Electoral (Prisoner Voting) Amendment Bill

Mr PEDERICK (Hammond) (11:57): I rise to speak to the Electoral (Prisoner Voting) Amendment Bill 2018. This bill fulfils another Marshall Liberal government election commitment to prevent prisoners who are serving a term of three years' imprisonment or longer from voting in state elections. We are doing this because committing an offence that attracts a prison term of three years or longer is so serious that the consequences ought to go beyond imprisonment to forfeiting their voting rights for the duration of their sentence.

These changes bring South Australia into line with every other jurisdiction in Australia, with the exception of the Australian Capital Territory. This bill provides that any prisoner, including a person on home detention, who is serving a sentence of three years or longer, is ineligible to vote at state elections. The bill does not change the enrolment status of prisoners. After release, prisoners will be able to vote again, and this is consistent with the principle that punishment should not extend beyond the original sentence.

The bill complies with our constitutional obligations, as held by the High Court in Roach v Electoral Commissioner. I note that, as of April 2018, the bill would have affected the voting rights of approximately 1,400 out of a total of 3,114 prisoners. This is certainly apt in my electorate, where there is a prison. Mobilong Prison was designed in 1984 and is situated on 50 hectares on Maurice Road in Murray Bridge. It was considered Australia's first open-plan village concept prison, and was completed and opened in 1987. Mobilong was designed to be an educational and vocational training prison with original workshop opportunities, including metalwork, woodwork, spray painting and plastics moulding.

Interestingly, the prison's original capacity was for only 160 male prisoners in single-cell accommodation. This is very different from the capacity of the prison now, which is 472 inmates. By the late 1990s, additional cells had been constructed and double bunks had been installed into 60 cells. As a result, the prison's capacity was 240 and it was considered low to medium security.

In September 2006, the then state Labor government announced that they would be building a new prison adjacent to the existing facility. This was a disgraceful announcement, and I have mentioned in this place before how, on budget day, because it was an election year—it was the year I came into this place—the front page of The Advertiser stated that there were going to be new high-security prisons in Murray Bridge: the Yatala replacement, a new women's prison and a forensic facility costing over $500 million. The shame of it all was that the former attorney-general, the former member for Croydon, thought, 'We will run this as a front page. Just pay the fee to The Advertiser and happy days.'

Guess what happened? It all fell flat on the previous Labor government's face. Not only did they not consult the local mayor, Allan Arbon, who was a very good man, or the local community, but they also did not consult the Public Service Association. Thereby, they did not consult the potential prison guards who might have been transferred down there, and who certainly made their opinions clear when they came to council meetings at Murray Bridge, expressing the view that they did not want to travel 85 kilometres to work.

They were typical Labor bullyboy tactics of just announcing and defending. It all fell over, and then there were tens of millions of dollars that had to be handed out in compensation to people who had put in bids to build the prison. It was another big plan by Labor that fell flat on its face, just like the Gillman development.

In saying that, what this development was supposed to have done was replace the outdated facilities at the Yatala Labour Prison and the Adelaide Women's Prison. As I indicated, the estimated cost of the new prison was above $500 million. The prison would have included a 760-cell men's prison, expandable to 940 cells throughout the life of the contract, as well as a 150-cell women's prison, expandable to 200 cells. In addition to the above, there was going to be a $40 million, 40-bed forensic medical health centre, which was listed to be built at Mobilong, replacing James Nash House at Oakden.

Any development of this kind requires community consultation and vital services, such as health, public transport and road infrastructure upgrades, which all need to be considered as part of the process. I will go into more detail in regard to that in a minute but, certainly, the three main ones were road upgrades—

Mr PICTON: Mr Deputy Speaker, point of order: as interesting as this is, as all of his speeches are, the member for Hammond has been giving a speech for the last seven minutes on proposals for different prisons, which is not at all related to the discussion of voting rights in the bill. I am wondering if you can return him to the subject of the bill.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: I will listen carefully, member for Hammond. I understand you are talking in general terms about the prison system in South Australia, which is quite within the brief of the bill.

Mr PEDERICK: Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for your protection from that withering onslaught. This is going to have a significant impact on the voting population of prisoners in my district, so obviously it does have a direct impact because there would be more numbers coming into my area.

The three main services were going to be road upgrades, especially close to Mobilong; public transport and Metro ticketing, so we can get people there to visit their families, and people can come up from Adelaide on the Metro-ticketed buses and get there in good time; and the expansion of health facilities in Murray Bridge, noting that there would have been health facility clinics in the prison.

All these things are vital when we talk about the potential for prisoner voting because you have to have community consultation to have prisoners there in the first place. You cannot go in willy-nilly saying you are going to do this and that without those conversations around what is going to happen or what is proposed.

I will read to the house an extract from a strategic community impact study completed by the Rural City of Murray Bridge, which details the factors which need to be considered with any such development. In regard to this increase of prisoners and, therefore, the voting population of prisoners in Murray Bridge, it would have helped increase the forecast population to beyond 30,000 people in Murray Bridge, which is nearly 2½ times the 2001 population figure. The study states:

Such a quantum increase in population clearly places a substantial demand on infrastructure. The capabilities of existing service, transport and social infrastructure have been reviewed in this context and in the most part, will require substantial upgrades to meet the forecast future demand. This will in turn require considerable planning and commitments from the relevant service authorities and providers.

A description of possible potential infrastructure upgrade requirements is provided within the Urban Growth Plan addressing water supply and water quality, sewer, stormwater, telecommunications, electricity, gas, transport, and social.

The study then addresses forecast population growth in line with these extra prisoners who have the potential to vote in the Rural City of Murray Bridge, stating it is:

…likely to generate significant demand for housing with between 6,400 and 7,400 new dwellings to be required by 2026.

[Department for Correctional Services] estimates that 65% of current Mobilong staff reside in Murray Bridge.

There was also:

Expected significant in-migration of workers to Murray Bridge combined with the recruitment of staff from within Murray Bridge.

Assumptions that 65% of New Prisons Precinct staff will live in Murray Bridge, with some already resident in the community.'

So that creates:

Theoretical demand for up to 250-300 new dwellings in Murray Bridge; and an additional 120 dwellings in surrounding areas (e.g. Tailem Bend, Mannum, Karoonda, Wellington or Mt Barker).

Equating that with the average household size of 2.45 people would result in approximately 650 new people living in Murray Bridge, aligned with the Corrections precinct, which would have many prisoners there with the capacity to vote.

That additional income and expenditure with the approximately 650 new people living in the Rural City of Murray Bridge would also increase the demand for community facilities, including schooling and recreation. It was predicted back then that 35 per cent of staff, or 120 persons, will live outside Murray Bridge, resulting in an additional 295 persons living in the surrounding area, with associated additional jobs in those towns.

I spoke before about the impact on transport in the area. It was envisaged that visitors will be able to visit seven days a week, with some relying on public transport. Corrections staff may also require public transport. There was also a desire that regular transport connections between Adelaide and Murray Bridge-Mobilong be strengthened and cost effective, if not free, for visitors. Certainly that is why I have campaigned for metro ticketing, and we are going to do a feasibility study on that so that people can access Murray Bridge.

Mr BIGNELL: Point of order: it is about relevance. Talking about transit tickets for people getting into town has nothing to do with what this bill is about.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: Member for Mawson, I have already ruled on this. It is reasonable for a member to talk to the bill in relation to his or her electorate as well.

Mr BIGNELL: Sorry, the public transport needs of people who work in the prison system has nothing to do with what this bill is about.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: In fact, member for Mawson, my understanding of what the member for Hammond is contributing is in relation to a prison that is within his electorate, so I am prepared to accept that.

Mr PEDERICK: Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. The proposal to increase prisoner capacity, and obviously then more prisoners eligible to vote, in my area would increase the social effects on the town. There were community concerns around the safety and security of the prison. There were concerns about the likelihood of families and prisoners moving to the area and concerns around the likelihood of discharged prisoners remaining in the area, and obviously the possibility of stigma associated with being linked to a gaol town.

There were also concerns about the effect on visitor accommodation and emergency crisis accommodation; the effect on public and low-cost housing; the effect on public transport services, which I have already outlined; the effect on crime rates; and the effect on existing educational, health and welfare services. Obviously, with an increasing prisoner population and with more prisoners being eligible to vote, there is the provision of education jobs for all those staff needed in the region.

There is the ongoing need for an additional 51 jobs in the education sector, opportunities for additional TAFE courses for prisoners and families of prison staff, and the potential requirement for up to 270 additional places from preschool to TAFE and/or regional tertiary institutions. Since the proposal of the prison back in 2006 and with more demand, potentially over 1,000 more prisoners in the area and with their eligibility to vote, there would be extra demand for health services. So there would be a constant need for professional health workers in prisons.

Even though I have already noted that new prisons will have a self-sufficient medical clinic, prisoners requiring specialist treatment will have to be sent to the Royal Adelaide Hospital. New prisoner emergencies may have to be treated at the Murray Bridge Soldiers' Memorial Hospital. Deputy Speaker, you would know that I have managed to secure $7 million to have the new emergency department built at Murray Bridge. That is excellent for the town and the regional community.

In regard to more prisoners being able to vote in the area, the expanded health system and hospital need to be considered in that context—the predicted ongoing impact of 52 additional jobs in the health and community services sector, including an additional full-time doctor and six nurses, to total 60 doctors and 333 nurses by 2026. Obviously, there is an increased need for disability health services.

In regard to expanded prisons and more voter eligibility because of that, the community expects the police presence to be reinforced. Back then, the new police station needed to be a high priority and I am glad to say that that has opened in recent years with room for the new courthouse. The capacity of fire and ambulance services to attend to emergencies and incidents will need to be reviewed as the population increases. In regard to community services, an increased population of eligible prison voters would mean an immediate effect on the provision of community and social services, for example, council recreation facilities, library services and support groups.

In 2004, there was a report done into the establishment of independent living units at Mobilong Prison. I think it was called the Ross Unit. This was a 50-bed trustee unit that was built there. Over time, that has been made not just into single rooms sharing a kitchen and lounge; they have had some cells doubled up, so there are at least 70 in what was originally 50-bed accommodation. On my first visit, I thought that this was a long way from chaining convicts in hulks and sending them across the sea. If you want to have some positive reinforcement for people to be rehabilitated, this can send them on their way, but they have to go through positive behaviour to be eligible to be in this unit.

An additional 104 beds were opened at Mobilong Prison by the previous minister in 2017, which included also an officer's station, interview rooms, more beds in the Ross Unit and biometric screening for people to get access to the prison as visitors. With those few brief remarks, I commend the bill and note the potential impact and impacts of growing prisoner populations and their eligibility to vote, especially in the seat of Hammond.