Kempsey Aboriginal Prison Officers Appointment
The Hon. Dr ARTHUR CHESTERFIELD-EVANS: My question is directed to the Minister for Justice. Is the Minister aware that an Aboriginal project officer employed by the Department of Corrective Services on the mid North Coast has interviewed and recommended the employment of nine Aboriginal people for positions as prison officers in the new correctional facility at Kempsey? Can the Minister inform the House why the department has accepted none of the project officer's recommendations and why no justification has been given to the local Aboriginal community for not doing so? Given the demographic and high indigenous unemployment rate in Kempsey and the surrounding areas, and given the fact that the Minister has acknowledged that the indigenous population is overrepresented in the prison system and that we must consider all possible programs, such as mentoring, to reduce recidivism, can the Minister give an assurance that suitably qualified indigenous prison officers will be employed in Kempsey?
The Hon. JOHN HATZISTERGOS: I thank the honourable member for his interest in this matter. We opened a shopfront information booth this week—it will be open all this week—to provide information for those who wish to apply for positions with the department at the mid North Coast correctional centre. Some members of Parliament will be visiting Kempsey on Friday to look at the facility. No doubt they will have the opportunity, if they wish, to see the shopfront information booth as well. I am advised that on the first day of opening there were 173 registered visitors; indeed, there were more than 100 registered visitors on the second day of its opening. So there is already a strong level of interest.
Aboriginal people are encouraged to apply for positions, and a large number have already done so. We do not discriminate against any individual who may be interested in applying for a position on the basis of race or ethnicity. Notwithstanding that members of the Aboriginal community are able to apply, and they are encouraged to apply, a number of the positions must be filled on merit. In addition, we have dedicated Aboriginal positions in the facility. There will be six overseer positions, one administration position, one probation and parole position and two counsellor positions.
Furthermore, the commissioner has instructed the director of custodial operations support to explore, under the Premier's guidelines, cadetships and mentor programs suitable for implementation for Aboriginal staff at Kempsey. I am advised that on Monday 29 March the senior assistant commissioner for inmate custodial services, Mr McLean, and the chief superintendent, Mr Ken Middlebrook, attended a meeting with the Macleay Valley Aboriginal Employment Strategy Group to discuss issues concerning the employment of local Aboriginal people. Some individuals have expressed concern about the fact that the department's capacity to be able to offer positions to them does not necessarily meet their expectations. We hope that the information sessions that have been organised and the shopfront will alleviate some of the concerns that exist, and that people will not be discouraged from participating in the process if they feel that they have something to contribute to the department.