SENATOR NOVA PERIS OAM
SENATOR FOR THE NORTHERN TERRITORY
March 18 2014
I rise tonight to speak in support of Roseanne Fulton. Specifically I speak in support of the release of Roseanne Fulton from prison in Western Australia. She is in prison without conviction. This is a disgraceful situation. She should be released immediately.
People may be familiar with the plight of Roseanne as it has been featured in the media in recent days, particularly on the ABC’s Lateline program.
I have been advocating on behalf of Roseanne and her supporters since January when I first became aware of the issue.
By way of a brief background, Roseanne was found unfit to plead by a court. This is as a result of a mental impairment that Roseanne has had since birth as a result of foetal alcohol syndrome. Foetal alcohol syndrome can occur as a result of high levels of alcohol consumption during pregnancy. Someone found by a court to be unfit to plead should not be imprisoned.
However Roseanne is currently imprisoned at the Kalgoorlie prison. Her imprisonment is in breach of laws and her basic human rights. Her advocates have requested that she be accommodated at the Alice Springs Secure Care facility that was custom built to accommodate people with complex care needs such as Roseanne. Roseanne grew up in Alice Springs and she should be looked after in an appropriate facility there.
The Secure Care facility was constructed to accommodate people whom a court had determined were unfit to plead just like Roseanne.
The Secure Care facility was constructed by the previous Labor Government in the Northern Territory so that the Government could met their legislative obligations in relation to people declared unfit to plead.
However in June last year the new CLP Government decided to turn over half of the facility to their alcohol prisons. They have decided that the best way to deal with people with an alcohol addiction is to lock them up against their will. Every single expert in the field of treating alcohol addiction told the Northern Territory Government that this approach would not work, but they pressed ahead regardless.
At the time they announced half of the Secure Care Facility would be used for a forced alcohol treatment centre – they said and I quote from the Northern Territory Health Minister’s own press release from June 18 last year: “The demand for adult secure care in Central Australia is well short of capacity.” End Quote.
So in June last year demand was well short of capacity yet now we are getting the ridiculous excuse that the facility does not have the capacity to accommodate Roseanne.
I wrote to the relevant Northern Territory ministers in January this year on behalf of Roseanne, including the Minister for Health and the Attorney General. All I received from both offices was bureaucratic excuses. It was very clear that there was absolutely no will to have Roseanne released from prison. Remarkably, the email I received from the office of the Minister for Health Robyn Lambley even described the forced imprisonment of Roseanne as “currently in care”.
She is not in care. She’s in prison.
I have heard a lot of bureaucratic jargon in my time but to describe someone in prison, against their will, without any conviction as “currently in care” is unbelievable.
Unfortunately this is typical of the current approach of the CLP Government. They deal with health and social issues via the criminal justice system. If they can lock someone up then they do it.
They seem to have a mentality that when a difficult situation arises the best response is to put the problem behind bars. Prison is seen as the solution to health and social issues. They’ve simply put all these issues into the ‘TOO HARD BASKET’, and then thrown the basket into jail.
The Northern Territory Government has introduced a raft of new laws in the last 18 months that all treat health and social issues with a criminal response.
The mandatory treatment of alcohol legislation means that people who have committed no crime, no offence at all, can be locked up against their will for having an alcohol addiction.
Alcohol Protection Orders mean that people who have not been convicted of any crime or offence other than drinking can be sentenced to a prison term.
Let me state very clearly, that anyone who commits alcohol related crimes should face the consequences of the law.
I’m talking about people who are simply drunk. People who have issues with Alcohol. Those who have committed no crimes, but are locked up all the same.
There has also been the introduction of mandatory sentencing provisions and all of these new laws will clearly lead to an increase in the incarceration of aboriginal territorians.
Aboriginal levels of incarceration in Australian prisons have never been higher. In fact, country-wide rates of imprisonment are worse per capita for the black population than during apartheid South Africa.
If the CLP Government had decided 18 months ago that they wanted to lock up as many aboriginal people as they possibly could then they would not have done much different to their current approach. They couldn’t have done a much better job than what they are doing now. It is disgraceful.
And now we are seeing it again. In response to Roseanne’s situation the Northern Territory Government has floated the idea that they will criminalise drinking while pregnant. Yet another example of dealing with a health issue with a criminal justice response.
The Government could have said that they would increase education and awareness programs to help address the situation where women are drinking while pregnant. They could have said they will put the support structures in place to ensure that these women are taught about the dangers and implications and encouraged not to drink to excess while pregnant. And perhaps ask why women are drinking when pregnant. What are the underlying issues here? But instead they decide the best approach is to lock them up.
They Northern Territory Government is cutting education rather than investing in it. They say that they care about the child, but is being born in prison really the best solution?
Legislating seems like a cheap short term response – it doesn’t cost much just to pass a new law. In the short term it certainly costs less than education and awareness programs. But in the long term we know the costs of high incarceration rates are enormous. And that is what happens when you deal with health issues through the criminal justice system.
Vince Kelly is the head of the Northern Territory Police Association and the Police Federation of Australia. He summed it up best when earlier this month on the 7:30 Report he said and I quote “The fact of the matter is no matter what legislation we introduce we’re not going to arrest our way out of alcohol abuse and aboriginal disadvantage in the Northern Territory” End Quote.
In summary I call on the Northern Territory and Western Australian Governments to immediately release Roseanne Fulton from prison.
I call on the Northern Territory Government to reinstate the Secure Care facility to serve the purpose it was originally built for.
And I call on all Government’s to stop responding to health issues by locking people up.
I would like to thank all the people who have supported the call to have Roseanne Fulton released from prison. Over 100 000 people have signed the petition to free Roseanne. There is absolutely no doubt that the Government would have preferred that she was forgotten.
But much to the Government’s displeasure – Rosanne’s advocates have not forgotten her, and they are many. I want to thank them for the work they are doing to pressure the Governments into doing what is right and just.
I hope they are successful.