Government decision on youth detention could doom Human Rights Act in Queensland, critics say.

When elected, the State Government promised to do better than the Newman government to respect Parliamentary process and Human Rights said Queensland Council for Civil Liberties (QCCL) CEO Michael Cope.

This week, it has failed to live up to its own standards,” Mr Cope said.

On Thursday last week, the Queensland Government rushed amendments to the Youth Justice Act through parliament to exempt it from litigation for detaining young people in adult police watchhouses. A human rights override declaration applies to the decision-making process, “until 31 December 2026 or until new purpose-built detention infrastructure is operational.”

In a press statement titled, “Changes to ensure business as usual”, the Government said the urgent amendments were necessary to, “validate and clarify 30 years of custom and practice that Queensland has used to hold young people in watchhouses and manage their movement to detention centres.”


  • The Queensland Government has introduced legislative amendments for detaining young people in adult police watchhouses.
  • The Government argues amendments maintain the status quo for Police and Youth Justice.
  • A coalition of voices, including QCOSS, Sisters Inside, and Greens MPs, condemn the decision.
  • Critics, such as the Queensland Council on Civil Liberties, express concerns about democracy and the future of human rights legislation in Queensland.

Image, iStock

The Government says the amendments will “allow Police and Youth Justice to continue to operate as they have for the past 30 years.”

The Government also claims Queensland has some of the country’s toughest laws, which means “serious repeat offenders can be sentenced for longer periods of time to protect community safety.”

“Longer time in detention also allows for more intensive rehabilitation to help tackle the complex causes of youth crime,” Minister for Youth Justice Di Farmer said.

The Government’s decision has been condemned by a coalition of voices including the Queensland Council of Social Services (QCOSS), Sisters Inside, Change the Record, the Youth Advocacy Centre, and Greens MPs Michael Berkman and Amy MacMahon. The LNP also voiced concerns.

The LNP’s Manager of Opposition Business, Andrew Powell, said the decision is an “affront on democracy“.

Aimee McVeigh, QCOSS CEO said the amendments will not make Queensland communities safer.

“Queenslanders should not have to choose between community safety and the legal rights of children. As a sophisticated society, we should be able to do both,” Ms McVeigh said.

Katherine Hayes, CEO of the Youth Advocacy Centre, said: “Queenslanders should be dismayed that the Government is once again dispensing with the human rights of our most vulnerable citizens. These are not bikies or terrorists: they are the kids that have been failed by all of the adults in their lives, and a significant number of them have been in contact with the child safety system.”

Greens MP for Maiwar, Michael Berkman, said the decision is “disgraceful.” “It is an absolute dog act to introduce amendments like this...”

Sisters Inside joined a snap rally at Parliament House on Thursday. Its CEO Debbie Kilroy said in a social media post: “I wept because members of parliament dismissed the harm that our children will experience. The harm I experienced as a child and the children today, tomorrow and generations to come will experience. Many will not survive. And many will never recover.”

Speaking on The Project on Friday, Ms Kilroy said, “I spend a lot of time talking to different groups that call themselves victims of crime. And, you know, they want the same as us. They want to be safe in communities, but the government is pitching these groups against each other, and what they’re creating is more harm for all of us in the future.”

So to end harm, we mustn’t be harmful.”

In a statement, Queensland Human Rights Commissioner Scott McDougall said the changes are “rash, alarming, and will not reduce youth crime or make the community safer.”

The Queensland government has set a dangerous precedent by overriding its own Human Rights Act for a second time to rush through changes to the law to allow adult prisons and police watch houses to be used as youth detention centres.

QCCL CEO Michael Cope labelled the Government’s behaviour ‘reprehensible’. “Why is the Government indulging in this reprehensible behaviour? Because it is trying to arrest its way out of the youth crime problem.”

Mr Cope said QCCL accepts that there is a youth crime problem. However, he said the problem cannot be solved by arresting and detaining more children.

“Watch houses are entirely inappropriate places for children to be kept. All criminals who are arrested, from the most minor to the most serious go through watchhouses. This means that children will be kept in the same place as murderers and child sex offenders. This is appalling.”

“Our first concern must of course be for the young people. But the long-term consequences for civil liberties in this State must also be recognised. The Government has likely doomed the Human Rights Act. The next LNP government will find it so much easier to either override it or worse, repeal it.”

Cover image, Rudy Wharton of Sisters Inside, Maggie Munn, National Director of Change the Record, and Sisters Inside CEO Debbie Kilroy at a rally outside Queensland Parliament House on 24 August – (courtesy Sisters Inside Inc).