27/08/2017 - 21:39

Labor to end Serco prison contract

27/08/2017 - 21:39


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The McGowan government has announced the Wandoo minimum security prison will be returned to the public sector, despite an independent review this year finding private contractor Serco had met or exceeded expectations.

Labor to end Serco prison contract
Premier Mark McGowan. Photo: Attila Csaszar

The McGowan government has announced the Wandoo minimum security prison will be returned to the public sector, despite an independent review this year finding private contractor Serco had met or exceeded expectations.

Labor said returning the privatised service to the public sector would save taxpayers’ dollars but did not provide any evidence to back up this assertion.

Its move comes seven months after the Office of the Inspector of Custodial Services Neil Morgan praised Serco’s performance at Wandoo.

“In short, there is no performance reason why Wandoo should not continue to operate along current lines,” the report concluded.

“Wandoo provides a positive, purposeful, and safe regime, and has performed well across all key measures.”

The report found Wandoo’s cost per prisoner was considerably more than the average across the state, but said this was not surprising because it was small (so it lacked economies of scale) and provided a different service.

Shadow minister for corrective services Peter Katsambanis said it was an ideologically driven decision.

Labor said its move was in line with an election commitment to return privatised services to the public sector where possible and economically beneficial to do so.

That commitment implies contractors like Serco, Sodexo and Broadspectrum face the prospect of losing more work in WA when their existing contracts expire.

Serco’s other contracts include running the much larger Acacia prison and non-clinical services at Fiona Stanley Hospital, Sodexo runs the 256-bed Women’s Remand and Reintegration Facility at Hakea prison, and Broadspectrum runs prisoner transport services.

The debate over the merit of privatised prisons in WA has been constrained by lack of information on the performance of state-run prisons.

The Economic Regulation Authority published a report in 2015 which found a lack of data meant it could not compare public versus private prisons.

“Currently, little information is available on the performance of public prisons,” the ERA report said.

“In contrast, private prisons are held to high standards of transparency and accountability.

“This includes the publication of annual reports on the performance of private prisons against contractual obligations.

“Publishing performance information on public prisons will help to ensure greater accountability and transparency.”

The Office of the Inspector of Custodial Services acknowledged the same problem.

“I have been arguing for many years that we need better methods and better data to compare the relative costs and effectiveness of prisons,” the Wandoo report said.

The change at Wandoo will occur in May 2018, when Serco’s contract expires.

At the same time, Labor plans to convert Wandoo to a dedicated drug and alcohol rehabilitation prison for women.

“Bringing this facility back into public hands will save taxpayers’ money and allow us to transform Wandoo into WA’s first rehab prison,” premier Mark McGowan said.

“We cannot simply keep locking people away and expecting that a prison environment - with its many challenges - is a place that people can address all of the complex causes of their addiction.”

Ironically, both Serco and the Inspector of Custodial Services have wanted to relax tough restrictions imposed at Wandoo after a 2015 escape but they have been blocked by the Department of Justice.

Meanwhile, the premier used Labor’s state conference over the weekend to also announce increased penalties for workplace safety offences.

He said the changes brought WA into line with most other states.

Harsher penalties for offenders include increasing the maximum term of imprisonment from two to five years.

First offence fines for body corporate offenders will increase, with Level 4 first time offences increasing from $500,000 to more than $2.7 million.

Level 1 penalties will increase from $50,000 to $456,000.

In addition, the premier confirmed plans to introduce legislation requiring prospective suppliers of government contracts to submit local industry participation plans as part of their tender.

Suppliers that win government contracts will have participation plans incorporated into their contracts to deliver the promised local jobs.

It will cover all government departments and agencies, including government trading enterprises such as the Water Corporation, Synergy, LandCorp and port authorities.

Under the planned Jobs Law, the government can also declare a major project a ‘project of strategic significance for the WA economy’ requiring these projects to have extra local content. 


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