Jobs Events Advertise Newsletter

Queensland government slammed for removing "last resort" rule for jailing children

Dechlan Brennan -

Human Rights groups and advocates have slammed the Queensland government's decision to remove the "last resort" qualification for incarcerating children, arguing they have prioritised "politicised policy making" which will do nothing to help community safety.

On Wednesday, the Labor government - which has been criticised by the Opposition for months over a alleged 'youth crime wave' - announced they will remove detention as a last resort from the Youth Justice Act.

It will be redrafted to read: "A child should be detained in custody, where necessary, including to ensure community safety, where other non-custodial measures of prevention and intervention would not be sufficient, and for no longer than necessary to meet the purpose of detention."

Human Rights campaigner Maggie Munn said: "Let me be clear, this move from the Miles Govt has absolutely nothing to do with 'community safety' and has everything to do with trying to secure votes ahead of the October election. This is playing politics with the lives of vulnerable children."

Queensland Council of Social Services (QCOSS) chief executive Aimee McVeigh said the whole sector was "incredibly disappointed by the irresponsible move" to remove detention as exclusively a last resort.

She said linking the decision with community safety was "completely disingenuous".

"We already detain more children than any other jurisdiction in Australia…we have adult watch houses literally brimming with children as young as ten," Ms McVeigh said, highlighting that in Cairns, up to four children were sharing one cell and sleeping on plastic mattresses.

"We hear stories of sexual abuse; of children being deprived of food, of movement…being detained in solitary confinement."

Queensland's Family and Child Commission commissioner Natalie Lewis previously told National Indigenous Times: "Detention has been proven to have harmful impacts on children and young people."

"Any system that focuses on punitive rather than preventative measures is going to increase the number of children in detention," Ms Lewis said in January.

Premier Steven Miles had emphatically rejected removing detention as a last resort as recently as February, stating it would be "incredibly dangerous".

However, he backtracked on this principle - enshrined in international law - on Wednesday, arguing: "While prevention and intervention are essential, there are cases where detention is necessary for community safety."

"We've seen a lot of misrepresentation and confusion suggesting that the courts are unable to impose detention. And I am concerned that the existing wording of the principle is undermining confidence in the laws and the courts," he said.

Youth crime has been a major focus in Queensland, which locks up more children than any other state. It's seen an 11 per cent increase on the number of First Nations children being detained on an average night, with 215 Indigenous children housed in detention on average day in 2022-23.

Justice Reform Initiative executive director Mindy Sotiri, said this "punitive approach is failing Queenslanders on every front," arguing it continues to funnel people into watch houses, which violate the basic human rights, safety, and wellbeing of children as young as 10.

Katherine Hayes from the Youth Advocacy Centre (YAC) said the decision would "only result in more people being locked up".

"The system is already overwhelmed with people in the detention centres and the watch houses," she said, telling reporters there were 80 children in the watch houses across Queensland on Tuesday — over half of them Indigenous.

"We don't have any plan to address the over-representation; all of our clients are coming out of the detention centres and watch houses angry and on a path to reoffending," she said.

In March, a report highlighted the toll of detention on children, with two disabled, Aboriginal boys dying in the immediate aftermath of their time spent in detention — the majority of which was in separation, a term the government uses to describe isolation.

Advocates said the horrific conditions in the watch houses were driving kids to plead guilty to crimes they didn't commit.

On Monday, it was revealed Ms Hayes and YAC were considering legal action, accusing the Queensland government of failing to protect children in watch houses.

Asked about this, she told reporters: "It's an abysmal place for young people, and when they come out, they'll re-offend."

Ms Hayes argued if "detention as a last resort" was removed from the Youth Justice Act, Queensland would "not [be] meeting its obligations under international laws", and would be breaching the United Nations Convention on the Rights of a Child.

Guardian Australia reported the government believes they have legal advice from Crown Law and the solicitor general that their amendments will not violate the state Human Rights Act or international law.

Local Greens MP Michael Berkman was scathing of the decision, arguing it was "purely a political response to pressure, that at best will do absolutely nothing, and at worst will make a bad situation even worse".

"Who thinks making prison the default option for kids as young as 10 is a good idea?" he said.

"We have the highest rates of detention in Australia and it's not working. Detention is turning low-level offenders into lifelong criminals and making reoffending worse."

The explanatory notes on the bill state: "Once a court has considered all options reasonably available, and if satisfied that other options are not appropriate in the circumstances, then detention can be imposed."

   Related   

Aboriginal actress set to pursue her dream at prestigious American Academy
Proud Ghungalu, Wadja, Birri, Widi/Wiri and Kaanju woman, Zhanae Dodd, has been...
Joseph Guenzler 20 May 2024
Indigenous Taiwanese delegation visit First Peoples' Assembly
A delegation of Indigenous Taiwanese representatives have visited the First Peop...
Dechlan Brennan 20 May 2024
Koorie Heritage Trust announce Naarm NAIDOC week program
The Koorie Heritage Trust has announced a range of programs for NAIDOC Week to c...
Dechlan Brennan 20 May 2024
Indigenous education peak body alliance welcomes federal commitment to community-controlled sector
The National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education Corporation (NATSIE...
Giovanni Torre 20 May 2024

   Dechlan Brennan   

Indigenous Taiwanese delegation visit First Peoples' Assembly
A delegation of Indigenous Taiwanese representatives have visited the First Peop...
Dechlan Brennan 20 May 2024
Koorie Heritage Trust announce Naarm NAIDOC week program
The Koorie Heritage Trust has announced a range of programs for NAIDOC Week to c...
Dechlan Brennan 20 May 2024
Aboriginal Legal Service (NSW/ACT) elections called for Saturday
The peak Indigenous legal organisation in New South Wales and the Australian Cap...
Dechlan Brennan 20 May 2024