McGowan Government Minister Bill Johnston has linked a union push to strip him of the corrective services portfolio to a crackdown on prison officers being paid for hours they did not work.
Mr Johnston was responding to claims from WA Prison Officers Union secretary Andy Smith that corrective services had been “on the backburner” since it was added to his responsibilities last year.
Asked about his commitment to the job, Mr Johnston said this was a “very difficult period of time for the prison officers union leadership” and cited an Auditor-General’s report that criticised the department’s “chaotic” administration.
“We are going through a process of reform and we’re looking forward to (the union) being part of that journey,” he said on Sunday.
“I was very surprised that the secretary of the union referred to the Auditor General’s report, because the Auditor General’s report set out the fact that there are a cohort of prison officers who’ve been taking annual leave but not submitting leave forms, which obviously is not appropriate.
“It’s not the behaviour that we would expect of public officers in this State.
“Unfortunately, the Auditor General’s report also showed that management wasn’t properly managing that and that’s one of the issues that I’ve taken up with the management of the department to make sure that we have the systems in place to respond to that.”
Mr Johnston said a digital rostering system, trialled at Hakea Prison, would be operating in all 18 prisons shortly to allow “much better control of shift attendance”.
“Now that is a challenge for the union’s leadership and I understand that, so I’m not surprised that they are responding in the way that they do, but I hope that they’ll come and instead behave maturely and deal with me in a proper way,” he continued.
“I’m surprised that that that they’re joining the Opposition in criticising the Government, that’s not really a mature way to deal with the Government.
“There is no question it’s very difficult to manage prisons, if you think about it 6500 of the worst people in the State all in one location. It is very difficult forum to manage and I admire the prison officers who do that work.
“That’s why I’m so disappointed with the prison officers union behaving in the immature way that they are.”
Mr Smith said the Minister had misrepresented the report, which said the department’s manual, paper-based processes lacked controls to ensure accuracy of payments.
He said the union had “no problem” with the introduction of a digital system and the reform was a decade overdue.
“Mr Johnston has not read the Auditor General report correctly, which is full of references to management and HR that rely on paper forms that constantly go missing,” Mr Smith said.
“The report shows that the department has not kept up with the times. The inference that prison officers are doing the wrong thing is abhorrent.”
The union is locked in a court battle with the Government to stop the practice of docking the wages of staff who had been overpaid.
“We have had officers who have had their whole pay taken back, not because they have done anything untoward or fraudulent, but because of the department’s own incompetence,” Mr Smith said.
It comes as the spotlight is firmly on WA’s prison system, with five of the 16 teenage detainees being held at Casuarina adult prison on Saturday trashing their cells and climbing into the roof space.
Some of the group, who were transferred in shackles from Banksia Hill Juvenile Detention Centre last month, were rewarded with KFC for good behaviour the night before the disturbance.
Last week, Mr Johnston said he agreed with prison bosses who let some of WA’s most notorious criminals enjoy a late-night soccer party after winning special permission to watch the recent UEFA Champions League final.