The West

A former West Australian cabinet minister has accused her colleagues of being "a bit recalcitrant" in helping to fix problems with prison vans that led to the heat-stroke death of an Aboriginal elder.

Margaret Quirk, corrective services minister in the WA Labor government that lost office last year, said she and other ministers were aware of the problems with the vans, but that "things moved at a glacial pace".

Mr Ward, 46, whose first name cannot be released for cultural reasons, was effectively cooked alive in a commercially owned prison van during a four-hour journey between the goldfields towns of Laverton and Kalgoorlie in January last year.

WA Coroner Alastair Hope, who said in his findings that Mr Ward's death was "wholly avoidable", will ask the Director of Public Prosecutions to consider whether charges should be laid over the incident.

Mr Hope found "inhumane treatment" led to the elder's death from heat stroke after he had endured temperatures in excess of 50C in the pod of the van.

He found the company involved, Global Solutions, its two guards Nina Stokoe and Graham Powell, and the Department of Corrective Services had all contributed to Mr Ward's "terrible death".

The department is responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of the fleet of vans.

Ms Quirk, who was not called to give evidence at the Kalgoorlie coronial hearing, said today she accepted some of the responsibility for Mr Ward's death.

"People do need to stick their hand up," she told Fairfax Radio Network.

"To the extent that I had a role in this I'm putting my hand up and saying that I feel responsible.

" ... I think if I had had my time over again I would have pushed harder to get that fleet replaced quicker, but hindsight's a wonderful thing."

She said Cabinet had been aware WA Custodial Services Inspector Richard Harding wrote to GSL in 2007 about the condition of the vans.

Professor Harding outlined six concerns including "GSL's capacity to cope with the logistical challenge of running a transport service across such huge distances as are involved with WA".

He described the condition of the fleet as "parlous".

Ms Quirk said she could not disclose what had happened in Cabinet at the time, but said there were "a number of other issues that were happening in corrective services".

She said these included the government's responsibility for the maintenance of the vans and the level of service provided by GSL.

"That's no excuse. I'm just saying there were a number of issues that may have compounded the problem we had with the van," Ms Quirk said.

She said she had "gone pretty hard at the time" in attempting to improve or upgrade the fleet of prison vans.

"I was in regular discussions with the Aboriginal Legal Service who are very powerful advocates on behalf of their constituents and they were expressing their concerns to me," she said.

Given the chance to have the time over, "I would maybe have given them the opportunity to express those concerns to some of my colleagues who are a bit recalcitrant," she said.

"But I'm not pointing the finger at anyone else. It's my responsibility."


The West Australian

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