Jobs Events Advertise

"Deliberately harmful:" Queensland government overrides state's Human Rights Act

Dechlan Brennan -

The Queensland government has introduced legislation that is incompatible with Human Rights for the second time this year.

The legislation - implemented to allow children to be imprisoned in police watchhouses designed for adults - was introduced by the state's police minister, Mark Ryan, on Wednesday, as part of a raft of changes to an unrelated bill in state parliament.

It will require a suspension of the state's Human Rights Act.

Change the Record national director, Gunggari campaigner Maggie Munn, said the decision to put through amendments to an unrelated bill was "outrageous and deliberately harmful."

"This is now the second time Queensland has suspended its human rights act to criminalise and punish children in this state. Incarcerating children whether in prisons or watch houses is harmful, the government knows this and yet continues to enforce these conditions," they told National Indigenous Times.

"To have a legal instrument like a human rights act in place means there should be protections, but if governments can decide to suspend those protections, it's the most vulnerable people who suffer."

In the bill's notes, Mr Ryan said the change was necessary to guarantee that "immediate capacity issues" in the state's prison system could be rectified.

"It is not intended to make acceptable the long-term use of watchhouse or corrective services facilities for young people."

The legislative amendments come in the wake of the Queensland supreme court last Friday ordering the urgent transfer of three children who were detained in police watch houses, after the state government conceded that it had no lawful basis to detain them.

The bill was initially introduced to amend reporting obligations for sex offenders and includes decriminalising public drunkenness, preventing police from covertly surveilling sex workers and reforming police disciplinary processes.

Queensland Greens MP Michael Berkman called the decision an "absolute dog act".

"I've just seen one of the most disgraceful acts from Qld Labor since I was elected," he tweeted on Wednesday.

"At 3:30pm, they moved 57 pages of amendments to an unrelated bill w 30 mins for debate. They suspend the Human Rights Act to allow children to be kept in watch houses & adult prisons."

Queensland has the highest youth prison population in the country. In June, data showed that of 169 children charged under the new offences, 112 were Indigenous.

Debbie Kilroy, chief executive of Sisters Inside, told Guardian Australia the decision means the community "will also be harmed".

"It's time to reimagine communities with funding taken away from police and prisons so we can develop our own modes of safety and security," she said.

This is the second time the Labor government has had to breach its own Human Rights charter in order to pass legislation.

Earlier this year, the state government passed legislation that made breach of bail for children a criminal offence, which Mr Ryan spruiked as the "toughest in the country."

At the time, Queensland's human rights commissioner Scott McDougall stated that "the measures introduced are predicated on a flawed perception that recidivist children will respond positively to punitive measures."

"I am unaware of any evidence that increased maximum penalties of imprisonment will deter a child from engaging in risk-taking behaviour," Mr McDougall said.

In June, Youth Advocacy Centre chief executive Katherine Hayes told National Indigenous Times that they were seeing children plead guilty to avoid spending time in detention.

"We have seen children plead guilty to charges because they are less likely to receive a sentence. Whilst if they are on remand, they are highly likely to be held in detention – often for a number of months… Over 80 per cent of children in detention are on remand," she said, noting that young people are kept in detention for crimes unlikely to carry a custodial sentence.

   Related Articles   

   More by Dechlan Brennan