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Proposed youth curfew would punish Indigenous youth

Imogen Kars -

A Liberal National Party election pledge to impose curfew on youth in Cairns and Townsville to curb juvenile crime has been met with criticism from activists, academics and Indigenous community groups.

If elected on Saturday the LNP is set to trial an 8.00pm curfew for children aged 14 and under and a 10.00pm curfew for 15 to 17-year-olds.

Opposition Leader Deb Frecklington said the curfew would aim to "curb the surge in [Townsville's] juvenile crime and violence".

Under the curfew, youth found to be out of their homes after the relevant curfew time would be taken to a local community refuge.

Parents would also face a $250 fine if their child is found out past curfew without a "reasonable excuse".

Associate Dean of Research at the College of Arts, Social Science and Education at Townsville's James Cook University, Glenn Dawes, said the proposed curfew is a "step back into the past".

"I don't think it's very progressiveâ€"we've seen youth curfews in other places across the world, and they've failed. They just disadvantage more people."

The Associate Dean, whose research focuses on youth crime, said the proposed curfew is a "knee-jerk reaction" by LNP who are trying to find a point of difference in the face of the looming election.

"At the end of the day, this net is going to drag a lot of kids into it who may be law abiding and doing nothing wrong. It's not going to progress anything, it's not going to change anything and it's not going to solve anything," he said.

He said the curfew would disadvantage Indigenous youth and their families in particular, who are already overrepresented in the justice system.

"Sometimes at the Queensland youth detention centre here in Townsville, we have 60 to 70 per cent Indigenous peopleâ€"there's obviously a reason. Most Indigenous kids don't do crime, this is an issue of over-policing," he said.

According to police data, there has been a 72.5 per cent increase in assaults committed by youth aged 10 to 17 in the Townsville district over the last two years.

While the proposed curfew pledge is rooted in statistics like these, Assoc. Dean Dawes believes the measures will not work without also tackling overarching issues like domestic violence.

He said a lot of young people on curfews mandated by police jump out of their windows and escape because the environment they live in is so unsafe.

"They're feeling endangered and not safe, so they're back out on the street and will be picked up again," he said.

"We need long term solutions that help Indigenous kids caught up in crime to become pro-social and proactive."

Jack Wilkie-Jans, a prominent Cairns artist and Aboriginal affairs advocate, said the curfew is "lazy policy" by the LNP and would only address a symptom of something that requires "more political will and ambition".

"Cairns undeniably has a problem with youth crime, but we have to look at the reason behind this issue. It will lead to situations where certain demographics are unfairly targeted," he said.

Hailing from Waanyi, Teppathiggi and Tjungundji tribes, Wilkie-Jans said a better approach is needed to ensure a holistic solution.

"You can be pulled up going from A to Bâ€"the presumption of innocence wouldn't apply anymore. Young people also need work and a lot of that is casual and at night," he said.

"It's a short-sighted policy, especially in a recession."

Queensland Greens candidate for Townsville Tom O'Grady told NIT the proposed curfew policy is "disgraceful, cynical and racist".

"Curfews won't fix crime. What they will do is criminalise an entire generation of Indigenous Australians and subject them to further racism and violence."

"Indigenous Australians are already overrepresented in the criminal justice system and this policy will make things much worse."

LNP candidate for Mundingburra Glenn Doyle has defended the policy, saying it would connect "rebellious young people with social services".

But Assoc. Dean Dawes said these services already exist and workâ€"they simply need to be invested in.

"A big thing in Far North Queensland is the concept of justice reinvestment, which means we take money out of jails and stop filling these big cities of misery," he said.

"We need to start pumping the money back into communities and work with community members in constructing programs that Magistrates can send young people to in order to keep them out of the system."

Queensland LNP declined to comment.

By Imogen Kars

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