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Prison staff safety should be a priority

Question without notice

June 24, 2021

Ms MAXWELL (Northern Victoria) (12:32): My question is to the Minister for Workplace Safety, Ms Stitt.

I do note the government’s announcement last week of a future review into safety and culture inside Victorian prisons. However, my question relates much more immediately to the latest wave of violent attacks on staff at the Malmsbury and Parkville youth justice centres.

I understand there have been at least half a dozen very serious assaults on staff since the beginning of May, including with various improvised weapons in a number of those cases.

Minister, drawing on your comments here on 10 June—that violence and aggression in the workplace is never okay—can you outline what actions you and/or WorkSafe have taken in response to these incidents?

Ms STITT (Western Metropolitan—Minister for Workplace Safety, Minister for Early Childhood) (12:33): I thank Ms Maxwell for her question and her interest in these really important matters.

While some of the matters you raise are not strictly within my ministerial responsibilities, I do acknowledge the challenging work that staff in our justice system perform. They play a really important role and, like all other workers, they are entitled to a safe workplace.

The Andrews Labor government and WorkSafe are committed to preventing and responding to occupational violence, as I have said a number of times in the chamber, including in our corrections and youth justice centres, and I am advised that WorkSafe’s actions include workplace inspections to ensure compliance with OH&S duties and working with employers to improve safe systems at work.

Specifically, WorkSafe has a corrections and youth justice task force, which is a dedicated team of technical inspectors within WorkSafe who are focusing on reducing incidents in corrections and youth justice facilities. WorkSafe inspectors do continue to respond to health and safety concerns, including both mental health and physical injuries and concerns that are raised through the corrections and youth justice facilities.

Since May 2021 I am advised that the task force has in response to these incidents undertaken multiple inquiries, and they have related to occupational violence as well as some fatigue issues within the youth justice precincts. I am advised that WorkSafe have been working closely with the health and safety representatives in those facilities and the Department of Justice and Community Safety to identify and address any occupational health and safety risks and to work really hard to mitigate those risks.

Ms MAXWELL (Northern Victoria) (12:36): Thank you, Minister. Just on that group that are actually working in the justice sector around those WorkSafe practices, how long has that advisory group been going for, and when was it first established?

Ms STITT (Western Metropolitan—Minister for Workplace Safety, Minister for Early Childhood) (12:36): Thank you for your supplementary question, Ms Maxwell. I will get those details for you; I do not have the exact dates to hand today. My understanding is that there has been that task force in place for quite some time preceding these particular issues that you are raising today, but I am happy to take that on notice and provide you with some more details about the time frame and the activities of that task force.