whether they still have the centralised rostering system, I do not know, but I would like to think they did - it is beyond me.

Mr Finch - It seems from the report though it has not been paying dividends.

Mr DEAN - No, it has not.  I mentioned we tabled two reports.  Refer back to a similar inquiry, I have also referred to that.  We are talking about a report in 1980, a report almost 40 years ago, almost half a lifetime.

Mr Finch - A third of a lifetime.

Mr DEAN - I would like to think it was, it would be good if it was.  The member has me right off track now, and I am trying to go back to pick up where I should be.  I made the comment here and when we did our previous inquiries that when you looked at what was happening with overtime, some members were earning almost as much on overtime as they were on their basic salaries.  Very clearly back then if you read the reports, there was a lot of evidence to show the system was being rorted.  I use that word and think that word was used previously - it is probably even in the report.  I have not read through the reports word perfectly this time, but it was clear a number of employees were putting positions in place where they were able to manufacture overtime for their mates and so on, going on sick leave, taking sick leave when they should not have been and correlating that with long weekends and public holidays and so on. 

If you looked at that evidence it was clear, it was stark.  I do not know whether that evidence is there now or whether that is now still happening.  It has reached a stage where one of our recommendations in our report was that following our report in 2013 being tabled, in two years time there should be a further follow-up inquiry.  That was one of our recommendations.  However, we did not do it.  The time is here for a further inquiry.  We should wait to see what the outcome of the Auditor-General's report will do within the prison service.  If it does not do a lot, there needs to be another inquiry into the prison service to find the root cause of all these issues.

Mr Finch - Member for Windermere, here is a quote that you may have missed.  This is from the Auditor-General -

TPS has acted to fill resourcing gaps by predominantly using staff overtime, which has had adverse consequences in the cost efficiency of the prison service and increased unplanned staff absences.

Mr DEAN - Amazing stuff.  Is that not what came out of our findings and reports?  It is just crazy what is happening there.  We were told these things would change.  There would be a concentrated effort in relation to prison management and overtime, sick leave in particular.  The graph on page 4 of the Auditor-General's report shows sick leave has continued to go up quickly by large amounts.  My interpretation is that sick leave is impacting on almost 45 per cent of the correctional officers in the prison service.

If you look at the management or operational area, the sick leave is down to what I believe is an acceptable level. 

The Auditor-General's report also explains why there so much overtime in the prison system -

The long-standing challenge of overtime was noted by the 2013 LCGAC inquiry and by Legislative Council review and by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Accounts in its 1983 inquiry .... 

The Legislative Council review identified short-notice sick leave as one of the major contributors.

That was high.  Officers ringing in saying they were sick then one of their mates would come in and work,

Workers compensation absences - these have gone up again.  Workers compensation has gone up, if you look at the graphs from the Auditor-General. 

Staff vacancies - that was there when we did the inquiry and it was there in 1983. 

Critical incidents - I can understand why that would have an impact on overtime.  If a critical incident occurs within the prison, obviously they have to get some control over it and have to get control over it quickly.  I can accept that, but some of the other areas amaze me.  When the police had an issue with overtime, when an inordinate amount of overtime was being worked by police, I was a manager in the police.  What happened was that the salary system changed and there were negotiations within the enterprise agreement.  They bundled public holidays into one, so a police officer now gets no more money for working on a Sunday or Christmas Day.  That cut overtime.  The basic salary was increased to cover that.

Mr Willie - Is it difficult to roster Christmas Day and others because you do not get that incentive?

Mr DEAN - No, it has not created any problems.  The police have no say in the rosters.  If a member has young children, Tasmania Police will do its upmost to ensure they have that day off or at least a big part of it to be with their family.  Hence there is no real problem with it.  My son, for instance, has worked on Christmas Day for many years.

Ms Forrest - It is the same with nurses.  The problem is that people who are older and do not have young children or people or choose not to have children or are unable to have children find themselves completely disadvantaged as they are always expected to work Christmas Day.  It is a pain in the neck.

Mr DEAN - You are right, and that was the same with the police. They were able to work around that. 

Mr Finch - When I joined the ABC over 40 years ago, nearly everybody in the ABC in Australia was getting 50 per cent of their salary in overtime.  The ABC decreed that nobody was to be paid overtime.  The sky did not fall in.  People had to make adjustments because imagine losing 50 per cent of your salary, but people went on.  The point was that it was being claimed unnecessarily.

Mr DEAN - That is what happened in the police service.  Members were living well above their salaries and had to work overtime to get the money to live on.  That is what happens if overtime is not being managed properly.  Members become annoyed if they are only going to be paid their basic salary.  That has to be controlled in the right way. 

I have talked about visiting New South Wales and coming back with a lot of good information.  Change has to happen.  The TPS cannot continue to perform in this way.  Hard decisions are necessary and must be made.  The staffing levels must be right.  They must have the required numbers of people.  The same has been said about the hospital systems where nurses are working double and triple shifts.  When you look at the money they are earning, you could employ a lot more staff.  I have difficulty working why they think they are saving money by paying all this overtime.  I know you have all the other things that go with it - superannuation, holidays and everything else that goes with that - I understand and accept that.

I conclude by saying that other than the fact that I am very annoyed and we could not believe the Auditor-General when he was making these statements, this whole thing really came back to me.

The member for Rosevears raises a very important issue about trying to keep crooks out of jail and that has to be worked on.  I raised here not long ago the electronic monitoring.  It will be interesting to see how far that goes and how many people we can keep out of the jail through electronic monitoring.  I understand it is working quite well and we are getting good results from it.  Even though I was a police officer and spent a big part of my life putting them in there, I am a great believer that they are better off being kept outside if we can because it is simply another place where crooks and criminals learn to be better criminals.  We need to keep them out of jail.  There is electronic monitoring and there are other opportunities that the courts now have.  The courts pleaded with us over a long period to get all of these additional sentencing options.  I think that electronic monitoring will play a big role in where we go into the future.

On police and prevention, the member for Rosevears is right - the thought of being caught is a great deterrent.  If you look at the statistics and I have not looked at them this year, police are only catching about half the crooks who are committing crimes right across the board.  If you look at the very serious crimes, they are doing very well and catching up with the biggest part of them - not all but very close to it - and they are doing an exceptional job.  That is where police concentrate, in that area.  That is where they should concentrate, but they do not have the opportunity now for the preventive policing.  The association talks about that - the police's options now of going out and doing all of those preventive things that they used to do and should be doing are now almost gone; they are almost totally reactive because of what is going on.  I got some answers back today.  Police are attending jobs now that they ought not to be attending.  They have core responsibilities and that is what police should stick to.  Preventive policing is one of their core responsibilities, but unfortunately they do not have the option or the position of being able to do that.

If you were to take drugs out of the scene, we would probably only have 50 per cent of the prisoners over there that we have now.  If you look at drugs and the impact they are having on crime in the state, it is absolutely enormous.  When I was back there, at one stage 75 to 80 per cent of crime was drug-related.  It is probably higher now.  It was drug-related in some way.  They were either impacted by drugs, wanting to get drugs - it just went on and on because the return provided by drugs is enormous and amazing.

I support the motion.  I plead with the Government to really get onto this and do something about it because it is no good now simply saying, 'We are doing things, we are looking at it'.  Well, you have been looking at it for 40 years and there comes a time when you have to make changes.  We have had this change in our governors and directors at the jail as well.  I had a great deal of faith in Barry Greenberry.

Mr Finch - And the change manager.

Mr DEAN - Yes, and the change manager at the time.  I thought they were doing a good job, but of course we know what happened there.  Things went wrong for whatever reasons and as we know, Mr Greenberry suicided when he returned to England.  It was a sad situation.

Mr Finch - I did not realise that.

Mr DEAN - Yes, he did.  It was a very sad situation.