One of the allegations concerned the overuse of the secure unit. The Public Service Appeals Board partially upheld it in that they believed that the conditions were 'improper' and 'unsatisfactory' but that Pridmore had not overused the unit. Yet Jillett had found that one girl spent most of 4 months there, including 1 month in solitary confinement. Other girls stayed there for up to 7 days with only bread, butter, and water for meals. They had nothing to do, inadequate toilet facilities, and almost no daily exercise.
The Board upheld 2 other allegations. These were Pridmore's use of improper language when speaking to the girls and his visits to their dormitories at night without a female member of staff.
To address the situation, in addition to Pridmore's transfer to a clerical position, the Public Service Commissioner recommended establishing a visiting committee and implementing the standing orders for the secure unit.
Tension at Weeroona during the investigation became so severe that discipline broke down and it had to be closed temporarily while the Director of the Social Welfare Department looked for new staff.
Meanwhile, Lyons received fresh allegations about Weeroona, many of them predating Pridmore's appointment. Most of them related to the secure unit and included extensive use of solitary confinement, sometimes without lighting, the taunting of girls by staff, beatings, physical weakness caused by the diet of bread, butter, and water, and orders to drug the girls to keep them quiet. One girl had set fire to her bedding and another had tried to hang herself. Lack of staff meant that the girls were often alone in solitary confinement, especially at night. Staff at the home who were concerned by the situation were afraid to come forward in case of reprisals, including the loss of their jobs.
Lyons pressed for a Board of Inquiry of 3 people chaired by a magistrate. Firstly, it would investigate the management of Weeroona since its opening. Secondly, it would consider the administration of the Child Welfare Act. In particular, Lyons believed that the act had been breached because it stipulated that children under 16 could not be imprisoned. Lyons also believed that if Weeroona had been mismanaged, other homes run by the government probably were too.
Following a debate of 10 hours and 50 minutes, Lyons lost the motion by 2 votes.
On 4 November, alleging that the Director of Social Welfare, GC Smith, had misled Parliament over the use of the secure unit, he called successfully for a Select Committee. It reported on 24 November.
12 August 2013
Cite this: http://www.findandconnect.gov.au/guide/ref/TE00401
First published by the Find & Connect Web Resource Project for the Commonwealth of Australia, 2011
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