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Amnesty International urges Queensland government to drop plan to criminally charge children for bail breaches

Giovanni Torre -

Amnesty International Australia has called on the Queensland government to put children's rights first and drop proposed legislation to detain children who breach bail, contrary to its promised reforms to keep children in the community and out of custody.

Amnesty noted that the proposed bail changes increases the risk of children being remanded "in harmful adult watch houses".

Amnesty Australia Indigenous Rights Campaigner Kacey Teerman said on Thursday that the idea the Queensland government is willing to override its own Human Rights Act to see children as young as 10 charged with the same offence as an adult for breaching bail conditions is "abhorrent and incompatible with international standards to protect children by only detaining them as a last resort".

"This decision to criminalise breach of bail for children that will disproportionately affect First Nations' kids amounts to appalling disregard for their welfare and could trigger a human rights emergency in a broken system already ignoring the harm being done to First Nations children," she said.

"What kind of country are we living in if we don't make every effort to keep children out of detention before trial and at risk of being held in harmful adult watch houses exposed to adult detainees. The damaging effect this has on a child's mental health and well-being cannot be undone.

"This announcement is a shameful backflip that dismantles the Queensland government's former promises to put its energies into diversion programs and bail support services to keep children in the community instead of remanded in custody."

Ms Teerman said it is "absolutely horrific" that the Queensland government is proposing a backflip on bail laws that will see more children end up behind bars unsentenced.

"There is no excuse for this – all governments must commit to Indigenous-led prevention and early intervention programs that will keep kids out of prison in the first place," she said.

Amnesty noted that the Queensland government's move to amend legislation "in blatant contravention of children's rights" highlights how inadequate human rights protections are in Australia as the only liberal democracy in the world without a national human rights protection, such as a constitutional bill of rights.

Queensland Attorney-General Shannon Fentiman told National Indigenous Times that the "decision to override the Human Rights Act is not taken lightly".

"The Human Rights Act 2019 has always contained the option for the government to make decisions on behalf of the community about how best to balance rights against each other. The community rightly deserves to feel safe, and in this exceptional instance, these measures are necessary to respond to a small cohort of recidivist offenders who engage in persistent and serious offending," she said.

"However, it is crucial that we break this cycle of reoffending by investing in early intervention and prevention programs. The Palaszczuk Government has announced $100 million in funding to ensure that we are funding community-based initiatives that support young people to access pathways out of offending.

"We know that these programs are working. Working with families through intensive case management has seen a 50% reduction in reoffending and a 70% reduction in violent reoffending. That is why we are expanding the program to support more young people and their families.

"We are also expanding On Country programs to provide culture-based rehabilitation for young First Nations peoples, including supervision by On Country Elders. We have also announced $5 million in justice reinvestment initiatives to empower First Nations communities to design and implement their own strategies for addressing the underlying drivers of crime, as well as further supporting existing Community Justice Groups."

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