Britisih film stirs debate on WA jails

Colin Barnett says State MPs should act in a "circumspect and thoughtful way" after Labor frontbencher Margaret Quirk told an international documentary maker WA was "racking and stacking" inmates in jails through double bunking.

The Premier said he was unlikely to watch Utopia, British-based John Pilger's documentary about Aboriginal disadvantage, which takes aim at mining magnate Gina Rinehart and a perceived lack of acknowledgment of Rottnest Island's penal past.

In an interview on her handling of the prison-van death of elder Mr Ward in 2008 and WA's high Aboriginal jailing rate, Pilger asks Ms Quirk whether WA is building more prisons.

"They are, I think, racking and stacking them, is the vernacular," she said. "They are double bunking them, so it literally is warehousing people."

Pilger, whose film was commissioned by British network ITV, responds: "That's the way they filled up the slave ships."

Corrective Services Minister Joe Francis said the Liberal-National Government spent an unprecedented $655 million on increasing the capacity of WA jails, a 900 per cent increase on spending on jail beds compared with the previous government.

In Utopia, Pilger claims Australia could have wiped out Aboriginal disadvantage with the $60 billion originally set aside under the resource super profits tax.

He attributes the demise of the tax to an aggressive mining industry campaign and features Ms Rinehart yelling "axe the tax" at a rally in Perth in 2010.

The scene is one of several in which WA is prominent, including a trip to Rottnest Island, where Pilger claims tourists are not educated enough about its past as an Aboriginal prison.

Rottnest Island Authority chairman Paulo Amaranti said the RIA was committed to reconciliation with Aboriginal people and recognising the prison era.

Ms Quirk said Mr Francis missed her point, which was to draw attention to WA's high Aboriginal jailing rate.

The West Australian

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