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'Gross violation of human rights' : Indigenous groups slam Queensland opposition proposal

Dechlan Brennan -

Indigenous and welfare groups are dismayed at the rhetoric used by Queensland's opposition leader in the wake of new crime numbers, fearing it will only end up further harming Indigenous children and not lead to any improvements in community safety.

On Wednesday, new crime statistics showed a significant spike in assaults and domestic violence offending. The Liberal National Party (LNP) have highlighted the crime numbers - noting they have reached their highest point in two decades - and arguing the raw numbers show more offences committed.

The state's opposition leader David Crisafulli has focussed heavily on the number of "unlawful use of a motor vehicle" in the statistics, which has exceeded 20,000 cases for the first time in raw numbers, saying they were numbers "nobody wants to see".

"The numbers show a staggering rise of 116 per cent since Labor first came to office and watered down the laws in 2015, when 9359 cars were stolen across Queensland that year," a LNP statement read.

However, this doesn't consider population growth, which shows a still significant, but dramatically lower 60 per cent increase. The rate is also 30 per cent less than in 2001.

The total crime rate has increased marginally every year (other than during the pandemic years of 20202 and 2021) but remains below the levels of the mid 2000's when adjusted for population.

Nonetheless, the recorded number of assaults and breaches of domestic violence protection orders has increased markedly. The Queensland Police Deputy Commissioner, Shane Chelepy, has said there was a perception by some in the public that crime rates were higher than they really were, however this perception did mean police had more to do to nullify those concerns.

"The police are working hard every single day to work with our community, listening to our community," he said.

LNP leader David Crisafulli has called for a rewrite of the Youth Justice Act (Image: Sky News)

The LNP, who withdrew from previously bi-partisan approach to Queensland truth-telling and eventual Treaty negotiations last year, have argued Labor's laws around youth justice - which they have advertised as the "toughest in the country" and horrified human rights, legal and Indigenous groups - are "soft" and has called for "restoring consequence for action".

Mr Crisafulli told Sky News Australia the LNP would rewrite the Youth Justice Act if elected at the 2024 state election, calling for Premier Steven Miles to join them.

He said he would "go back to parliament tomorrow" if it meant the government was serious about changing the law.

"Remove detention as a last resort," Mr Crisafulli said. "Unshackle the judiciary. Rewrite that Youth Justice Act and we're ready, mate."

On Wednesday, he told reporters: "A generation of untouchables have been created. A generation who knows that their rights outweigh the rights of everyday Queenslanders, a generation that conduct themselves without any fear of the law".

Descendant of the Ngugi people on Quandamooka country and Justice Reform Initiative's (JRI) Queensland Advocacy and Campaign Coordinator, Aysha Kerr, said they had met with parliamentarians across the political spectrum and emphasised the importance of listening to what the data says works when it comes to community safety.

"The evidence overwhelmingly tells us that locking children up does not work to reduce crime, build safer communities or address the root causes of contact with the criminal justice system," Ms Kerr said.

"Yet, we have continued to see both major parties in Queensland competing to promote a 'tough on crime agenda'".

Data from the state government statistician's office in 2021-2022 shows the rate of "unique" or first-time child offenders continues to decline across the state.

However, recidivism accounts for 42 per cent of Queensland's incarcerated population.

Experts have routinely argued early interactions with the justice system - which would be exacerbated if detention as a last resort was mandated - only leads to further recidivism in the long term.

"Queenslanders rightly deserve to feel safe, but the default 'tough on crime' response and over-use of incarceration in Queensland, especially the excessive use of remand is not making anybody safer," Ms Kerr said.

"In fact, evidence shows that imprisonment, particularly at a young age, makes reoffending more likely."

In December, the LNP's acting Shadow Attorney-General Deb Frecklington said the party wanted to make the community safer with "more police, rewriting the Youth Justice Act, reforming early intervention, ensuring judges can impose sentences that reflect community expectations and fixing the Child Safety system to prevent vulnerable kids heading down a path of crime".

Ms Kerr said that whilst JRI was encouraged to see a commitment by the LNP to enact gold standard early intervention, the oppositions "overarching policy positions on consequences for actions and removing incarceration as a last resort seek to double down on the politicised punitive approach that is proving both harmful and ineffective".

Statistics show up to 88 per cent of children in detention in Queensland are routinely on remand at any one time. National Indigenous Times has previously reported children were often unable to secure bail due to family circumstances, and were routinely held in adult watch houses due to overcrowding in juvenile detention facilities.

The criminalisation of breach of bail for youths has seen an explosion of incarcerated children and young people - the majority who are Indigenous.

Ms Kerr noted the holding of children in remand had seen a 33 per cent increase in reoffending, with recidivism in Queensland for children within the first twelve months of release allegedly sitting at 90 per cent.

"Instead of managing children in a revolving door justice system, Queensland needs to focus on evidence-based, thoughtful policy reform that holds young people accountable in ways that work and addresses the drivers of their offending behaviours," she said.

Mr Crisafulli's suggestion to 'strengthen' the Youth Justice Act has been met with derision by several groups who work within the Indigenous incarceration sector.

They told National Indigenous Times the "tough on crime" mantra does nothing to effectively alleviate crime or protect the community - either in the short or long term.

Gunggari person and the national director at Change the Record, Maggie Munn, said the suggested reversal of incarceration as a last resort for children by the LNP was a "gross violation of human rights".

"International law, the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, and countless pieces of evidence from medical, health, legal advocates all show us the reasons why prison as a last resort is a fundamental principle to maintain," they said.

"Reversing this in Queensland won't act as the magic panacea the LNP claim it to be, it will only justify the continued harm and trauma of prisons on vulnerable children."

Debbie Kilroy says the LNP's proposal will not improve community safety (Image: ABC News)

Sisters Inside chief executive Debbie Kilroy said the LNP only relied on "cops and cages" as policy, arguing the evidence shows this is a "fundamental failure for our community".

"The law-and-order rhetoric causes more harm to more Aboriginal children." she said.

"We must reimagine communities and refund communities to ensure community safety, and this takes time.

"Political parties are only interested in ramping up fear for the next election to ensure votes…not community safety for all."

Ms Kilroy, who said she didn't know of anyone in the sector who had met with the opposition, also argued attacks on children must end, stating: "They aren't our enemies, they're our children, our future".

"Remembering the children who are being targeted by the police are victims of horrific harm themselves," she said.

"The draconian laws we have now are pushing children further to the margins and ensuring more harm for us all."

Both Munn and JRI highlighted several support services and early intervention models that were required as a better alternative to further incarcerating children.

Many community-led programs achieve results in Queensland without incarceration, including early intervention and diversion programs, case management services, alternative court models, First Nations Place based programs and restorative justice programs.

All of these, JRI said, turn lives around and significantly reduce reoffending.

"Queenslanders would be better served if the Opposition meaningfully invested in these evidence-based alternatives that will genuinely build a safer Queensland, rather than doubling down on policy settings that lead to continued prison expansion," Ms Kerr said.

For Munn, locking up children does nothing to address behaviour, and only acts as a band-aid to a situation the opposition have been decrying.

"And yet again it is immensely disappointing and frustrating to see the lives of children be used as political footballs in election campaigning," they said.

"These are human beings, not statistics. These kids deserve better."

National Indigenous Times contacted David Crisafulli for comment.

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