Union raises questions about government's agenda behind review

Friday 14 Nov 2014

The WA Prison Officers’ Union has raised questions about whether the State Government is planning to use an Economic Regulation Authority review into the prison system as a justification to pursue its privatisation agenda.

The WA Treasurer has asked the ERA to conduct the review into the administration and efficiency of the state’s prison system and develop a set of benchmarks to allow comparisons of the performance of individual prisons.

WAPOU Secretary John Welch said he had serious concerns that the ERA’s review would fall short due to its tight timeframe and lack of resources.

Mr Welch said the union was keen to participate in a broad review, but was concerned that not enough resources had been allocated for the ERA to do an in depth analysis of the state’s prisons.

“The prison system in WA includes 16 prisons, more than 5,000 prisoners, more than 2500 prison staff, and a budget of over $600 million,” said Mr Welch.

“For a three person team to fully understand an unbelievably complex set of issues in such an enormous system would take a great deal of time, yet this team has been asked to provide a draft at the end of May next year.

“We believe it will be an enormous challenge to get a detailed report done in the timeframe which addresses all the issues.”

Mr Welch said the union was also very concerned about the timeframe in which interested parties were expected to make submissions to the review.

“The ERA has just released a very complex Issues Paper, raising dozens of in-depth questions, which we are apparently expected to address in a 5 week period,” he said.

“It would probably take a team of 10 people a year to fully answer all these questions, and we simply do not have the resources to do it.

“We intend to write to the ERA to let them know we are keen to be part of any broad based review, but will ask for an extension of time in which to give a meaningful response.”

Mr Welch said the union was also concerned the State Government was simply using the review as an excuse to pursue its agenda of privatising the prison system.

“It’s clear the government is in favour of privatising as many services as it can, and prisons are no exception,” said Mr Welch.

“The Minister Joe Francis has already made comments that this inquiry could pave the way for further private sector involvement in WA prisons.

“The lack of resources this review has been given, and the tight timeframe in which it has to report back raises questions about the government’s true intentions and whether it is simply hoping the ERA report will justify its privatisation agenda."