Queensland Government slammed for abusing human rights of children

Sep 2, 2023
Closeup of the hands of a young man with a piece of paper with the text human rights written in it, with a dramatic effect.

More than 180 human rights and legal experts, social justice organisations and First Nations community groups have signed the open letter below condemning the Queensland Government for overriding the state’s Human Rights Act to lock children in the state’s police watch houses indefinitely.

The letter is addressed to Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk and Mark Ryan, Minister for Police and Corrective Services.

Change the Record is encouraging readers to email Minister Ryan, asking for the laws to be repealed.

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’.

Yours sincerely,

Maggie Munn, National Director Change the Record

Shane Duffy, CEO Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services Queensland

Queensland Aboriginal and Islander Health Council

Mali Hermans, First Peoples Disability Network

Deb Kilroy OAM, CEO Sisters Inside

National Network of Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls

Flat Out Inc

Caitlin Reiger, CEO Human Rights Law Centre

Amnesty International Australia

Jumbunna Institute for Indigenous Education and Research

Institute for Collaborative Race Research

Townsville Aboriginal and Islander Health Service (TAIHS)

Mithangkaya Nguli Young People Ahead Youth & Community Services Indigenous Corporation

Uniting Church in Australia Queensland Synod

Queensland Council of Social Services

Anglicare North Queensland

Queensland Youth Services Inc.

Brisbane Youth Service

Youth Advocacy Centre, Brisbane

Zig Zag Young Women’s Resource Centre Inc

Queensland Youth Policy Collective

Queensland Council for LGBTI Health

Professor Chelsea Watego, Professor of Indigenous Health & Executive Director, Carumba Institute, QUT

Professor Megan Williams, Principal, Yulang Indigenous Evaluation

Dr Hannah McGlade, A/Prof Curtin law School, UN Permanent Forum for Indigenous Issues

Dr Thalia Anthony, Professor, Faculty of Law, University of Technology Sydney

Jodie Griffiths-Cook, ACT Public Advocate and Children and Young People Commissioner

Leanne McLean, Commissioner for Children and Young People, Tasmania

Jacqueline McGowan-Jones, Commissioner for Children and Young People, Western Australia

Zoë Robinson, NSW Advocate for Children and Young People

Nicole Hucks, Acting Children’s Commissioner, Northern Territory

Andrew Naylor, Co-Chair, Human Rights Council of Australia

Dr Mark Rallings, Former Commissioner, Queensland Corrective Services.

Michael Cope, President, Queensland Council for Civil Liberties

Steven Caruana, Coordinator, Australia OPCAT Network

Corinne Dobson, Co-founder, Australia OPCAT Network

Cathryn Eatock, Co Chair, Indigenous Peoples’ Organisation Australia

Justine Nolan, Director, Australian Human Rights Institute, UNSW Sydney

Greg McIntyre SC, President, Western Australian Branch, International Commission of Jurists

Alison Battisson, Director Principal, Human Rights For All

Rob Hulls, Director, Centre for Innovative Justice, RMIT University

Professor Melissa Castan, Director, Castan Centre for Human Rights Law, Faculty of Law, Monash University

Associate Professor Maria Giannacopoulos, Director, Centre for Criminology, Law and Justice, Faculty of Law and Justice, University of New South Wales

Carla Klease, President, Queensland branch, International Commission of Jurists (Qld) Inc

Professor Julian Trollor, Chair, Intellectual Disability Mental Health & Head, Department of Developmental Disability Neuropsychiatry, NHMRC Leadership Fellow, School of Clinical Medicine, UNSW Medicine & Health

Professor John Tobin, Francine V McNiff Chair in International Human Rights Law, Melbourne Law School, University of Melbourne

Associate Professor Amy Maguire, Director, Newcastle University Centre for Law and Social Justice

Professor Ben Saul, Challis Chair of International Law, The University of Sydney

Brother to Another

Deadly Connections Community & Justice Services

Children’s Ground



Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service


Ban Spit Hoods Coalition

Youth Legal Service Inc


Youth Advocacy Centre

Caxton Legal Centre

54 Reasons (part of the Save the Children Australia Group)

Australian Lawyers for Human Rights


Australian Council of Social Services

Women’s Justice Network

Justice Reform Initiative

National Justice Project

Public Interest Advocacy Centre

Justice Connect

SHINE for Kids

ARACY – Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth

South Australian Council of Social Service (SACOSS)

Liberty Victoria

Social Reinvestment WA

Jesuit Social Services


Youth Law Australia

Justice Action

The Twenty Ten Association

Southside Justice

Rights Resource Network SA

CREATE Foundation

Tasmanian Council of Social Services

Inclusion Australia

Australian Unemployed Workers Union

Antipoverty Centre

LGBTI Legal Service

Queer and Trans Workers Against Violence

Anti-Poverty Network South Australia

Older Women’s Network NSW

Australian Association for Flexible and Inclusive Education (AAFIE)

SCALES Community Legal Centre

Carolyn Robinson, Founder and CEO of Beyond DV and the Hope 4 Life Program, QLD

Diana Johns, A/Prof Criminology, The University of Melbourne

Amanda George, Community Lawyer

Dr Piers Gooding, Senior Research Fellow, Melbourne Law School

Simon Katterl, Human Rights Advocate

Shelley Turner, Adjunct Senior Lecturer Social Work, Monash University

Kate Swaffer, PhD Candidate and Civil Rights Campaigner, University of South Australia

Associate Professor Anna Copeland, Murdoch University School of Law and Criminology

Holly Doel-Mackaway, Senior Lecturer, Macquarie University Law School

Catherine Greentree, Lecturer, Macquarie University Law School

Amy Barrow, Associate Professor, Macquarie Law School, Macquarie University

Sonya Willis, Senior Lecturer, Macquarie University Law School

Natalie Ironfield, Indigenous Research Higher Degree Fellow, The University of Melbourne

Dr Lara Palombo, sessional Lecturer/Tutor, Law School, Macquarie University

Tamara Walsh, Professor of Law, The University of Queensland

Ben Spies-Butcher, Associate Professor of Sociology, Macquarie School of Social Sciences

Lorana Bartels, Professor of Criminology, Australian National University; Adjunct Professor of Law, University of Canberra, University of Tasmania

Chris Cunneen, Professor of Criminology, Jumbunna Institute for Indigenous Education and Research, University of Technology Sydney

Noam Peleg, Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Law and Justice, UNSW Sydney

Eileen Baldry AO Professor of Criminology UNSW

Dr Jamal Barnes, Lecturer in Criminology, Edith Cowan University

Tobia Fattore, Senior Lecturer, School of Social Sciences, Macquarie University

Amanda Porter, Associate Professor of Criminal Law and Criminology, School of Social and Political Sciences, University of Melbourne

Emeritus Professor Ross Homel AO, School of Criminology and Criminal Justice, Griffith University

Professor Elena Marchetti, Griffith Law School, Griffith University

Professor Joseph Pugliese, Department of Media, Communications, Creative Arts, Language and Literature, Macquarie University

Dr Julie Debeljak, Associate Professor, Faculty of Law, Monash University

Mianna Lotz, Associate Professor of Philosophy, Macquarie University

Associate Professor Elise Klein, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University

Grant Michelson, Professor of Management, Macquarie University Business School, Sydney

Dr Priya Kunjan, Centre for Urban Research, RMIT University

Dr Louise Boon-Kuo, Senior Lecturer, Sydney Law School, University of Sydney

Scott Walker, Research Fellow, Castan Centre for Human Rights Law, Faculty of Law, Monash University

Associate Professor Kathleen Tait, Macquarie School of Education, Faculty of Arts, Macquarie University

John Stephens, Emeritus Professor, Department of Media, Communications, Creative Arts, Language and Literature, Macquarie University

Dr Joanne Faulkner, Senior Lecturer, Department of Media, Communications, Creative Arts, Language and Literature, Macquarie University

Dr Eugene Schofield-Georgeson, Faculty of Law University of Technology Sydney

Dr Elyse Methven, Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Law, University of Technology Sydney

Dr Lisa Billington, Lecturer, Faculty of Law, University of Technology Sydney

Ms Teresa Somes, Lecturer, Faculty of Law, University of Technology Sydney

Dr Terri Libesman, Assoc Professor, Faculty of Law, University of Technology Sydney

Professor Julia Quilter, School of Law, University of Wollongong

Professor Luke McNamara, Centre for Crime, Law and Justice, Faculty of Law & Justice, UNSW

Professor Kate Douglas, Flinders University

Dr Catharine Fleming, Young and Resilient Research Centre, Western Sydney University

Dr Eve Vincent, Macquarie School of Social Sciences, Macquarie University

Dr Caitlin Biddolph, School of Social and Political Sciences, University of Sydney

Dr Christoph Sperfeldt, Senior Lecturer, Macquarie Law School

Dr Norbert Ebert, Senior Lecturer in Sociology, Macquarie University

Dr Tricia Daly, Lecturer in Criminology, Macquarie University.

Professor Arlie Loughnan, University of Sydney Law School

Dr Vicki Sentas, Faculty of Law and Justice, University of New South Wales, Sydney

Dr Chris McGrath, Barrister, Queensland.

Stephen Keim SC

Patrick Earle, Executive Director, Diplomacy Training Program

Professor Kerry Carrington, Adjunct School of Law & Society, University of the Sunshine Coast

Andreea Lachsz, Churchill Fellow

Damien Linnane, University Fellow and PhD Candidate, University of Newcastle

Ben Mostyn, University of Sydney Law School

Winnifred Louis, Director, Social Change Lab, The University of Queensland

Christine McCoy, Manager, Social Change Lab, The University of Queensland

Professor Judy Cashmore AO, University of Sydney

Professor Rebecca Millar, University of Sydney Law School

Dr Carolyn McKay, Co-Director, Sydney Institute of Criminology, University of Sydney Law School

Prof Suvendrini Perera, John Curtin Distinguished Emeritus Professor, Curtin University

Dr Justine Lloyd, Sociology, Social Sciences, Macquarie University

Professor Mary Crock, Law School, The University of Sydney

Dr Bill Swannie, Lecturer, Thomas More Law School, Australian Catholic University

Anne Hewitt, Associate Professor, The University of Adelaide Law School

Dr Peta Spyrou, Lecturer, Adelaide Law School, The University of Adelaide

Professor Simon Rice, OAM, Sydney Law School

Nina Storey, Formerly Incarcerated Girls Justice Advocates Melbourne

Michael Berkman, Greens MP for Maiwar

Horse Whispering Youth Program

Gershon Nimbalker, National Director of Common Grace

Dr Robin Banks and Michael Small, Directors, Equality Building

Debbie Lee – NSW Coalition Of Aboriginal Peaks Policy Officer (First Peoples Disability Network)

Professor Sharon Bessell, The Australian National University

Emerita Professor Margaret Thornton, The Australian National University

Liam Elphick, Lecturer, Monash University Faculty of Law

Associate Professor Jennifer Nielsen, Southern Cross University

Dr Alison Pert, University of Sydney Law School

Dr Coel Kirkby, University of Sydney Law School

Dr Murray Lee, Professor of Criminology, University of Sydney

Dr Rachel Killean, University of Sydney Law School

Dr Jason Chin, Australian National University, College of Law

Alex Cahill, Research Officer and Keeping Kids Central Facilitator, Institute of Child Protection Studies


Readers may also be interested in below article by Amy Mcguire:

“They don’t care about community safety. They care about cops and cages”: Outrage at Qld’s racist laws that will only lock up more black kids


First published by CROAKEY HEALTH MEDIA August 31, 2023

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