The Queensland Government has passed youth crime laws that will mean longer jail sentences and stricter monitoring for repeat youth offenders.
It was tabled by the Labor Government, and also supported by the Liberal-National Opposition.
The laws have been opposed by some members of the crossbench and child advocacy groups, which say it would result in poorer outcomes for children.
What will change?
The new law will mean a breach of bail conditions is a criminal offence for offenders under 18, making it punishable by up to two years imprisonment.
It will also allow for an electrical monitoring device to be used on children 15 and over who are released on bail. The previous minimum age was 16.
The laws also impose a 10-year maximum prison sentence for people who steal a car or other vehicle (up from seven years), and add stronger penalties for people who post content of the offence on social media (12 years), or if it’s committed at night or with threatened violence (both 14 years).
Why’s it happening?
The new laws largely target repeat young offenders. According to the Queensland Government, repeat offenders make up 17% of total young offenders, but commit 50% of the state’s youth crimes.
Addressing crimes by repeat offenders has been part of a wider strategy by the Queensland Government to strengthen community safety, with Queensland Police Minister Mark Ryan saying the new laws “reflect the wishes of the community”.
Shadow Police Minister Dale Last said the new breach of bail laws was “significant”, but didn’t believe the overall legislation would keep all Queenslanders safe from ongoing crime.
Human rights laws
In notes accompanying the legislation, Queensland Police Minister Mark Ryan said making a breach of bail a criminal offence for youth offenders is not compatible with human rights laws in the state.
This includes guidelines agreed upon by United Nations members, including Australia, on detaining young offenders before a trial, and using alternative measures to avoid young people being held in detention.
In what the Government called an “exceptional case”, the new reforms will override the human rights laws, and include a note in the new legislation acknowledging this incompatibility.
The Greens’ Justice spokesperson, Michael Berkman, called the laws “disgraceful” while in Parliament yesterday, saying it would disproportionately impact the state’s most disadvantaged children.
Mena Waller, the State Director for ’54 reasons’ which delivers Save the Children’s services in Australia, said the laws have created a “serious decline” in the rights of Queensland children.
“It is deeply disappointing that the state government has proceeded with these new laws… Such extreme measures will only serve to exacerbate the youth justice crisis in the state.”