Dame Phyllis Frost Centre mothers and children program


Ms PENNICUIK (Southern Metropolitan) — My question is for the Minister for Corrections, and it is with regard to the November 2017 Ombudsman's report Implementing OPCAT in Victoria: Report and Inspection of the Dame Phyllis Frost Centre. Concerns were raised by the inspection team about the access of Aboriginal women to the Dame Phyllis Frost Centre's mothers and children program, and the information provided by Corrections Victoria confirmed that the last successful application to the program by an Aboriginal woman was in 2014. Between 2015 and 2017, 12 applications were made but did not proceed for various reasons. The inspection team heard concerns that the process for assessing the applications may be culturally inappropriate but was not in a position to determine that. It made recommendations regarding the departments — that they identify barriers to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women participating in the Dame Phyllis Frost Centre's mothers and children program. My question is: what progress is the department making on that?

Ms TIERNEY (Minister for Corrections) — I thank Ms Pennicuik for her question. She touches on an issue that I am very committed to in terms of understanding that there is an over-representation of Indigenous people in our corrections system. Indeed there is an over-representation of women with an Indigenous background. As a result of that interest in this particular area I have had a close look at a number of things, and indeed my ministerial women's advisory committee has been undertaking a number of activities in the area of women who are incarcerated and the unique barriers and additional difficulties that they face as a result of being women, and also of course of some being mothers. I have asked for a report to give me an overall view of what is available and what in practice occurs. I also am looking forward to working with the new commissioner for corrections, Dr Emma Cassar, who I also note has got a particular interest in this area. Together with the department and the general managers of Dame Phyllis Frost and Tarrengower Prison, I am sure that we will be able to work through issues that have been there for some time and bring about some positive change.

Ms PENNICUIK (Southern Metropolitan)  — Thank you, Minister, for your answer. The recommendation was that the Department of Justice and Regulation (DJR) work with the Department of Health and Human Services, the commissioner for children and young people and the Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency to identify the barriers to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women participating in the mothers and children program and to develop strategies and programs to support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women's participation in the program, and the department accepted that. You have given me some information as to your interest in the area and calling for a report. I wonder if these specific recommendations about the working together of those departments and agencies have been put in place, because it is now coming up to a year since this was identified, and whether any Aboriginal women have been able to access the program in that time.

Ms TIERNEY (Minister for Corrections) — Again I thank Ms Pennicuik for her question and her interest in this area. This work is being done with other work. It is not just the program, so it is taking a little bit longer, but there is definitely dialogue occurring between the relevant departments. It is not just DJR; it is justice, health and a range of other agencies and divisions.