Joint letter to Queensland Government regarding suspension of Human Rights Act

PIAC joined Change The Record and more than 180 human rights and legal experts, social justice organisations and First Nations community groups in signing an open letter condemning the Queensland government for overriding the state’s Human Rights Act in order to detain children in state police watch houses indefinitely. 

Dear Premier Palaszczuk and Minister Ryan,

CC: Deputy Premier Hon Steven Miles, Attorney General Yvette D’ath, Hon Dianne Farmer Minister for Youth Justice

We write to condemn the Queensland Government’s rushed amendments that, having now passed, will override the State’s Human Rights Act to allow adult watch houses to be used as youth detention centres for the next three years.

The 180 organisations and individual advocates that have signed onto this letter are a collective of human rights, legal, disability rights, health and community groups and experts who are vehemently opposed to the willingness and determination of the Queensland Government to continue to impose punitive and carceral solutions onto vulnerable and marginalised children.

These changes in law undeniably violate children’s rights and 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.

The amendments put forward by the Palaszczuk Government violate human rights instruments that Australia has signed and ratifiedincluding the UN 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), the Rules for the Protection of Juveniles Deprived of Their Liberty (Havana Rules) and the Standard Minimum Rules for the Administration of Juvenile Justice (Beijing Rules).

Since Australia’s ratification of the CRC in 1990, successive Commonwealth, state and territory governments have failed to incorporate the CRC into domestic law. The Australian Government refuses to ratify the Optional Protocol to the CRC, denying First Nations children, and all children, the right to communicate with the UN about the severe human rights abuses they are experiencing in Australia.

This situation has resulted in the systematic denial and breach of the human rights of children in custody, and failure to hold Australia accountable to our UN commitments. Overwhelmingly it is First Nations children and children with disabilities who are experiencing this shocking abusive treatment.

The Queensland Government’s actions are of such dire concern that our colleagues at the First Peoples Disability Network have taken the step of notifying the UN Committee Against Torture (CAT). In November last year, the CAT issued a scathing report on Australia’s compliance with its international anti-torture framework and protocols, raising serious concerns about the treatment of and conditions facing children in youth detention and police watch houses.

Queensland’s latest youth justice changes show complete lack of respect for the CAT’s recommendations for preventing torture and mistreatment behind bars.

Australia cannot afford to violate the rights of First Nations children any longer.

The Palaszczuk Government has already shown contempt for UN torture protocols. In 2022, it blocked the UN torture prevention body from visiting places where people are detained. It now wishes to exclude indefinite detention of children by police from human rights oversight. These are the places where human rights safeguards are needed most.

We demand accountability and call on the Australian Government to ratify the Optional Protocol to the CRC and fully implement the OPCAT without further delay, and establish a national Youth Justice Taskforce as recommended by Anne Hollonds, the National Children’s Commissioner.

Countless recommendations from Royal Commissions, and Federal Inquiries have sought to end the mass incarceration of First Nations children, and yet the Queensland Government has passed laws and amendments since 2021 that have only increased the number of First Nations children in the legal system. There is a stark disconnect between the Government’s claimed commitment to community safety and supporting First Nations communities, and the policy and laws that are now in place.

As a collective of expert organisations, we are outraged that the Queensland Government has failed to implement advice and expertise on alternatives to incarceration, community-led approaches that support children and their families, and have opted instead to suspend its own Human Rights Act and violate international laws to continue to punish and criminalise Queensland children. The Government must immediately unwind these law changes, and end its cruel ‘business as usual’.

Read the full list of signatories here.

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