Parliament paused for an hour this week so members could speak to the record in a condolence motion for the former member for Gregory, Vaughan Johnson OAM.
The tributes came from all sides of the House and were heartfelt, admiring, affectionate and funny. You can read or watch them by clicking on this link, then scrolling to “Condolence Motion” and clicking on that heading.
I was particularly pleased that Vaughan’s family were hosted by the Speaker and the Premier and were able to watch the speeches from the public gallery. Vaughan spent nearly 26 years in that Chamber and that was time his family gave up to allow him to speak for us.
It was generally agreed that Vaughan was one of the most popular MPs in the parliament, both with parliamentary staff and other members. He is greatly missed in all his roles. As the Speaker said, “He was a Parliamentarian, not a politician.”
New Youth Justice Laws
Labor’s latest changes to the youth justice laws dominated the debate this week in a bill called the Strengthening Community Safety Bill. Someone likes their irony!
Make no mistake, these changes were forced on the Labor by the strength of community outrage over the state’s youth crime crisis and will do little to strengthen community safety.
14 Years Maximum
After some shocking armed attacks in the holiday period, starting at the end of last year, the Queensland Labor government publicly promised that violent juvenile car thieves would face 14 years jail.
Actually – Just Five
But the in bill put to the House, and passed this week, the sentencing maximum is seven years.
Not only are maximum sentences rarely applied, this particular penalty can’t be applied. This is because the Youth Justice Act only allows juvenile offenders to be sentenced to a maximum of five years.
Detention Still Last Option
Furthermore, detention-as-a-last resort remains as a sentencing principle which magistrates must follow.
Breach of Bail is Back
For years, the media and the public have been told by multiple Labor ministers that “breach of bail” charges cannot work. It was actually described as ‘nonsense’ by the police minister.
This was despite public complaints by his own police officers about the “revolving door” which saw juvenile offenders build up lengthy charge sheets, mocking police as they left the courthouse, free to commit more.
This week’s bill finally reinstates Breach of Bail as an offence. The breach of bail amendment is an identical copy of the LNP's previous amendment— yes, the amendment which the government did not allow the LNP to move.
What a backflip! How can the people of Queensland believe anything they hear from government ministers about youth crime?
Social Media Aggravation
Labor made a lot of noise about the new offence of aggravation applied to the charge of unlawful use of a motor vehicle if the offender bragged about it on social media.
We heard on Tuesday that the Queensland Police Service’s “Digital Intelligence Collection and Evaluation” team would be expanded from five social media experts to 30 “very soon”.
How to Find and Prove
This is so police officers can presumably spend their working days trawling through social media posts. Even if they find offending posts, how are they to prove who posted it?
Thin Blue Line Gets Thinner
This really is nonsense when our thin blue line is getting more stretched by the day. Of the 1,450 extra police promised at the last election, the government has only delivered 92.
How to Deal with Online Bragging
Instead of taking the police away from their duties, the government should be working with the federal communications minister to ensure social media platforms are obliged to remove such posts in a prompt and timely manner.
How Did We Get Here?
This problem has been created by a powerful Labor faction who could not wait to tear down the system put in place by the Newman Government.
In doing so, they created a core of repeat offenders who have grown up under a regime which gave them free rein. They have made the whole youth justice system a problem for everyone.
Qld is Worst on Youth Crime
In January this year, the Productivity Commission reported that the number of children in detention in Queensland has been climbing year on year, against the trend nationally.
This happened on Labor’s watch. An eight year old when the Palaszczuk Government were elected is now a 15 year old.
Justice System Must Serve Victims
What these ideological warriors forget is the justice system is meant to serve victims and the wider community, as well as offenders.
Community Safety a Key Aim
By removing offenders from society, the justice system keeps the community safe.
When you have a core group of repeat offenders, this must be done in the name of community safety. It can be done in such a way that offenders are offered new skills and another path. The LNP government’s boot camps did just this.
Nothing for Victims
The justice system should also serve victims by granting some form of restitution, be that through victim impact statements, legal conferencing with the offender, or even just naming the offender publicly.
Labor closed the children’s courts so the youth offenders are never named or identified. They took away legal victim/offender conferences. They took 17 year olds from the adult system and placed them with children.
Victims Lives De-Railed
Putting aside the violent offences and home invasions we are now seeing, even car theft has major impacts for most victims.
In Gregory we have no public transport and having a licence and a vehicle is often a requirement of having a job.
An apprentice who loses the tools in the back of his vehicle, as well as the vehicle itself, could find his or her life de-railed while the young offender receives no penalty..
Nine Million Dollars For Victims
This week the Premier announced $9 million in funding for victims. If that sounds generous, it is half of what they spent on ministerial staff salaries and expenses in the second half of 2022.
Furthermore, the $9 million announcement will do nothing for our apprentice. It is only to provide support for victims of property crime where violence or threat of violence has occurred. I presume that means counselling. So unless he has been threatened with a weapon or physically assaulted, the impact on him goes unrecognised.
Two Year Back Log at Victim Assist
Even if he lodges a claim with Victim Assist Queensland, he will find there is a two- year backlog. The $9 million won’t address that..
A Long-Term Solution
We have been told repeatedly, by both the police and the government, that this is a problem confined to a core of about 400 repeat youth offenders.
They, and their families, are usually well-known to police and their backgrounds would often break your heart.
Justice Now - and Early Intervention Too
The police and the court system must given the powers to deal with the problem offenders we have now. But as I told the House, the only way to solve the problem in the long term is not diversion, but true early intervention.
This is not a job for the Justice system. It needs a co-ordinated effort, particularly from Queensland Health, Queensland Education and the child protection system.
- Face the Drug Problem
This week the Courier Mail reported tthe latest survey by the National Wastewater Drug Monitoring Program. It showed Queensland had the highest use of the drug ketamine in regional areas across the country.
Methylamphetamine remains the most popular drug in regional areas and Brisbane.
The use of MDMA, MDA, oxycodone, fentanyl, cannabis and ketamine increased in all capital cities.
Alcohol abuse is not even looked at.
Lightest Drug Laws in Australia
What is the Labor government proposing to do about this? They have new laws that mean Queensland will have the most relaxed drug possession rules in the nation. Come on up north!
Worse still, they are doing this without addressing the longstanding and desperate shortage of drug addiction treatment places. How do you divert those found in possession of drugs into non-existent programs?
Addiction Betrays Our Children
As I told the House, I guarantee that this will mean more children growing up in the care of drug addicted parents.
It will guarantee that more children will continue to be born with drug addictions and foetal alcohol syndrome disorder, creating lifelong disabilities and behavioural problems.
Addiction is a Cause of the Youth Crime Crisis
I directly link this to our youth crime crisis. Strong drug laws and well-funded rehab programs are the only way to ensure children are not growing up in homes where substance abuse rules the household.
Sadly, it is the only way to prevent early drug use by the children themselves.
Without a strong stance on drug and alcohol abuse, more children will witness domestic violence. More children will be harmed by those who should be caring for them.
Education is also a Key
There is also a direct link between school attendance and youth crime.
There is absolutely no discussion of truancy rates. Worse still, we lack any plan for students who risk getting no education. It goes without saying who those kids are.
In April last year the Courier-Mail revealed shocking statistics on the rate of suspensions and expulsions in Queensland schools, and vulnerable children were the ones copping this.
Excluded at Six Times the Rate
Indigenous children and children with disabilities were three times more likely to receive a suspension.
Wait for it: children in care were six times more likely to be excluded. Some receive their first suspension as preppies.
We need options to keep these kids going to school, be that through volunteer teachers aides, or PCYC programs or the concept of special schools outside the system for disruptive students.
We can’t just keep suspending and expelling them or our communities pay the price, while the kids themselves pay the biggest price in the form of a lost future.
- Mother and Baby Support
Queensland Health should also restore proper support services for expectant mothers, new mothers and young babies. Ideally, those young mums (and dads) who are rated as vulnerable would receive weekly home visits from a trained parent educator who could offer advice and practical knowledge to those new mothers who lack a support network of their own or who have addiction or other issues.
Most young mums and dads desperately want to be good parents, but they might not have the knowledge and support they need. If this is given to them, the young family is much more likely to stay together and thrive.
Eight vs 300 – it has been done
This early intervention model was adopted in the US state of Hawaii about 20 years ago.
They currently have—for the whole state—a grand total of eight children in detention, and none of them are there for violent crimes like murder and assault.
Queensland currently has nearly 300.
What it is Not
Early intervention is not ‘early’ once the juvenile is already committing the crimes.
Early intervention is not trying diversion after the youth has already had contact with police and the courts.
Early intervention is certainly not at 12, 15 or 16 years old. Early intervention is from birth, and it requires a whole-of-government approach.
In the meantime, the victims of this youth crime crisis still wait for protection and justice.
Thanks For Reading – and Happy St Patrick’s Day to all
That’s all from me. If you have an issue to raise or comment to make you can simply reply to this email and it will find me.
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You can email at [email protected] or ring me: Longreach 07 4521 5700 or Emerald 07 4913 1000. You can find me on the web at lachlanmillarmp.com. You can also find me on Facebook at Lachlan Millar MP.
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Lachlan Millar MP
Member for Gregory
Assistant to the Leader of the Opposition
Shadow Assistant Minister for Western Queensland
Deputy Chair – Queensland Parliamentary Transport and Resources Committee