The watch house amendments, rushed through last Thursday with no oversight from an independent parliamentary committee, show blatant disregard for several international laws and will have swift and severe detrimental impacts for children, particularly First Nations children.
Queensland’s new watch house laws categorically violate children’s rights and further exacerbate the human rights emergency in Queensland’s already broken youth justice system that disproportionately affects Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children. Although around 8% of 10-17 year olds in Queensland are First Nations, at least 65% of the Queensland youth prison population on an average day are First Nations children.
Since 2021, the Queensland government has passed multiple amendments to its Youth Justice Act, some of which override its own Human Rights Act, and all result in the unnecessary, unjust, and inhumane detention of First Nations children in huge numbers.
The new amendments, allowing children as young as 10 to be held indefinitely within small, unhygienic cells, with no access to sunlight or fresh air, directly violates the Convention on the Rights of the Child, an international legal instrument that stipulates the minimum conditions needed to detain small children.
The open letter, coordinated by Change the Record, and signed by prominent First Nations justice advocates, Children’s Commissioners and Queensland’s former Corrective Services Commissioner, calls for an immediate end to punitive and carceral responses to vulnerable and marginalised children.
Change the Record, alongside signatories, are also calling on the Queensland government to:
1. Repeal amendments to the State’s Youth Justice Act since 2021 that disproportionately target Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, specifically amendments that override the state’s Human Rights Act including: the new watch house amendments and laws criminalising breach of bail.
2. Ensure youth detention practices in Queensland adhere to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities (CRPD), Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), the Convention Against Torture (CAT), and Standard Minimum Rules for the Administration of Juvenile Justice (Beijing Rules).
3. Implement independent oversight of all youth detention facilities, including police watch houses and prisons, and alternative places of detention.
4. Invest in alternatives to incarceration, which are community-led and support children and their families.
Link to OPEN LETTER.
Change the Record has also developed email templates writing to Queensland’s Police Minister Mark Ryan asking him to repeal the watch house amendments.
Maggie Munn, National Director- Change the Record:
“Aboriginal communities, human rights advocates, and Australia’s social sector are rightly outraged by the actions of the Palaszczuk government and their complete contempt for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children. At multiple junctures the government had options available to help and support our kids, but instead they have opted for a punitive path that has led to the crisis we are currently seeing in Queensland.
“The Palaszczuk government has demonstrated a dangerous and prolonged track record for disregarding parliamentary process and violating human rights that is unprecedented in Australia. All Australians, regardless of where you live, should be alarmed by this government’s actions that undermine our fundamental human rights.”
Debbie Kilroy OAM, CEO- Sisters Inside
“Children’s lives must never be used as political pawns. Their lives are not a game where adults in power can use them to perpetrate harm. The legislation that allows the prolonged caging of children in watch houses and adult prisons will ensure harm for all the children and the community for generations to come.”
“What’s most appalling is the government knows this and they still pushed the legislation through in 24 hours. This government is concerned about their political future, not community safety.”
Mali Hermans, Senior Policy Officer- First Peoples Disability Network
“It is deeply disturbing that watch houses are becoming the default place to accommodate young people with disability. Watch houses are not safe for any child, let alone those who have disability related needs. Instead of ensuring access to early disability diagnosis and positive, culturally responsive supports, the Palaszczuk government seems content with entrenching pathways into prison for children and young people.”
“Leaving police, courts and corrections to ‘manage’ children and young people with disability results in life-long trauma and stigmatisation. It is institutionally racist and ableist.”
“Less than a year ago, the UN Committee Against Torture expressed it’s serious concerns over the persistent overrepresentation of First Nations children and children with disabilities in the juvenile ‘justice’ system. These new laws show contempt for such concerns and demonstrate just how little respect the Queensland government has for fundamental human rights.”“We need to change the entire system so that our kids are being supported by holistic disability, education, housing and human services support, rather than being locked up.”
Caitlin Reiger, CEO- Human Rights Law Centre:
“In 2019, the Queensland Government agreed to move children out of police cells designed for adults after a Four Corners investigation revealed that children were being held in cruel and inhuman conditions for weeks at a time. Passing laws authorising this very practice just a few years later shows the Palaszczuk Government has utterly failed children, their families and the community. It makes a mockery of the Government’s stated commitment to Queenslanders’ human rights. The Government must urgently stop warehousing children in unsafe police cells, and focus on reducing the number of children entering the legal system in the first place.”
Aimee McVeigh, CEO- Queensland Council of Social Service (QCOSS):
“These amendments are an appalling and desperate attempt to paper over the Queensland Government’s failure to protect children and communities across the state.
“Instead of doing what works – working with the community to provide intensive support and services to young children and families to deal with the root cause of problematic behaviour – they are locking up children as young as 10 years old.
“Queensland should be able to design and implement policies that treat children humanely, keep all communities safe, and act in accordance with established democratic processes.”
MEDIA CONTACT: Rachel McFadden, [email protected] or 0415894648
Originally posted on www.changetherecord.org.au