The Queensland government has defended its last-ditch effort to push through controversial youth justice laws that could scrap human rights for young offenders when in custody.
The parliament moved to include 48 pages of wide-ranging law changes on Wednesday that had garnered backlash from the opposition and the Greens.
Those changes included removing the human rights of children when they are held in a watch house, allowing a watch house or adult prison be declared a youth detention centre, and correcting laws to prevent legal challenges against the practice.
The government was forced to defend its laws in the Supreme Court when human rights activists challenged the legislation in a bid to protect young offenders’ rights.
During question time on Thursday, Greens MP Michael Berkman queried whether the government believed it was “business as usual” for a child to sleep on the floor with three other people in a two-person watch-house cell.
He also questioned whether it was “business as usual” to provide those children with no access to education among other rights while in custody.
But Youth Justice Minister Di Farmer defended the government’s decision to declare police watch houses as official youth prisons despite outcry that it was against human rights laws.
“The amendments that are currently going through the House do relate to addressing a technicality that was made clear to us in a recent Supreme Court action,” Ms Farmer said.
“One about the orders that were made to transfer young people from custody to detention.
“Secondly, an interpretation in what has been custom and practised for 30 years in this state which give the chief executive officer of youth justice an ability to make decisions about the safety and wellbeing of staff and young people in youth detention centres.”
Ms Farmer said the chief executive had for the past 30 years had the authority to make decisions “about whether young people could be accepted into detention centres”.
She said it was “very important” those decisions were based on providing the “absolute safety and wellbeing of staff and young people” at detention centres across the state.
“This is business as we have conducted it and the amendments will validate that custom and practice of the 30 years,” Ms Farmer said.
“It remains the commitment of this government to keep young people in watch houses for minimal time.
“When they are in watch houses, we ensure that those young people are provided with the services like education, health, counselling (and) mental health.
“We have oversight bodies whose responsibility it is to monitor the provision of those services and that will continue to be our priority.”
The amendments will likely pass on Thursday without scrutiny.
The opposition has described the move as a “disgraceful abuse of parliamentary process”.
It comes as the state’s detention centres reach capacity, and the government continues with plans to build two more youth prisons – one in Woodford and another in Cairns.
The ability to declare watch houses as youth detention will be “time-limited” and expire on December 31, 2026, with the possibility to extend it to end 2027.
Mr Berkman, who was suspended from the chamber for one hour on Thursday, said the amendments went against human rights laws.
“This is one of the most disgraceful acts I’ve seen from Queensland Labor since I was elected to parliament,” Mr Berkman said.
“It is outrageous and heartbreaking to see how little regard Queensland Labor have not only for our democracy but for vulnerable young people.
“They also clearly have no regard for the consequences of their actions because if they continue down this path, youth offending will only get worse and there will be more victims across the state.”
Originally published as Queensland government defends changes to youth justice laws