Page 2807 - Week 08 - Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Next page . . . . Previous page . . . . Speeches . . . . Contents . . . . Debates(HTML) . . . . PDF . . . . Video

remained unsafe for both detainees and staff last year as well, with at least four assaults on young people and at least two on youth workers. We are not confident that this might not be another case of under-reporting.

Third, when asked about violent assaults in Bimberi, the minister explained to the media: “When you have people like that together, every now and again accidents will occur.” In other words, the ACT government is willing to tell kids in youth detention one thing: that they have the right to be kept safe. But then they will admit the truth to the media: that this government lacks both the will and the capacity to actually guarantee that right. Which is it? Do young people have the right to be kept safe in Bimberi? Or should they expect to face occasional brawls and violent assaults because “that is just what happens”, Minister Stephen-Smith said, “when you have people like that together”?

Perhaps a bit of honesty should have been written into the new charter of rights, such as, “Dear Bimberi kids, we really wish you had the right to feel safe while you are here, but in reality we do not actually know how to run this place, so please keep your eyes open for violent incidents that are inevitably going to occur every now and again for people like you. Yours sincerely, the ACT government.” This is unacceptable. There you have it: honesty and transparency, which is what this government lacks. To paraphrase another Australian parliamentarian, if a government cannot guarantee the safety of a juvenile inmate, then they are failing in their basic requirements as a government.

I note that there was a decline in reported assaults at Bimberi last year. But I suspect that that may have been, in large part, a result of the low number of detainees in the first half of the year. With what Dr Mark Collis has identified as a surge of young people into the centre over the first part of 2017, I worry that the number of assaults will simply go up again.

The one thing I feel reasonably confident of is that the number of violent assaults in Bimberi this year will not be zero. It should be, but it will not be. This task is not impossible. A 2016 report written jointly by the Australian Children’s Commissioners and Guardians identified a number of factors that create opportunities for assaults to occur in places of youth detention. Two main factors are the inadequate staffing levels and the lack of necessary training for staff, issues that all of us in the chamber understand continue to plague Bimberi.

A serious government that genuinely cared for the safety of vulnerable young people and the staff who are employed to help them would not tolerate what the minister herself has reported as the current state of safety in Bimberi. I can only conclude that the ACT government holds these young people and their families in contempt. They are, in the minister’s own words, “people like that”. I reject this label and the lack of regard that it implies. Canberrans deserve better. We deserve a youth justice centre where both young people and youth workers have a right to be kept safe. We deserve a government that can guarantee the right, not just pay it lip-service on paper. We should accept nothing less.

Next page . . . . Previous page . . . . Speeches . . . . Contents . . . . Debates(HTML) . . . . PDF . . . . Video