Ombudsman: Implementing Opcat in Victoria - Report and Inspection of the Dame Phyllis Frost Centre | Sue Pennicuik

Ombudsman: Implementing Opcat in Victoria - Report and Inspection of the Dame Phyllis Frost Centre

I would like to make a statement this evening on the Victorian Ombudsman's report Implementing OPCAT in Victoria: Report and Inspection of the Dame Phyllis Frost Centre. I note that in fact the Minister for Corrections is in the chamber.
Wednesday, December 13, 2017 - 9:15am
Speaker:
Sue Pennicuik

Ms PENNICUIK (Southern Metropolitan) — I would like to make a statement this evening on the Victorian Ombudsman's report Implementing OPCAT in Victoria: Report and Inspection of the Dame Phyllis Frost Centre. I note that in fact the Minister for Corrections is in the chamber. I want to make a statement on this report today because I think it outlines what are going to be quite groundbreaking changes to the oversight of corrections in Victoria. I quote from the executive summary:

This report considers the practical implications of implementing the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (OPCAT) in Victoria. It sets out:

practical changes needed to implement the OPCAT protocol

the results of a pilot OPCAT-style inspection at Victoria's main women's prison, the Dame Phyllis Frost Centre (DPFC).

OPCAT is an international human rights treaty that aims to prevent abuse of people in detention by opening places where people are deprived of liberty — prisons, police cells, psychiatric hospitals and so on — to regular independent inspections by:

a United Nations (UN) committee of international experts

local inspection bodies called National Preventative Mechanisms (NPMs).

In February 2017, the commonwealth government announced that Australia will ratify OPCAT by the end of 2017.

In Victoria, this means the Victorian government will need to open places of detention to the UN committee from 2018. The Victorian government will have three years to 'designate' or appoint one or more local NPMs to conduct regular inspections.

Implementing OPCAT will require changes. While Victoria already has human rights laws and monitoring bodies, OPCAT will introduce more rigorous standards for inspecting places of detention.

I think this is going to make a big change to the public knowing what is actually going on in our correctional facilities and detention facilities. A couple of times in this place I have called for the establishment of an independent body to oversee the corrections system, as happens in other jurisdictions, because we do not have openness or transparency in the operation of the corrections system. The Ombudsman does have jurisdiction. They have, and particularly of late, used the powers under the Ombudsman Act 1973 to look at, for example, the youth justice centres and, in this report, the Dame Phyllis Frost Centre. Other countries have implemented OPCAT. I think 65 countries have implemented it, including New Zealand and the United Kingdom. They also inspect:

secure health and disability facilities, and secure accommodation for children and young people

places where people are detained temporarily, such as prison transport vehicles or court cells.

Some countries also inspect care facilities such as aged-care homes where residents are not legally detained, but are not free to leave because of locked doors or other restraints. This is sometimes called 'de facto detention'. While these facilities are not traditionally seen as places of detention, they may fall within the definition of 'deprivation of liberty' for OPCAT purposes.

There are going to be some changes needed. The Victorian government will need to decide which body or bodies to designate as it its NPMs. It could create a new body for OPCAT inspections — as I say, an independent body to oversee our prisons and places where people are detained — or it could appoint one or more of the existing monitoring bodies. Many countries have designated ombudsman institutions either to perform as NPMs on their own or with the assistance of other bodies, such as in the United States and the UK. Whatever the model the Victorian government chooses there will need to be legislative funding and operational changes, and there needs to be legislation to give NPMs a clear mandate and unrestricted powers to carry out OPCAT inspections. NPMs and other monitoring bodies should also have legislative authority to share information so they can work collaboratively in the interests of human rights.

This is a very comprehensive and long report. I have just outlined briefly the framework that will need to be set up when OPCAT is implemented in Victoria. I commend people to read the report. The other part of the report goes to an inspection of the Dame Phyllis Frost Centre. I will also be raising with the minister some of the recommendations that have resulted from that report.