Government blames courts for youth crime chaos

THE Palaszczuk Government has launched an extraordinary attack on the judiciary, blaming them, rather than its own laws, for out-of-control youth crime.

Announcing a $15 million "five-point plan" to deal with child criminals repeatedly flouting the law, Police Minister Mark Ryan gave a stinging rebuke to magistrates he said weren't keeping with the spirit of the new Youth Justice Act to maintain public safety and were letting too many "hardcore" offenders out on bail.

But Queensland Law Society president Luke Murphy said magistrates were simply following the laws.

And the Opposition called for the same "catch-and-release" laws to be ripped up.

In his extraordinary broadside, Mr Ryan said the courts were not properly locking up child criminals, arguing the "intention" of the laws to protect public safety was clear.

Police Minister Mark Ryan visiting Townsville to announce the youth crime measures. Picture: Matt Taylor
Police Minister Mark Ryan visiting Townsville to announce the youth crime measures. Picture: Matt Taylor

"The courts are not immune to criticism, and they should be called out when they get it wrong," he said.

"And quite frankly I think they have gotten it wrong in a number of instances recently.

"They have to make decisions which fulfil the intention of the legislation and the intention of the legislation is clear - community safety comes first."

He gave an example of an 11-year-old boy who was only denied bail on his 11th offence.

"Police have advised me they are aware of numerous examples where bail has been granted in circumstances that create concern for the community."

 

Juveniles chroming outside MP Aaron Harper's office. Picture: Shae Beplate
Juveniles chroming outside MP Aaron Harper's office. Picture: Shae Beplate

But Mr Ryan also admitted the Government was considering changing the laws again "if that intention is not clear to the courts". "There is active consideration now about whether that intention is clear and what changes would need to be made to make that intention clear."

The Government's Youth Justice Act changes were clearly designed to ensure children must only be remanded to custody as a last resort. The Bill's explanatory notes said the legislation removed legislative barriers that were contributing to children being refused bail, breaching bail, or remaining in detention or on remand for extended periods.

And a statement issued by Youth Justice Minister Di Farmer at the time - entitled "New laws to help young people stay out of detention" - said police and judges would decide bail using their discretion to ensure community safety: "Whenever it is possible and safe to do so, we want young people out of detention, especially when they have not been convicted."

Mr Murphy yesterday said Mr Ryan's attack was not justified and police had always had the power to appeal decisions if desired.

"There is nothing to our knowledge that indicates any magistrate has incorrectly applied the Youth Justice Act since it was amended by the Palaszczuk Government last year," he said. "Unless there is some clear indication that a magistrate has incorrectly applied the law, it is not appropriate to criticise them."

Brittany Lauga MP, Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk, Police Commissioner Katerina Carroll APM and Barry O'Rourke MP outside the Rockhampton police station.
Brittany Lauga MP, Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk, Police Commissioner Katerina Carroll APM and Barry O'Rourke MP outside the Rockhampton police station.

The Government yesterday confirmed its "five-point crackdown" on the 10 per cent of youth offenders who were committing half the crimes, as revealed in The Courier-Mail.

It will see more police prosecutors put on to strengthen applications in which police oppose bail, and appeal decisions police disagree with.

On-Country rehabilitation will begin mid year in Townsville, Cairns and Mt Isa to help indigenous offenders reconnect with society, school and employment, and $2 million will be available to community organisations to devise local action plans.

A 24-7 Police Strike Team will include youth justice workers to case manage high-risk offenders into housing, school and employment.

Queensland Police Union president Ian Leavers said that the union would now lodge a submission with the Government on how it needed to strengthen the Youth Justice Act "to ensure juvenile repeat offenders could be taken off the streets and kept off the streets".

Young criminals have been taunting police on social media.
Young criminals have been taunting police on social media.

The changes come after months of community anger over youth crime waves in Townsville, Cairns, the Gold Coast and Brisbane that have seen some children bailed multiple times, only to continue to reoffend.

Deputy Leader Tim Mander said the only way to solve "Labor's crime crisis" was to change the government.

"The youth justice laws need to be changed; breach of bail as an offence needs to be reintroduced and we need to scrap Labor's catch and release laws as well," he said.

Townsville cleaner Julie Bird will not let juvenile offenders rule her life after a vicious bag snatching incident.

The 54-year-old, who works at Stockland Shopping Centre, often sees the crimes in action but never thought she would become a victim.

The grandmother was reading a book outside her work when two juveniles ran towards her, snatched her handbag and ripped her off a seat in the process.

Despite the terrifying incident, Ms Bird said that she was determined to not let the young thieves get to her.

"You just have to move on and still go to work," she said.