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Warning by guards on needle exchange

Date

Christopher Knaus

Corrective Services ACT officers outside Fair Work Australia office protesting the proposed needle exchange program.

Corrective Services ACT officers outside Fair Work Australia office protesting the proposed needle exchange program. Photo: Jeffrey Chan

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.

CPSU ACT secretary Vince McDevitt speaks to Corrective Services ACT officers and family members outside Fair Work Australia office protesting the proposed needle exchange program at the Alexander Maconochie Centre.

CPSU ACT secretary Vince McDevitt speaks to Corrective Services ACT officers and family members outside Fair Work Australia office protesting the proposed needle exchange program at the Alexander Maconochie Centre. Photo: Jeffrey Chan

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.

7 comments

  • I have a very simple solution. All the advocates of a needle exchange program get trained up and become prison guards. Problem solved!

    Commenter
    Richo
    Location
    Canberra
    Date and time
    November 19, 2012, 10:03AM
    • I have a simple solution. Guards who don't want prisoners to have safe injecting equipment can get a different job!

      Commenter
      drwoood
      Date and time
      November 19, 2012, 1:02PM
      • So your advice is that anyone who has safety concerns about their workplace should simply quit and find another job? Should tell that to the CMFEU.

        Commenter
        Richo
        Location
        Canberra
        Date and time
        November 19, 2012, 2:02PM
    • Love your thinking Richo. Am I missing something drwoood, tell me why drugs should be allowed in jails in the first place. I seemed to have missed the point of why some prisoners are in jail in the first place and why are drugs are now allowed on jails when they are illegal. I can see people lining up to get in there. Yep I missed the point here!

      Commenter
      tara
      Date and time
      November 19, 2012, 2:17PM
      • The guards have my complete support in opposing a needle-exchange program. Instead of the powers that be worrying about how prisoners can spend the day shooting up safely, they should re-introduce hard labour.

        Commenter
        Nicomachaen
        Location
        Kingston
        Date and time
        November 19, 2012, 3:21PM
        • I was under the impression upwards of 90% of prisoners are prisoners because of drug related crimes.
          So how the hell is giving prisoners syringes going to fix the problem and how are they going to get the drugs in our world accredited state of the art five star prison anyway..
          Perhaps its time we looked at how drugs get into prisons and start cracking a few heads but hell, thats not socially acceptable is it.
          Any wonder this once great country and now this GREEN controlled backwater are going down the gurgler.

          Commenter
          COOL OLD DOG
          Location
          ACT
          Date and time
          November 19, 2012, 3:48PM
          • I have a simple solution. Don't do drugs, don't share needles, don't blame society / the system / the Government / upbringing etc when you catch something from sharing needles, and don't expect others who work in the prison to take on added risks because a portion of the AMC population want to keep using IV drugs.

            Enough is enough. People need to be held accountable for their actions and the rights of prison staff to work without the added risk of an injecting room needs to be respected.

            Commenter
            common sense
            Date and time
            November 19, 2012, 5:10PM
            Comments are now closed
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