Queensland premier defends decision to fast-track proposed changes allowing police watch houses to detain children.

Yesterday the Queensland Government led by Premier Anastasia Palaszczuk changed the law to allow children to be indefinitely detained in Police watch houses usually reserved for adults[1]. To accomplish this an amendment was snuck into an unrelated Child Protection bill[2], the alteration itself required a separate vote to suspend the states Human Rights Act as detaining children is a violation of this act[3]. The state government claims this shocking law change is necessary due to Youth Detention centres reaching dangerous levels of overcrowding, with Labor MPs arguing that housing Children in watchhouses amongst adult detainees is “safer”. Such a law change comes after the Supreme Court deemed the detention of children in watchhouses illegal[4], with the solicitor-general advising the government to legislate to ensure no legal ramifications. Thus, the law change is a way for the government to legalise an already existing process.

Enabling the police to indefinitely detain minors sets a dangerous precedent. Instead of rethinking their approach to youth crime, the Queensland government is willing to house children among adults described as “aggressive” by a local magistrate [3]. All available evidence suggests that detaining minors at a young age increases the chances of repeat offences, as the royal commission into the Don Dale Centre found, most children in youth detention come from broken homes and rough neighbourhoods[5]. These children require family and community support, not detention.

Premier Palaszczuk defended the decision by stating that it was for “…protection of the community” going on to mention that new capacity for youth detention is under construction and that the law change was simply formalising existing practice. Whilst the Queensland Human Rights commissioner states that the practice of housing children in adult detention facilities for weeks at a time has only been occurring since 2018[1], Palaszczuk failed to address two larger concerns at all. Rushing through an amendment on an unrelated bill in two days did not allow proper scrutiny or debate of the contents, such an act might be against the constitution of the state of Queensland[1]. Moreover, Palaszczuk ignored the growing body of evidence suggesting minor detention increases the chances of repeat offence[1].

Read more here.



[1] McKenna, K. Riga, R. (August 24, 2023) Queensland premier defends decision to fast-track proposed changes allowing police watch houses to detain children. ABC.  https://www.abc.net.au/news/2023-08-24/qld-palaszczuk-law-changes-human-rights-watchhouses-youth-crime/102769626

[2] Queensland Parliament (2023). https://documents.parliament.qld.gov.au/tp/2022/5722T1749-2AF8.pdf

[3]  Gillespie, E. Messenger, A. (August 24, 2023). Queensland children may have been illegally detained for years, advises state’s solicitor general. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2023/aug/24/queensland-child-watch-house-laws-amendment-human-rights-act

[4] Smee, B. (August 4, 2023). Court orders urgent transfer of three children detained unlawfully in Queensland watch houses. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2023/aug/04/queensland-children-detained-police-watch-houses-court-action-hearing

[5]Justice Reform Initiative (2023). Jailing Is Failing – Youth https://www.justicereforminitiative.org.au/youth