Why is Queensland Suspending the Human Rights Act?

The Queensland state government last week introduced an amendment to proposed legislation that requires suspending the Human Rights Act. The amendment would legalise the practise of holding children in police watch houses. 

These are the remand facilities where alleged offenders are held when first arrested or awaiting immediate trial. It is currently illegal to hold children with adults in these facilities.

The QLD Police Minister says the measure is necessary because of “immediate capacity issues” in youth detention facilities. The “temporary” measure will run until December 2026.

The proposal sparked outcry in QLD Parliament because of the process. It is one of 54 pages of amendments tacked onto a 45-page bill.

But at a deeper level, the problem of children in police watch houses has been festering for years. The revelations date to May 2019, when the so-called Watch House Files were reported on by the ABC. The files were reportedly sent to Four Corners by a whistleblower, with the earliest being from January 2018.

The leaked documents proved at least 52 children aged 14 or under had been held in adult police watch houses in Queensland. Holding children in adult police watch houses breaches international laws, says Amnesty International. 

Image via Amnesty.

In one case, a young girl was held in a “pod” also holding a man awaiting trial for sex offences. When the story broke in May 2019, there were 89 under 18s in the Brisbane City Watch House. Nonetheless, the practice has continued until now.

Then, earlier this month, the Queensland Supreme Court ordered that three children held in remand be urgently removed to youth detention. The court orders followed a case was brought by Cairns-based organisation, Youth Empowered Towards Independence.

Now, the QLD government’s response is to change the laws on youth detention. 

Premier Palaszczuk is facing criticism from Liberal and Greens MPs, but also MPs from her own party, some of whom say they were “clearly misled” about the proposal. It shapes as a crisis for the QLD government.

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