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Estimates: Questions about potential human rights violations in youth detention

During Parliamentary Budget Estimates on Friday 13 August 2021, I asked about potential human rights breaches in youth detention centres in Queensland. You can read my previous Questions on Notice, which I refer to in the hearing, here

You can read the answers below or in the official Queensland Parliament Record of Proceedings (Hansard).

Mr BERKMAN: I will change tack a little bit here. Director-General, my question is in relation to the alleged incidents of potential human rights breaches against children in detention, as addressed in question on notice 18. Of those instances from July 2020 to June 2021 relating to children being abused
or unfairly punished, can you tell us how many relate to seclusion or to the use of the behaviour management unit?

Ms Mulkerin: Can I just put some context around the advice that we provided about the human rights complaints? There are two different ways in which we identify human rights issues. The first is the data that we collect where complainants identify themselves that this is a human rights issue, so it is spelt out as a human rights issue. For example, for the total department from January 2020 through to May 2021 there were 86 complaints in total across all areas of the portfolio. However, because we work in a human rights jurisdiction and we have obligations to take that seriously, my department and my colleagues look through every incident, critical incident, professional conduct question, complaints and issues that are raised internally. We do a scan of those to identify whether there are any human rights issues inside all of those different ways in which we get information. We do a separate investigation in relation to all of those. There are both the complaints where somebody says it is human rights and our own examination of that. Those complaints can be for a whole range of reasons, as was spelt out in the questions on notice. It can be questions about access to food, fresh air or seclusion. In relation to your specific question about seclusion—I think that was your question.

Mr BERKMAN: Yes, how many relate to seclusion or use of the behaviour management?

Ms Mulkerin: There were no formal human rights complaints in detention received since November 2020. However, as I said, the review of our own practice that we undertake—so there were 67 allegations where we have said there were potentially human rights issues and none of those related to seclusion.

Mr BERKMAN: The end of the answer to that question says that of 35 complaints that have now been resolved, they were: investigated and unsubstantiated, substantiated, referred or management action was undertaken. Can you provide a breakdown within those four categories that are set out in the answer?

Ms Mulkerin: Yes, I think you are making reference in relation to the matters that are still open; is that the question?

Mr BERKMAN: That is right.

Ms Mulkerin: Thank you. Of the 32 that are still open, five are awaiting investigation. That might be because a staff member is on WorkCover, for example, and we cannot investigate or are not able to speak to them. Twelve are with our professional standards unit for a further examination. Five are with a delegate for a decision, five had some local action and five others are closed.

Mr BERKMAN: I am sorry, I misspoke: I meant to refer to those complaints that have not been resolved. The 35 complaints have been resolved and they are in those four categories. Are you able to give a breakdown of how many fall into each of the four categories?

Ms Mulkerin: So, 35 of the 67 have been resolved.

Mr BERKMAN: That is right.

Ms Mulkerin: Which leaves 32 remaining open.

Mr BERKMAN: Sorry. It is the 35 referred to in the question that have been resolved either as investigated and unsubstantiated, substantiated, referred, or management action has been undertaken; those are the four categories.

Ms Mulkerin: Apologies: I do not have that breakdown with me about the 35 that have been completed.

Mr BERKMAN: Is that a question that could be taken on notice, Minister?

Ms LINARD: We will see if we can come back with that information. Chair, we do have some answers to earlier questions, but I was not sure when you wanted that. I appreciate that the member directed questions to the DG, but I know I gave you an offer at the last estimates last year. I reiterate that as a standing offer. This is an issue that you have raised again. It is clearly an issue of concern to you. I am very happy to sit down with the director-general and/or Michael Drane and run you through that. I appreciate your concern.

Mr BERKMAN: I will take you up on that offer. 

The Minister returned later in the session with this further response: 

Ms LINARD: The breakdown is: investigated and unsubstantiated, general, seven; investigated and unsubstantiated, vexatious, two; investigated and substantiated, general, three; no investigation, management action undertaken to resolve, 16; referred, no return of advice expected, four; frivolous, three. That was the 35. I believe that fulsomely answers all of the matters that we needed to respond to. 

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