After a week of intense negotiations, the Western Australian Government has avoided urgent Supreme Court action by allowing a newborn Aboriginal baby to remain with her mother.
The baby girl was born at King Edward Memorial Hospital in Perth three days ago. Her mother, who is serving a sentence in Bandyup Women’s Prison, has been in hospital since the birth, breastfeeding and caring for her baby. Doctors and midwives had confirmed that it was in the baby’s best interests to stay with and be cared for by her mother, but the Government had been threatening separation due to a lack of capacity at the prison nursery.
Mothers in Bandyup are usually able to care for their babies in a special nursery for up to 12 months, but the facility was full and the Government was refusing to provide a cot, change table and other necessities in an alternative area of the prison to enable the baby girl to remain with her mother.
Dennis Eggington, CEO of the Aboriginal Legal Service of Western Australia, who are representing the mother, said that he is pleased with the outcome and that the Government is not repeating the mistakes of the past.
“We know the devastating effects of separating babies from their mothers, so we’re very relieved the government has found a solution to ensure this baby can stay with her mother,” said Mr Eggington.
The Western Australian Government has been on notice for months that the nursery at Bandyup is at capacity. Earlier this year, Western Australia’s Independent Inspector of Custodial Services recommended the expansion of nursery facilities at Bandyup. The Government accepted this recommendation.
Ruth Barson, Director of Legal Advocacy at the Human Rights Law Centre, who was assisting with the case, said that it would be heartbreaking to see a mother and baby separated simply due to government inaction.
“Everybody knows that the safest place for a newborn baby is with their mother. This baby girl deserves the best start in life and her mother deserves to be treated with dignity and humanity. It’s great to see the Government acknowledge this by providing the necessary facilities for mum and baby to be together,” said Ms Barson.
Bandyup Women’s Prison is notorious for being the most neglected prison in the state. Western Australia’s Inspector of Custodial Services previously said that "Bandyup has for many years suffered from neglect, indifference, and structural inequality" and that Government "policies and priorities [have] had the effect of disadvantaging women".
Ms Barson said that while it’s wonderful this baby girl won’t be separated from her mother, the Western Australian Government must fix the long-standing problems at Bandyup once and for all.
“Last month an Aboriginal woman at Bandyup was forced to give birth alone in her cell. Last year, a woman was transported from Bandyup Prison to a hospital naked, handcuffed and covered in her own blood. The Western Australian Government must respect the inherent dignity of all women behind bars and provide for their basic health needs,” said Ms Barson.
The Aboriginal Legal Service of Western Australia (ALSWA) were the lawyers in this case. They worked with the Human Rights Law Centre, Allens law firm and a team of pro bono barristers.
For interviews or further information please call:
Michelle Bennett, Director of Communications, Human Rights Law Centre, 0419 100 519