Magazine of Socialist Action in Australia

WA: Wins for the deaths in custody campaign

Reading Time: 2 minutes

But the fight continues…

After over two years of campaigning, the Deaths In Custody Watch Committee (DICWC) has won some concessions from the State Government in Western Australia. DICWC has been fighting for justice after the horrific death of Warburton elder, Mr Ward, who died in the back of a privately operated prisoner transport van.

Christian Porter, the WA Attorney General and Minister for Corrective Services, announced that a $200,000 interim payment will be paid to the family of Mr Ward. This money is desperately needed as the family has been surviving off donations. This comes off the back of a recent rally at the state parliament, attended by several hundred people including a delegation from the Prison Officer’s Union. Porter was so scared to address the angry demonstrators that he ran for cover inside. The crowd chanted and taunted him demanding he explain his actions (or more precisely inaction).

After the rally, demonstrators filed into the public gallery where they made it clear to Porter (who now had nowhere to run) and the Barnett Government that they expected their demands to be met. The crowd disrupted the parliament and forced the speaker to clear the gallery. It was not long after this that the interim payment was announced. When announcing the payment Porter made the point that the militant actions of the DICWC had nothing to do with his hand being forced – a sure sign that the actions did actually have an effect!

In another victory for the campaign, a parliamentary inquiry into WA’s prisoner transport system has also been announced. Even the West Australian newspaper was forced to admit that this was the result of the “two-year campaign by the Deaths in Custody Watch Committee”, which collected more than 5,000 petition signatures.

However, these victories are not the end of the road. The G4S contract (the private company who run prisoner transport in WA, and whose care Mr Ward was in when he died) has not been cancelled. Porter has consistently said that the contract cannot be terminated on the grounds of a ‘material breach’ – under the contract a number of deaths per year are allowed. However, this often repeated statement is completely irrelevant, as the Custodial Services Act allows for the termination of the contract without a ‘material breach’ – something Porter, is, or at least should be fully aware of.

In a recent case highlighting the benefit of properly trained prison guards, a diabetic prisoner who collapsed in the back of a van, similar to that which Mr Ward was transported in, had his life saved by the state prison officers who were transporting him – the G4S quote was too expensive so the state decided to transport him themselves. A key demand of the campaign has been an end to privatisation and for prisoner transport to be brought back under state control – nothing could more clearly demonstrate the contrast between a sub-standard, corner-cutting private service and the state run alternative with unionised, well trained guards.

The Socialist Party will continue to work with the DICWC for every reform possible – while pointing out that under capitalism, the drive for profit will be put before all other considerations. It is only on the basis of socialism that an end to oppression and discrimination is possible.

By David Suter


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