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Youth Justice


Mr Speaker, I rise to speak to the Youth Justice and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2021.

The cohort of kids that will be most impacted by this Bill are some of the most vulnerable kids in Queensland. 

QCOSS estimates that this is around 400 children.

We know that these kids are very likely to be living in extreme poverty, with families who are struggling. Families who are suffering family violence, who don’t have secure housing, who are struggling with food insecurity, who are struggling with mental health issues, with alcohol and substance misuse. 

We also know that it's extremely likely that these kids have had contact with the child protection system, had disrupted education, suffered significant trauma and have found themselves homeless at times.

These are the kids that through no fault of their own were never really given a chance at a safe and joyful childhood. So what is the Labor government doing to respond to these vulnerable Queensland kids?

Are they funding more free public drug and alcohol rehabilitation services? Building more public homes so that these families can have a safe and secure roof over their heads? Giving our state schools more resources to better support these kids to stay in school? Funding free school meals that we know help keep kids at school? Maybe providing struggling families with more support and resources?

No, what this Labor government is doing, is putting GPS monitors on children and making it easier for them to be immediately jailed. Further marginalising these vulnerable kids, and trapping them in the cycle of criminalisation and reoffending.

These children have become the scapegoats for the failures of successive Labor and LNP governments. Treating children like they are hardened criminals will do nothing more than make them more likely to become hardened criminals. 

As Queensland's former public guardian Natalie Siegel-Brown has said  "Nobody in the world has ever imprisoned their way out of crime or GPS-tracked their way out of crime"

This Bill is short-sighted, and does nothing to address the underlying social and economic problems that drive young people to criminal behaviour.

Disproportionate impact on First Nations kids

Queensland Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Protection Peak, Sisters Inside, alongside other First Nations advocacy bodies all agreed these proposed laws were:

 “unjustifiably authoritarian, punitive and racist, that they will disproportionately impact Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people, and that they are likely to exacerbate the existing over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in custody.”

Change the Record has said:

“The proposed laws will disproportionately impact Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children who are already grossly overrepresented in the Queensland criminal legal system - being incarcerated at 28 times the rate of their non-Indigenous peers.”

We know that First Nations kids are 3 times less likely to be offered a caution by police and two times less likely to be given diversion away from the criminal justice system. 

At every single stage of contact with the criminal justice system Aboriginal children are massively overrepresented. As Queensland Labor’s own Indigenous Network has said: “Sadly, policing and justice in Queensland is not colour-blind..”

We know that First Nations kids in Queensland continue to experience institutional and systemic racism, and that there’s ongoing intergenerational trauma from Stolen Generations and colonisation. Queensland has also seen a tripling of imprisonment of First Nations women over the past 15 years, even as rates of offending have decreased. 

As Sisters’ Inside has said “More than ever, the proposed changes reflect and reinforce colonial values and practices.” Just removing the word “tracking” is not enough to separate this Bill from the traumatic colonial practices inflicted upon Indigenous people.

Human Rights Impacts

The Queensland Human Rights Commission has raised significant concerns about this Bill. Including that:

  • A presumption against bail may actually undermine community safety in the longer term;
  • That increasing police powers to conduct arbitrary wand searches may unfairly impact minority groups
  • The likely consequence of the Bill is an increase of children in custody
  • And that electronic monitoring of children on bail is a serious incursion into the rights of children and families

This isn’t the first time in Queensland we’ve heard concerns raised about the human rights implications of electronic tracking. I’d like to read this Chamber a quote from 2019:

“There are a number of practical and human rights concerns relating to imposing these type of conditions on children. For example, a child that wears a tracking device may be stigmatised and isolated by their peers or community, reducing their prospects of rehabilitation.” 

Now this wasn’t some bleeding heart leftie fighting against this bill saying this - it was actually the Government’s own Minister, Minister Farmer, introducing their Youth Justice bill in 2019. 

Yet youth crime has decreased since 2019. It seems to me that the only reason why they have flipped so dramatically is Labor’s rightward shift, singing from the songbook of the LNP and the Murdoch media. 

The negative impacts on youth

The Youth Advocacy Centre has pointed out that these ankle bracelets could also prompt exclusion from school. 

Keeping kids in school is crucial to reducing their involvement with the youth justice system. That’s why the Atkinson report specifically recommended reducing exclusions from school to support the ‘early intervention’ pillar. 

Slapping a bulky GPS monitor on a kid only further paints them as criminals, and risks their exclusion from their school, their friends and their broader family.

The Youth Affairs Network Qld, who I recently met with, write that “The proposed amendments to the Youth Justice Act further separate the Act from what is in 

children’s best interest” and write that “The current approach of Queensland’s youth justice system is not evidence based, effective, efficient or economically viable.”

Impact of Disadvantage

These measures also completely overlook the root causes of youth criminisalisation. 

Mr Speaker, while both sides of this Chamber have been falling over themselves, to be the ones who support more punitive measures for Queensland kids, I feel as though they are forgetting who these children are.

Lindsay Wegener from Peakcare, and former frontline youth justice worker, has summed this up well

“Kids who have experienced significant trauma or racism are suddenly transformed from people worthy of our compassion and understanding to kid criminals worthy only of our derision”

While the Queensland Youth Housing Coalition, who I recently met with, write that “offending behaviours and homelessness sit within a symptomatic continuum of structural imbalances, poverty and social disadvantage.”

Of the kids that come in contact with the criminal legal system:

  • 58% of them have a diagnosed or suspected mental health or behavioural disorder;
  • 52% were totally disengaged from education;
  • Almost 20% of them were homeless or had unsuitable accommodation;

Of incarcerated children:

  • 23% of them had an intellectual disability
  • 36% of them experience Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Syndrome 

That’s who we are talking about - this is the children who will only be further marginalised and criminalised by this Bill. These are young people who Labor & the LNP will throw under the bus to score political points.

Alternatives

Mr Speaker, this Bill demonstrates the lack of imagination, the narrow thinking, that is so common in politics in this place. Instead of criminalising youth, and playing into the hands of the LNP and the Murdoch media, Labor could have chosen to be the champions for youth in Queensland. We could be directing investment into services and supports that would meaningfully reduce youth crime in Queensland. 

In my own electorate, work by 98.9FM and West End Community House to revive People’s Park as a safe a welcoming space for the community, and particularly First Nations people, has reduced crime, and has given the community a safe and welcoming place to gather. 

We could meaningfully be investing in social housing, housing the 16,000 children ignored by this government. We could be funding programs like free school meals, which we know improve school attendance, behaviour and engagement. We could be increasing funding programs like Clarence St in my electorate, that offers young people a safe space to deal with drug and alcohol misuse. We could be fully funding our state schools. 

We could be putting our hope and respect in young people in Queensland, setting them up for full, whole lives. 

Measures of the kind proposed in the bill instead sets up youth for a life of criminalization and institutionalisation, a cycle difficult to break out of, and Mr Speaker that is why I don’t support this Bill today.