Human rights advocates say it is outrageous that stray animals in the Pilbara will have air-conditioning by the end of the summer but prisoners in Western Australia's hottest jail will not.
Long-held concerns about prisoner welfare in the Pilbara town of Roebourne gained national attention last summer after temperatures soared to more than 50 degrees Celsius.
Cells at the majority Aboriginal jail are not air-conditioned.
In Port Hedland, the council is building a $2 million air-conditioned facility for stray cats and dogs, saying summer temperatures in the Pilbara can be unpleasant for animals.
Aboriginal Legal Service lawyer Alice Barter said the contrast was appalling.
"I feel sick to my stomach that we as a community are valuing the lives of dogs and cats higher than Aboriginal people," Ms Barter said.
"The community should be outraged, the community should be angry with this McGowan government and they should recognise it as racially discriminatory because that's what it is."
Leading advocates on the issue this week told the ABC they feared a death at Roebourne was the only thing that would prompt the government to change the conditions in cells.
Human Rights Watch Australia researcher Sophie McNeill said the difference in treatment was devastating.
"If the Town of Port Hedland, and good on them, can act to treat the animals in their care humanely, I mean, it doesn't need to be said that we should be doing the same thing for humans," Ms McNeill said.
"It's actually deeply, deeply embarrassing, I think, for the McGowan government to see this juxtaposition..."
She pointed to the state government's $5.7 billion surplus.
"If we can't use that money to ensure that some of the most vulnerable people in our community are treated humanely then I'm not sure what use it is to have a surplus really," she said.
The Town of Port Hedland is building a $2.2 million air-conditioned dog pound and cattery — expected to open in February.
"The Town of Port Hedland is proud of the investment it is making in the Animal Management Facility upgrade and makes no comment on state government investment decisions," a spokesperson said.
The council's environmental services manager, Michael Cuvalo, previously told the ABC it would replace the old facility that was an outside, fenced-off area, with a roof over a concrete floor.
"It is at ambient air temperature, which during summer is not the most pleasant place for animals," he said.
"So our new build is a fully enclosed building with a HVAC system to ensure that we can maintain the animals at a reasonable temperature while they're in our care."
Corrective Services Minister Bill Johnston would not be drawn on the concerns from advocates contrasting the treatment across the two facilities.
But asked by ABC Radio Perth yesterday whether air-conditioning would ever be installed at Roebourne, he said it was not as simple as people thought.
"The buildings were built in accordance with the building code of the time," he said.
"It was actually built to the standard that was required and we do do mitigation strategies for people in those facilities.
"There are parts including the work camp outside which is a very pleasant environment for people, so I understand, I've been there, at Roebourne, on a 47 degree day so I know what it's like from personal experience and we do try and work with the inmates to deal with those issues."
In a statement to the ABC, Mr Johnston said the government had received a report on the costs of installing air-conditioning in every cell.
But he declined to say what further action would be taken and said measures currently in place were "effective".
"At Roebourne Prison, this includes fans in every cell, air-conditioning in the recreation hall, prisoner visits and female activities area, and shade structures in the main area of the prison," he said.
"There are a number of air-conditioned cells available for prisoners with medical conditions, and for prisoners who undertake full-day outdoor physical activities."