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Ashley Youth Detention Centre - Accountability

Vica Bayley MP

Vica Bayley MP  -  Thursday, 28 September 2023

Tags: Ashley Youth Detention Centre, Commission of Inquiry

Mr BAYLEY (Clark) - Mr Deputy Speaker, I rise on adjournment to talk about accountability over Ashley and challenge some statements of minister Jaensch.  There has been, and will continue to be, high levels of interest and scrutiny about Ashley and the Government's unwillingness to meet its own deadline to close it. 

Yesterday, we heard minister Jaensch describe the previous commitment of past premier Gutwein to close Ashley in 2024 as a 'political decision'.  What does that mean for accountability and credibility?  What is believable with this Government?  It smacks of John Howard's core and non-core promises.  It makes a mockery of every commitment this Government makes and causes us, and the community, to rightly question, is the closure a real decision that will be implemented or is it a political decision with no basis in reality and no chance of delivery? 

Ashley Youth Detention Centre has been a centre of abuse and neglect for decades and we have known this for many years.  Tasmania's Children's Commissioner, the National Children' Commissioner, Aboriginal leaders, parliamentarians, social workers, academics and experts and now the commission of inquiry.  There has been a clarion call for the closure of Ashley.  Such is the significance and urgency of the closure of Ashley the commission effectively curtailed its work so as not to give rise or excuse for the Government not acting on it.  I quote: 

Given our grave concerns about Ashley Youth Detention Centre we felt we could not afford to delay our findings and recommendations.  As a result, we could not pursue some issues in detail. 

Specifically, I wanted to raise two issues the minister has repeated on numerous occasions in this House.  Expressions from the minister that can only be seen as bad faith at best.  The minister has repeatedly, grossly, misrepresented the position of the commission on this Government's delayed closure of Ashley.  He says the commission presents 1 July 2026 as a suggested, and I quote, 'time frame'.  This is incorrect.   

The report categorises three time frames:  short, medium and long term.  Medium term is by 1 July 2026, so 2026 was not expressed by the commission as an appropriate time frame or a target, but the most apt out of three hard deadlines.  Presumably, this deadline expressed by the commission was also chosen as it is the one that best fitted the closure commitment of the Government. 

On 9 September 2021, past premier Gutwein announced the closure of Ashley in three years.  He said, 'We expect construction of these new facilities will be commenced over the next two years, and that Ashley will be closed in around three years'.  As we know, not a sod has been turned, and there is further delay. 

Dr Woodruff - Because this minister has killed it. 

Mr BAYLEY - Even without the dithering and delay of the Liberals, taking premier Gutwein at his word, the commission could never have prescribed the short-term reform time line by 1 July 2024 in its report.  Since premier Gutwein's announcement, we have always been looking at the second half of 2024.   

Couching the commission's mid-term deadline for the closure of Ashley by 2026 as somehow endorsement of the Government's new position of not closing it in 2024 is demonstrably disingenuous. 

Compare the pair of statements on this.  From minister Jaensch, I quote: 

We note that in the commission's inquiry report, alongside their recommendation about the urgency to close Ashley as soon as possible, they also identify a reasonable time frame.  They suggest mid-2026 for delivery of that closure and the replacement of the facility. 

I will read several quotes from the report itself: 

While we acknowledge the government's restated commitment to close Ashley Youth Detention Centre, we are gravely concerned by any suggestion of further delay.  The government must close Ashley Youth Detention Centre as soon as possible. 

And another: 

We were disappointed that there were some indications that the Tasmanian Government is reconsidering its previous announcement to close the centre by 2024.  We hold grave concerns for the safety and wellbeing of all detainees at the centre.  [TBC quotes] 

The commission's identification of mid-2026 for the closure of Ashley is not a helpful suggestion.  It is a real-world selection of one of three windows of delivery of an action - short, medium and long term - that match premier Gutwein's original commitment. 

What we need, and what victim/survivors are demanding, is a concrete time line for the closure of Ashley.  A concrete time line that is not mixed with deliberate delay, obfuscation and distraction.  

Despite the concerns of the commission, despite the fact that children remain in Ashley and remain at harm, remain in torturous conditions - and despite the commission curtailing its work so as not to impede the closure of Ashley - we still have a wishy-washy commitment from the minister regarding closure, with no firm date, no sense of urgency, and loaded with excuse.  We are no clearer as to whether this is just another so-called political decision and announcement, because we have been given no more detail, and an assurance and ironclad guarantee and time line for closure.  Just do it, minister.  Please. 

We have learnt today that one child has been incarcerated at Ashley, on remand, for 200 days.  Two hundred days in prison without being convicted of a crime. 

Dr Woodruff - Shame.  It is disgusting. 

Mr BAYLEY - That is right - shame. 

The second issue I want to raise again goes to the minister's articulation of the challenges he faces.  Of the children in Ashley today, 11 out of 12 are there on remand, and minister Jaensch has repeatedly tried to shift responsibility to the courts.  He says, 'We need to be able to work with the courts to identify the circumstances in which they would send young people to other than a detention centre'.  He says, 'The fact that young people who are in the detention facility are there on the basis of court orders'.  Again, while on the face of it, this appears to be a statement of fact - of course the courts make the decision to remand children in custody - it hides the reality that makes those statements disingenuous.   

It is the minister, not the courts, who makes a declaration about which facilities are allowed for remand and detention under section 123 of the Youth Justice Act 1997.  Furthermore, it is the minister's secretary, not the courts, who determines which facility a youth is detained or remanded in under section 125 of the Youth Justice Act 1997.  The minister has the capacity to put in place alternative remand options for Ashley, and provide a declaration for the courts to follow.  He has the capacity to assist children out of Ashley, to ensure that no more are committed, to render it redundant, and remove any excuse to close it.   

He has the ability to be more transparent about his powers and the position of the commission.  He has the capacity to change things - and we again implore him to do so.