Corrections Minister Mick Gentleman has survived a no-confidence motion following what the Canberra Liberals labelled a “litany of failures” in his portfolio.
Shadow Minister for Corrections Elizabeth Kikkert moved the motion on the first Assembly sitting day since the dramatic prisoner escape that was described as a scene out of a Hollywood movie.
Ms Kikkert said the mistaken release of an inmate, a spate of damning Inspector of Correctional Service reports, multiple riots and a “plague” of drugs and alcohol under the watch of Mr Gentleman meant he was no fit to hold the portfolio.
“Staff in the AMC have never faced more life-threatening situations than they have under this minister,” she said.
“Staff have had to fight fires, respond to riots without effective training and were put in serious danger along with the public when using vehicles for prisoner transfers deemed unsuitable by the Inspector of Correctional Services.
“Our Corrections Officers provide a vital service to the people of Canberra. They deserve better, Canberrans deserve better, and this minister is incapable of delivering it.”
Former Shadow Corrections Minister and Liberals deputy leader Giulia Jones told the Assembly it was untenable that corrections officers had begun to mentally break down due to repeated riots and trauma they are exposed to at work.
“These are tough people,” she said, speaking in support of her colleague’s motion. “The prison is still a tinder box and [officers] are still afraid [to go to work].
“I would like to see much swifter change so prisoners do not escape. [Minister Gentleman] has not convinced us, or the people of Canberra, that he has moved fast enough and he must go.”
Mr Gentleman defended his position and handling of recent incidents at Canberra’s prison, the Alexander Maconochie Centre (AMC), saying he has heard a message of hope from officers since taking over the portfolio last November.
“During my short time in my portfolio, I have met with corrections officers and staff across the entirety of ACT Corrective Services,” he said.
“They are confident in the Blueprint for Change process, which I set up shortly after commencing in the portfolio and have a great deal of confidence in the new Commissioner.
“Yes, there have been many incidents since last year’s election. But prisons are complex and do not come without challenge. What differentiates the AMC from others is the level of oversight it has.”
Upon taking up the role, Mr Gentleman established a new Oversight Committee to address shortcomings at the Alexander Maconochie Centre (AMC) and Court Transport Unit.
The committee, overseen by the first female Chief Commissioner of Police in Australia, Christine Nixon, was tasked with advising the government about how best to implement recommendations addressing issues across the prison sector, including a lack of staff training, safety risks and inadequate accommodation for women prisoners.
Ms Kikkert said the fact the minister needed an oversight committee to implement recommendations already made by various reports proved the government was not up to the task of managing the ACT’s prison regime.
“When you cannot govern a prison, you cannot govern a territory,” she said.
Mr Gentleman said he acknowledged that there are improvements to be made and work is already underway to better support detainees.
He said he had received a message of support from the Community and Public Sector Union ahead of the no-confidence motion.
“I will support our corrections staff not only in words but also in action. In contrast, the Shadow Minister has criticised and undermined the Blueprint for Change process, a process that is welcomed by officers and their union,” he said.
“Let’s stop this grandstanding and get on with updates on the pandemic, housing and homelessness.”
Chief Minister Andrew Barr, Deputy Chief Minister Yvette Berry and Attorney-General and former Corrections Minister Shane Rattenbury all spoke in support of Minister Gentleman.
The vote of no-confidence was split down party lines, with Labor and the Greens voting against the motion.
The motion failed 15 votes to eight.