ACT News


Warning by guards on needle exchange

The guards' union has warned it will take the government to the industrial relations tribunal if it tries to push ahead with the needle exchange program at Canberra's jail without the consent of prison officers.

The government has been consulting with a large number of interest groups over its plans to introduce a one-for-one needle exchange model to swap a single clean needle for a dirty needle in the Alexander Maconochie Centre.

The plan, designed to combat blood-borne disease, has sparked strong criticism from guards, who warn it is unworkable, will feed a black-market trade of needles and put correctional officers in danger.

But public health advocates, including the Australian Medical Association and the Australian National Council on Drugs, National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre, say there is a clear body of evidence showing prison-based needle exchanges are highly effective.

The government says it has received 40 submissions in overall support of the approach of the draft blood-borne disease management strategy.

But the Community and Public Sector Union, which represents the jail's guards, has reiterated its strident opposition to the plan in its submission to government.


The union and the government continue to consult on the draft plan, while the government has also opened separate talks with other unions holding a stake in the needle exchange.

The union and the government have conflicting views on a crucial clause of the enterprise agreement with correctional officers, which the union claims would legally prevent the needle exchange going ahead without its support.

Union regional secretary Vince McDevitt said that dispute had not yet been resolved.

But Mr McDevitt warned the union would seek intervention from Fair Work Australia if the government tried to push the needle exchange through without its support.

''I really don't think the government will attempt to ram this through in the face of opposition from staff and their union,'' Mr McDevitt said.

''We'd look at all their options if they did try, but the first stop obviously would be Fair Work Australia, where we would be seeking intervention,'' he said.

The Australian Medical Association ACT branch last month urged Greens MLA and Corrections Minister Shane Rattenbury to use his then status as kingmaker to urge the opposition to support the proposed needle exchange.

They warned the government ''could get wobbly on it'' and described the plan as the single most significant health policy issue that could be raised during the power-sharing negotiations.


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