ACT News


Guards, govt in exchange talks

The ACT government says prison guards may not have the power to veto plans for a needle exchange in Canberra's jail.

The guards' union met with the government solicitor and Justice and Community Safety officials yesterday at the industrial relations tribunal, to resolve heated disputes over the proposed needle and syringe program at the Alexander Maconochie Centre.

Chief Minister Katy Gallagher made a renewed push to bring in a needle exchange this month, proposing a one-for-one model where prisoners swap dirty needles for clean needles, overseen by a doctor.

The announcement angered guards, who said the government had failed to properly consult, breaching a clause in their enterprise agreement, which states ''no needle exchange program … shall be implemented without prior consultation and agreement by the directorate and union[s]''.

Both parties yesterday agreed to sit down in two weeks' time to begin consultation on the proposed needle exchange.

The Community and Public Sector Union has claimed the Fair Work Australia meeting yesterday as a win, saying it reinforced the government's need to secure the union's agreement before any needle exchange could go ahead.


''The union agreed that we will continue, as we have from day one, engaging in consultation in good faith,'' CPSU regional director Vince McDevitt said.

''And we are happy to look at any proposal that the government wants us to consider, but that should not imply that it will result in any agreement,'' he said.

But Ms Gallagher said yesterday the union and the government differed on the exact interpretation of the enterprise agreement.

''They see it as a veto clause,'' Ms Gallagher said.

''They read it one way, I read it that we need to talk with them and reach agreement about an implementation of a model,'' she said.

''Not whether you actually have a model, but how it's implemented, and that's what I want to talk to them about.''

But Ms Gallagher accepted a needle exchange would be difficult to implement without a level of agreement from guards.

She said she was ''genuinely very happy'' that the union had formally agreed to consult on the issue, saying she needed them ''at the table''.

''They've turned up to meetings and they've listened, but they've never helped us discuss how could you implement a model like this, and that's what I want the discussion to be.''

The CPSU say they are yet to see the full detail on the proposed one-for-one needle exchange model.

Mr McDevitt said he was yet to see a needle and syringe program that allayed the fears of his members.

Guards rallied on the steps of the Fair Work Australia building in Civic yesterday.

The government has tried to allay their fears over their safety with its one-for-one model, and by shifting responsibility for the program to the jail's health workers.

''They came to me with what I thought were genuine issues,'' Ms Gallagher said.

''They didn't want to see more needles in the jail and they didn't want to be seen to be condoning anything,'' she said.

''I've removed both of those issues for them, they're not part of it, we don't need them to change one thing they do about their job, not one thing.''