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"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
The Queensland government on Wednesday overrode the Human Rights Act to pass outrageous new laws that will allow them to detain children - predominately black children - in watchhouses indefinitely.
Sisters Inside Ruby Wharton and Debbie Kilroy outside a rally at Parliament House on Thursday.
On Wednesday, the Queensland government stealthily passed new laws that will allow children - predominately black children - to be detained in watchhouses for extended periods.
They passed it from a building that sits a 20-minute walk away from the Brisbane City Watchhouse, a place where Amnesty International in 2019 recorded over 2655 breaches of domestic and international law, including the failure to “provide children with adequate clean clothes, underwear, and personal hygiene products, the institutional use of violence; the use of isolation as punishment, and failure to provide adequate health and medical care”. It is the same place where the brave whistleblower Steve Marshall revealed shocking racist and sexist remarks by watchhouse staff, where children were being exposed to sexual acts by incarcerated adults, where a girl was held in a holding cell with two males, where illegal strip searches were being carried out on children, and where children were treated like incarcerated adults.
Twenty minutes away from a place of unimaginable violence wrought on the bodies of young, black children, the Queensland government sat in its fortresses and suspended the Human Rights Act, not to stem the violence, not to heal the children, not to make safe communities, but rather to secure its own political interests. They did this to ensure that they can sit comfortably in that institution of power, while the many young black anonymous children are disappeared behind watchhouse doors, in small cells where light is dim and where their cries can not be heard.
It is black children who will be victims to this merciless pursuit of power, the black children who are here today, and as Sisters Inside Debbie Kilroy noted, those who are not born, those generations who will bear the consequences of their political violence. This decision will have ramifications for generations of black children, and their families. The most victimised demographic in the state will again be victimised.
As the Guardian’s Eden Gillepsie and Ben Smee wrote today, this unprecedented assault on democracy was motivated by the Palszczuk government’s own self-interest, the fear that they will be left open to legal action that the detention of children in watchhouses could be unlawful. It followed a potential test case brought forward by Cairns-based Youth Empowered Towards Independence to the state Supreme Court, which sought orders to urgently transfer three young children from watchhouses. As Gillepsie and Smee wrote today:
“However, in the process, the state made a written concession – revealed in the published judgment – that there was “a prima facie case” that children were being unlawfully detained….
“On Thursday, the youth justice minister, Di Farmer, said the urgent changes were required after she received new advice from the solicitor general, Gim Del Villar KC, that keeping children in police custody on remand was not lawful.
Farmer said Del Villar advised the state government it had been relying on an interpretation of the Youth Justice Act that was “likely incorrect”.
The advice forced the government’s hand. It had to either remove kids from watch houses or change the law. And it decided to change the law.”
The fear coming from Labor, according to the Guardian, was that kids would be released to youth detention centres which would double the cells and ‘cause riots’. Aboriginal children are being framed as threats to community safety, rather than in need of protection and in need of healing; in need of a solution that comes not from incarceration and state-sanctioned violence, but within the community.
It comes in a media landscape that has used a ‘youth crime crisis’ to redirect outrage from the state to black children and black parents. As Kilroy said at a protest on Thursday, at the front of Parliament House, “We’ve got to stop taking on the narrative of the state, which is we’re blaming parents. The (parents) are the state. They have taken these children from the day they’ve been born or when they’re quite young. The state is their parent. They are the failure - no one is calling them to account.”
In this environment, black children are never afforded a chance to achieve their potential, to grow up safe and strong in culture and community: instead, they are only seen as ‘criminals’, and ‘perpetrators’, rather than what they are: children. They are condemned to cages, watchhouses and child jails.
Change The Record National Director Maggie Munn told the protest that it was an outrage, and a shame on the state:
“This is a continual and deliberate decision to harm First Nations communities, our children, and everybody in that kid’s life who loves them…. Governments can deliberately choose to override (The Human Rights Act) to criminalise our kids.”
This is the second time in the space of a year that the Queensland government overrode the Human Rights Act - the first in order to push through horrific new bail laws that made breach of bail a criminal offence for children, yet another measure that will only end up forcing more black children behind bars.
Sisters Inside campaigner Ruby Wharton told the rally that the solutions were not to be found in watchhouses, but in safe communities: “The government has said to children and their families that they don’t deserve human rights in this state.
“That their place in this state is behind bars, with no windows, and with no access to support, family or any other entity that cares and values the best interests of these vulnerable children.
“….Laws do not make communities safer, people make communities safer. WE make communities safer.
“We have heard this government talk about therapeutic healing centres. About smaller populations of prisons for children. But we have seen everything work actively against that. From the voices of Mark Ryan, from the voices of Annastacia Palazczuk, from the voices of Dianne Farmer. This is your legacy.
“What we are standing for today is for free, safe communities. For communities that we all have access to. This is about changing the lives of children that are not here with us yet. This is about changing the trajectory. Changing the standards and changing the values that Queensland has. This is about valuing First Nations children and families.”
The Queensland government, though, was not prepared to listen to the rally on Thursday. Rather than meet with the families and black children affected, Police Minister Mark Ryan instead hosted a group of ‘Youth Parliament’ made up of white private school students, and boasted of it on his social media page.
As Kilroy told the rally: "They will never let us in that house to sit around that table to have a conversation. They won’t ask us to come up and talk about community safety. Because they don’t care about community safety.
“They care about cops and cages.”