The State Opposition is proposing mandatory sentencing and the scrapping of youth bail houses under its new plan to tackle youth justice in Queensland.
- The LNP says Townsville is facing a youth crime wave
- It says elderly people in Townsville are afraid to leave their homes
- The Council for Civil Liberties says the LNP’s policy is a “piece of political scaremongering”
Opposition Leader Deb Frecklington and LNP police spokesman Dan Purdie made the announcement in Townsville, a city the party said was in the grip of a youth crime wave.
But the Opposition cited adult crime statistics as justification for a raft of punitive measures targeting young offenders.
Queensland police provided raw figures for statewide juvenile offending for the past three years.
The data was not broken down by region and showed large spikes in unlawful entry offences, unlawful use of a motor vehicle, and offences against property.
However there had been falls in the rates of sexual offences, trespassing and vagrancy.
The LNP’s plan is dubbed “Deb’s Comprehensive Plan to Crack Down on Youth Crime”.
Under the plan, the LNP would:
- Admit offences as a child into sentencing consideration for adult offenders
- Impose a mandatory period of detention for children with a third conviction
- Establish a “community payback farm program” — five farms at remote locations to teach offenders “to take ownership of their actions”
- Scrap youth bail houses
- Establish a $7 million justice reinvestment trial for two years in Cairns and Townsville to provide grants to culturally-safe community groups
Mr Purdie argued the city’s senior citizens were too frightened to leave their homes.
“We had a crime forum and heard from elderly people who were too scared to leave their home and walk down to the shops because they’re concerned about the youth crime epidemic,” Mr Purdie said.
“The people of Townsville, and the people of Queensland, don’t need stats.
“Anyone in the main streets of Townsville, the Gold Coast, or Cairns will tell you that crime is out of control because they’re seeing it every day.”
Queensland Council for Civil Liberties president Michael Cope condemned the policy.
“This is just a crass piece of political scaremongering,” Mr Cope said.
“There is no youth crime wave. The Australian Bureau of Statistics shows that youth crime in this state has been falling pretty much consistently for the last 10 years.”
Mr Cope also criticised the LNP’s plan to impose youth mandatory sentencing, saying it did away with 100 years of principles that underpinned youth justice.
“Detention centres are the university of crime — that’s where people go to learn how to do it better,” he said.
“The appropriate sentence should be determined by a judge having regard to all the facts in a particular case.
“People’s mistakes should not be carried into adulthood, which is why offences committed in youth are not carried into adulthood except in exceptional circumstances.”
Mr Cope said the LNP’s commitment to fund a restorative justice program would have the support of the Civil Liberties Council.
‘A better life out there’
The LNP government led by Campbell Newman introduced boot camps for youth offenders, a program that was widely criticised both for its lack of effectiveness and the integrity of its tender process.
Ms Frecklington said the LNP’s new plan to send children to “remote farms” bore no resemblance to boot camps.
When asked who would staff the farms and what expertise they might have in working with young offenders, Ms Frecklington said they would be staffed by “people with life experience”.
“It’s all about letting kids know there’s a better life out there,” she said.
“Some of these kids have had a really sad start in life, and that’s why we need to be investing in these kids early to teach them there is a better life out there.”
But Police Minister Mark Ryan said the remote farm plan was a reincarnation of boot camps.
“This is a recycled policy from the Newman government,” he said.
“It was a failed policy then and it will be a failed policy again now.”
Mr Ryan said the Government’s youth justice strategy was working and crime had fallen over the past decade.
“With this strategy, there is no silver bullet, there is no quick fix. The reason why young people get involved in crime is very complex,” Mr Ryan said.
“So when Deb Frecklington comes out and says that she’s got a quick fix, a silver bullet, we know that that is just providing false hope to people.”
Mr Ryan said the Government’s policy targeted the “hard-core” people who committed the majority of youth offences.
“We know that if we can stop those hard-core youth offenders from committing crime, we can make a big dint in overall criminal offending,” he said.