Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk. Picture: AAP/Dave Hunt
Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk. Picture: AAP/Dave Hunt

Cost of doing nothing about youth detention

LIKE thousands of other Queenslanders, I'm appalled at the revelations about kids being incarcerated in adult watch houses.

The Palaszczuk Government should be ashamed that children as young as 10 are being held for extended periods with hardened criminals.

Cases like that of a boy being kept in isolation for 23 days and a girl being penned up with two alleged pedophiles are shocking.

But at least they appear to have sparked some much overdue attention to this issue by the Government.

That said, this is not a new issue. Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk and her ministers can't claim to have been unaware of what was going on. And on this occasion, they have nobody to blame but themselves for this diabolical situation.

The Courier-Mail has been reporting for months that dozens of children on remand for an array of crimes were being kept in adult watch houses because the states's two juvenile detention centres were full.

Police have been expressing their frustration at the Government's failure to find a solution.

Clearly what's required is significantly expanded capacity in the detention centres.

However, the Queensland Budget has simply not been able to afford this investment.

For the past three financial years the Government's spending on infrastructure has been the lowest on average as a proportion of the state economy for decades.

Laden with debt and a multi-billion interest bill, the Government has invested its meagre infrastructure spend on projects that are much more politically palatable.

Building youth detention centres does not win favour from voters.

The crisis being experienced now in adult watch houses, the unacceptable position that children are being placed in, are a direct result of Labor's decision not to reduce that debt.

It is a graphic demonstration of how doing nothing has consequences.

There will continue to be more examples of this ilk until the Government can find a way to free up funds.

The recent capacity problems in our adult prisons and hospitals are other examples.

So is the Government's recent moves towards using supervised bail houses to incarcerate juveniles while they are on remand. However, this is a stopgap solution.

Child Safety Minister Di Farmer has announced new beds at Wacol, but they won’t be ready until late in 2020. Picture: AAP/Dan Peled
Child Safety Minister Di Farmer has announced new beds at Wacol, but they won’t be ready until late in 2020. Picture: AAP/Dan Peled

Two weeks ago Child Safety Minister Di Farmer announced $150 million for a 32-bed youth detention centre at Wacol and an additional $27 million to expand Brisbane's existing facility by 16 beds.

Clearly this was rushed out ahead of the revelations about the individual cases of kids in adult watch houses.

Farmer said at the time this would expand statewide capacity from 254 beds to 302 beds.

But these facilities will take at least another 18 months to deliver. And based on the Minister's own figures, they will barely be enough to house the state's existing cohort of juvenile offenders once the Government starts transitioning 17-year-olds out of adult facilities.

In February, Farmer said there were 230 children in youth detention centres while a further 61 17-year-olds were locked up in adult prisons.

It is unclear whether these numbers include the dozens in bail houses and adult watch houses.

This raises the question of why it has taken the Government two and a half years to find the money for expanded facilities.

The law to finally treat 17-year-olds as juveniles was passed way back in late 2016.

It was a welcome change which gained the Government great kudos.

But the same social justice campaigners who warmly congratulated the Government are criticising them now for the way they are incarcerating kids.

# SUNDAY MAIL # Walk through of Youth Detention Cetre at Wacol. pic Jamie Hanson
# SUNDAY MAIL # Walk through of Youth Detention Cetre at Wacol. pic Jamie Hanson

Meanwhile, 17-year-olds remain in adult jails because of the capacity constraints.

This change has had to be repeatedly delayed with Farmer forced to announce three months ago that the Government had abandoned a February transition date.

However, based on its own timetable to build the facilities announced recently, they could have and should have been completed already.

Annastacia Palaszczuk this week insisted the same problems existed under the LNP and was adamant she won't go soft on juvenile crime or allow the construction of temporary facilities.

But Labor has now been in power for more than four years and the plight of these kids, many of whom have been dealt a dud hand and come from broken and abusive homes, will get worse if this Government fails to fast-track a solution.

Doing nothing is no longer an option.

 

A CASE FOR A NEW COMMISSION?

DID a loose-lipped chat in a convenience store cause a rethink in the person picked to be Queensland's solicitor general?

According to widespread scuttlebutt that's been occurring for weeks at both ends of George St, that's precisely what happened.

Apparently a conversation occurred between a judge and a Department of Justice staffer about the Government's preferred candidate for the coveted role in a George St 7/11.

The judge appeared to know who was preferred by the independent panel set up to decide the replacement for the outgoing Peter Dunning, who was appointed under the Newman government.

Peter Dunning.
Peter Dunning.

Word of this idle chat got back to the department (and elsewhere), sending senior justice figures into a spin.

A decision was quickly made to appoint an alternative candidate, former Bar Association of Queensland president Sandy Thompson.

While Mr Thompson has had an impressive career in the law and will fill the position admirably, the 7/11 chat raises serious concerns.

It comes after a recent controversy when a judge and a barrister were seen socialising together after appearing in the same court that day of a case that was yet to be fully concluded.

This is just more evidence that Queensland needs an independent judicial commission to monitor our judges.

The Queensland Law Society has previously backed such reform.

But setting up a body to judge the behaviour of judges would be highly contentious and taking on our judiciary can be political costly as the LNP discovered.

 

FRACTION TOO MUCH FRICTION

RELATIONS between the Palaszczuk Government and Federal Labor have become strained during the election.

The black throated finch.
The black throated finch.

The flare-up over the Adani coal mine and the black-throated finch was an issue Bill Shorten did not need.

If Federal Labor fails to win regional Queensland seats, many will blame their state colleagues.

There's also anger over the sacking of a worker at the GladstonePort after he asked Shorten a question about tax.

I also hear there infrastructure funding friction.

Apparently Federal Labor asked for shovel-ready projects they could help fund but were told there wasn't any.

 

 

TAKING A DIP AT SPEAKER BACKFIRES

PERHAPS the most interesting item placed in the time capsule at Star Casino site last week was Jackie Trad's hummus recipe. The tasty treat, which featured the slogan Spread Hummus, Not Hate, was once a regular at Brisbane's West End markets.

However Trad could have done with some of her own chick pea cure-all this week in State Parliament when she clashed with Speaker Curtis Pitt.

Clearly relations between the Treasurer and the man she ousted from the job haven't mended.

At one stage Trad demanded that Pitt stop Opposition interjection but was told to keep her ministerial statements factual and let him do his job. Ouch.

 

GOOD WEEK

 

LNP Leader Deb Frecklington who kept the heat on the Government over children in adult watch houses.

 

BAD WEEK

 

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk who was forced to fend of accusations of inaction on youth detention.

 

QUOTE OF THE WEEK

 

"If we want to absolutely care for indigenous people with a disability then we need a Morrison Labor government," - Jackie Trad conjures real chaos in Canberra



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