Spit hood ban passes South Australian parliament five years after Indigenous man’s death

Controversial restraint will be criminalised after state’s upper house backs bill with unanimous support

South Australia will become the first state to criminalise the use of spit hoods after a bill to ban their use passed a crucial vote in the state’s parliament with unanimous support.

The bill was introduced ahead of the five-year anniversary of Wayne Fella Morrison’s death. Morrison, a 29-year-old Wiradjuri, Kokatha and Wirangu man, had not been convicted of any crime and was being held on remand when he died on 26 September 2016 at the Royal Adelaide Hospital after being restrained at Yatala Labour Prison.

In the five years since Morrison’s death, his mother, Caroline Andersen, and his sibling, Latoya Rule, have been fighting to ban the use of spit hoods in South Australian institutions while they await the outcome of a coronial inquest into his death in custody. The inquest has run for three years.

A spit hood is a mesh-fabric hood that covers the face and is fixed at the neck to physically prevent a person from spitting during restraint.

The private member’s bill to ban their use was introduced by the SA Best MLC Connie Bonaros in April 2020, and it passed in the Legislative Council on Wednesday night with support from the Greens MLC Tammy Franks and Labor’s Kyam Maher.

The South Australian Liberal party is understood to have supported the bill, meaning it is expected to pass an upcoming vote in the House of Assembly and become law.

When it does the ban will end the use of spit hoods across South Australian prisons, mental health institutions and police custody. The ban is expected to be in effect by the end of September.

Speaking after the vote, Andersen said the result was a long time coming after the family’s calls for change were ignored for so long.

“I’m happy that we’ve finally got there,” Morrison’s mother said.

“Just knowing that at least in South Australia for the moment, if any professional, whether it be a nurse, doctor or prison officer, police officer, whoever who is in a position of authority, if they were to use one of these devices, it’s against the law now.

“And they would be held responsible.”

However, Rule said the significance of the moment was lost in a sense of “frustration” that it had taken so much time to get action.

“The people of South Australia should question why this was allowed to go on for so long and why those who knew about it didn’t act,” Rule said.

Rule said they appreciated the work of Bonaros and Franks, but was also “proud” to have the support of Maher.

“He stood with our community and with Wayne without even knowing him,” Rule said. “I think the Aboriginal community of South Australia can know that Kyam made this move today in support of us, and against Aboriginal deaths in custody.”

The family say they are now renewing their calls calling for a formal apology from the South Australian government, a royal commission into Morrison’s death owing to the roadblocks experienced at the coronial inquest, and a national ban on the use of the devices.

Bonaros said she was “humbled and extraordinarily grateful” to be trusted with the bill but that it shouldn’t have taken an “incredible amount of human effort” to achieve the result.

“It absolutely shouldn’t have taken this long,” Bonaros said. “It should not have taken global recognition of Wayne’s death to finally to finally accept that there’s no place for spit hoods in our society.

“We should have reached that conclusion a very long time.”

The Northern Territory banned the use of spit hoods when images showing their use on 13-year-old Dylan Voller while he was detained at the Don Dale youth detention centre sparked national outrage.

South Australia was the last state to ban their use on children but until now has continued to allow their use on adults.

An online petition created by the family has collected more than 26,000 signatures since the campaign began.

The coronial inquest into the death Morrison remains ongoing with the coroner Jayne Basheer expected to hear final submissions next Tuesday.

Contributor

Royce Kurmelovs

The GuardianTramp

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