Despite strong opposition, the Queensland Parliament passed new youth justice legislation on Friday which will see harsher consequences dished out to young offenders.

The legislation will target “hardcore recidivist offenders” according to Queensland Minister for Police and Corrective Services Mark Ryan.

The Queensland Government will invest a $98.4 million funding package to support the legislation and will deliver:

  • A trial of GPS monitoring devices
  • Expansion of joint police and youth justice co-responder strike teams
  • Enhanced intensive supervision of young people on bail, including after hours and weekend supervision which will be facilitated by a Conditional Bail Program
  • Intensive support for families of children on bail which will be supplied by non-government organisations
  • Additional court and legal advocacy services.

“Community safety has always been a priority for the Government, that is why we have continued to provide record funding for youth justice reform,” said Minister for Youth Justice Leanne Linard.

“Ten per cent of all youth offenders account for 48 per cent of all youth crime,” said Minister Ryan.

“It is this group we are targeting with all the legislative and frontline strategies at our disposal.”

The Liberal National Party supported the legislation, however, attempted to make amendments which would see children face the same consequences as adult offenders when they breach bail.

There has been strong opposition to the legislation from advocacy groups and members of the Queensland Greens Party.

“The cohort of kids that will be most impacted by this Bill are some of the most vulnerable in Queensland,” Member for South Brisbane Amy McMahon told Parliament.

“What this Labor Government are doing is putting GPS monitors on children and making it easier for them to be immediately jailed — further marginalising these already vulnerable kids and trapping them in a cycle of criminalisation and re-offending.”

Queensland is not the only State taking on new measures to combat youth crime, the Northern Territory Labor Government has proposed amendments that will have a similar effect.

Amnesty International Australia expressed their concerns over the legislation, saying it undid years of hard-fought reforms to keep Indigenous kids out of criminal justice systems.

According to Australian Institute of Health and Welfare data from 2019, the rate of youth in detention increased in Queensland between the 2015 June quarter and the 2019 June quarter.

Across this four-year period, the rate of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in detention aged 10 to 17-years-old increased and the number of young people in custody on an average night sat between 146 and 265.

According to the AIHW’s Youth justice in Australia 2018-19 report, the national rate of unsentenced young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children over the age of 10 was 57 per cent.

Amnesty International Australia’s Indigenous Rights Lead Nolan Hunter said that whilst the United States had faced up to police accountability with the sentencing of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd, Australia is falling behind.

“While this is a welcome step towards justice, in Australia, we have two jurisdictions — NT and Queensland — that are essentially stepping away from that progress,” said Hunter.

“Instead, they’re doubling down on punitive measures that have the effect not of addressing the youth crime, but of punishing Indigenous kids, condemning them to the criminal justice system, and as we’ve seen in the past 30 years since the Royal Commission, there is no accountability in that system.”

Hunter said that although the Royal Commission identified systemic issues, no action had been taken to address these issues.

“When are we going to stop picking on Black kids in Australia? It has to stop.”

“There are better solutions to these issues but no one benefits from kids having their childhoods stolen, because that’s what’s happening in the NT and Queensland as we speak,” Hunter said.

Amnesty International Australia are now calling for an inquiry into the proposed amendments in the context of its detriment to the findings of the 2017 Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory.

“Premier Palaszczuk is telling us that prison will ‘fix’ the so-called youth crime crisis, and her ‘solution’ is to pass new laws that will send a record number of children to be behind bars,” said Amnesty International Australia Indigenous Rights Campaigner Maggie Munn.

“The reasons why children commit crimes will never be addressed in prisons. All of the evidence points to prison increasing the likelihood of children becoming long-term, serious re-offenders.

“Indigenous and community-led programs that address the underlying causes of crime need to be invested in.”

By Rachael Knowles