On Wednesday 23 August 2023, I gave my speech on the Child Protection (Offender Reporting and Offender Prohibition Order) and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2022 after the government had introduced a slew of amendments. I then followed up this speech during consideration in detail.
You can read the full speech below, or in the official Queensland Parliament Record of Proceedings (Hansard).
You can find the speech that I had originally prepared for this bill here.
Mr BERKMAN: I rise to make my contribution on the Child Protection (Offender Reporting and Offender Prohibition Order) and Other Legislation Amendment Bill. I am going to table a copy of the speech I had planned for this debate at the outset because I have a strong suspicion I will not get to it given the number and the significance of the amendments that have been dropped on this House just now. The member for Burdekin and I do not have a great deal to agree about, but to call this disgraceful is an understatement. It is an absolute dog act for this government to introduce amendments like this with no prior warning.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Krause): Pause the clock. Member for Maiwar, you have used some language that, according to the advice I have taken, is unparliamentary. I would ask you to withdraw and refrain from using unparliamentary language.
Mr BERKMAN: I will withdraw. I will table that speech and turn my attention to the amendments.
Tabled paper: Document, undated, titled 'Child Protection (Offender Reporting and Offender Prohibition Order) and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2022 - MP Second Reading Speech'.
Mr BERKMAN: For a little bit more context here, as a House we have agreed to a business program motion that affords us 45 whole minutes to debate the amendments and the bill in its entirety in consideration in detail. Sure, we will have a little window to properly understand the amendments—again, without the benefit of committee scrutiny. As the member for Burnett and the member for Burdekin have already indicated, we are supposed to give a contribution to the second reading debate on this bill with less than 45 minutes notice of what is in here. Let us consider the breadth and magnitude of these amendments.
In terms of the public space offences, sure, the Community Support and Services Committee, my committee, looked into these public space offences and we made, what I think, are good but very broad recommendations about the repeal of certain offences, including public drunkenness and begging. That is all well and good. I still cannot condone for a second the practice of putting amendments like this up without them going through a committee because we require that kind of scrutiny and input from stakeholders who know what they are on about and who know what the detail of these amendments is going to mean in practice. But we do not have the benefit of that. What are the implications of the additional detention powers that these amendments propose?
Sure, we are going to remove the offences to an extent but then create new police powers to what effect? What about the interaction of these offences—those that are being repealed and the new powers that are being introduced—as they interact with public nuisance offences, which we heard plenty about in the inquiry? The committee knows that. The chair might have chosen not to address it in her contribution just now, but she knows full well that these are complex provisions and their application in practice is going to matter. It is going to make a difference to people who will be detained. The repeal of covert police powers and move-on powers around sex work is fine. Notionally that is all well and good, but the devil is in the detail. Why are these amendments happening in isolation?
The broader question of decriminalisation of sex work has been to the Queensland Law Reform Commission. They have done a detailed inquiry. They have provided a detailed report back. Why is it that these particular amendments will not be put before a committee for scrutiny to pay respect at the very least to the work of the Law Reform Commission, to the work of those organisations and submitters who participated in that inquiry? It is disgraceful disrespect to all of those organisations, to the processes in general and to democracy in this state for these amendments to be dropped like this— and I have not even made it to the worst bit yet!
Let me ask a rhetorical question. How many times have we had to suspend the Human Rights Act in the state? It was a point of great pride for the government to introduce the Human Rights Act and it has so far been suspended once. What was the purpose of that suspension? It was to make sure that we could lock up more kids. They had to suspend the Human Rights Act to make sure that this government’s agenda of locking up more kids could be put in place. What is the consequence of that? We have more kids in watch houses. We have more kids in detention. Now, the flow-on effect is that they are proposing to suspend the application of the Human Rights Act again in respect of all of those children being detained in watch houses.
Mr Harper: Criminals.
Mr BERKMAN: ‘Criminals’, they say. No, they are not. We are talking about kids who are being remanded, kids who have not been found guilty, kids who have been picked up—we have just been talking about powers that are given to police to pick up someone for drunkenness and detain them in watch houses if they see fit. The member for Thuringowa can sit there and say that all of these kids are criminals and we can lock them up and throw away the key. That appears to be the attitude of this government. What we are actually going to see is some of the most vulnerable people in our community stripped of their rights under the Human Rights Act!
This law reform—I hesitate to even call it that: it is just bad law that was passed recently—is a consequence of the government being embarrassed a few weeks back by a court case where YETI successfully made a case of habeas corpus against the government. The government was unlawfully detaining these children. They are embarrassed about it, and their response is to strip those kids of their human rights. It is not just disgraceful; it is sad. It is actually really, really sad that there is so little regard for such vulnerable young people. The Human Rights Act is there to protect vulnerable people. These are some of the most vulnerable people in our society. Watch houses as a place for children—I do not know how many folks here have been to watch houses. There are a whole bunch of cops in the place. Does any one of you think that a watch house is a place to detain a kid?
Let’s consider this as well. This is the entire application of the Human Rights Act that has been suspended here. We are not just talking about their rights under the Human Rights Act as they relate to being detained separately from adults. We are not just talking about their rights under the Human Rights Act to be treated in a way that is appropriate for the child’s age. We are also talking about their deprivation of liberty. We are talking about their right to be treated with humanity and respect for the inherent dignity of a human. We are talking about their right to education. We are talking about their right to health care. We are talking the cultural rights of Indigenous children.
All of those rights are being stripped away by amendments that the government introduced at the eleventh hour—at 30 seconds to midnight—with no committee scrutiny, with no community consultation. They have done all of this so that the Premier and the police minister can stand in front of a press pack and tell everyone in Queensland how tough on crime they are. To say they should be ashamed is an understatement. The constraints on parliamentary language do not allow me to describe this move as I should. I have already been pulled up once. Let me say that if I had more latitude there is plenty more I could say about it.
The mind-boggling thing about this is that they keep stepping further and further to the right. They keep pulling out more and more conservative moves—and for what? Is it in the hope that the Courier-Mail or the LNP will leave them alone? Is that what this is about? Do they really think that if they just keep locking up more kids—fill up the new detention centres they are going to build, fill up all the watch houses in the state and strip away their human rights so that they can continue to do that without being embarrassed—that is going to make the issue go away? They know as well as anyone else that the solutions to this problem are about providing supports to disadvantaged children, to meeting those needs in their lives that are unmet. These are children who have extraordinarily high rates of cognitive impairment, of disadvantage, of trauma.
The observation has been made all too many times that these problems are not going to be solved overnight. That is true enough. In the meantime, if we spend all of our efforts and all of these resources and suspend the Human Rights Act to lock up more children, the problem is only going to compound. That is why we are in this situation now because of busted, useless policies that have put us in a position where more and more and more children are being criminalised and locked up. That is the only outcome of these amendments. It is insanity for the government to keep pushing down this line and think it is not going to make any difference.
During Consideration in Detail:
Mr BERKMAN: Given that we have a grand total of 25 minutes to speak to the voluminous amendments, I will jump in now and say a quick word about the commencement, part 1A. If I am reading this correctly, some of the most egregious parts of the amendments in relation to the stripping of human rights from children in watch houses and the ability for the minister to declare watch houses and adult prisons places of detention will be taken to have commenced on 23 August, which was yesterday. It is rubbing just a little bit more salt into the wound of all the people who will be affected by these amendments—all of those young people who are now going to find themselves detained in watch houses and in adult prisons and who will experience even greater trauma than they have already in their life.
From yesterday, all of those kids in watch houses and anyone that they feel like putting in adult prisoners will now be considered to be in a place of youth detention, despite the fact that these watch houses and prisons have been built and are run with no consideration of the needs of children and the consequences of those children being detained in these places. They are commencing these sections as of yesterday in a move that is another slap in the face to all of those organisations and stakeholders—Youth Advocacy Centre, YETI, Queensland Law Society, the Bar Association—that have come out and said that they oppose these amendments and would have opposed these amendments had they been given the opportunity to address them through the committee process that is supposed to be constitutionally enshrined here in Queensland.
We do not have to move past the first amendment moved by the police minister to see just how little regard they have for these organisations. It is truly disgraceful. I have been extraordinarily disappointed in this conduct and the disregard for democracy and for vulnerable people in Queensland in the five-and-a-bit years that I have been in this place, but I think the government has stooped to a new low this week, in my experience—to sneak in a business program motion that looks innocuous and then drop some of the worst, most gratuitous amendments that we now have no time to debate.
Later During Consideration in Detail:
Mr BERKMAN: These clowns are going to justify their undemocratic behaviour—
Mr ACTING SPEAKER: Member, I will ask you to withdraw your unparliamentary language and put your comments through the chair.
Mr BERKMAN: I withdraw. The Labor Party will continue to justify their undemocratic behaviour on the basis of the behaviour of the LNP when it was in government, and whenever the LNP take the reins again we will see even worse conduct from them on the basis of the undemocratic behaviour of the Labor Party. How is it we have found ourselves with two minutes left for consideration in detail and the second only instance of overriding the Human Rights Act is not even going to make the cut?
Mr STEWART: Mr Acting Speaker, I rise to a point of order.
Mr ACTING SPEAKER: Pause the clock. What is your point of order?
Mr STEWART: Point of order in relation to relevance to amendment No. 6
Mr ACTING SPEAKER: I will continue to listen. You have the call, member for Maiwar.
Mr BERKMAN: Thank you, Mr Acting Speaker. Given the spurious point of order, we now have one minute left before the time for consideration in detail runs out. Congratulations to the minister for resources. He has done well. In relation to the police minister, I have spoken to people today who knew the police minister’s father and who spoke about just how ashamed he would be of the way he has brought this into the House. He was a social justice warrior.
Mr RYAN: Mr Acting Speaker, I rise to a point of order.
Mr ACTING SPEAKER: Police Minister, resume your seat. Member for Maiwar, you have used unparliamentary language. I would ask you to withdraw.
Mr BERKMAN: I withdraw.