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Ashley Youth Detention Centre - Closure

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Tuesday, 23 August 2022

Tags: Ashley Youth Detention Centre, Commission of Inquiry


The commission of inquiry has heard harrowing evidence of extreme violence towards and sexual assault of children at Ashley Youth Detention Centre. It also heard corroborated evidence of an abusive culture amongst some staff who stood by and watched while children were being bashed or who enabled and covered up violent sexual assaults by older detainees against younger ones. We know this through the courage of whistleblowers who worked at Ashley.

Damningly, Premier, the inquiry heard evidence of bureaucratic failings, secrecy and cover up. Almost exactly a year ago, your predecessor promised Ashley would close within three years. Will it be? Can you detail progress? Why have you not already closed this house of horrors?



Mr Speaker, I thank the member for her question and her reflections on the evidence that we have heard at the commission of inquiry. It is enormously confronting, to say the very least, and points to failures of past and present government. I repeat the fact that I am deeply sorry on behalf of our Government and past governments for those failures that have left young people devastated and traumatised for life.

I also thank those who have come forward for their courage in coming forward, people from within the system, employees and people who work across government and victim-survivors themselves. They shine a light on failures. We are as committed now as we have always been since the announcement of the commission of inquiry to shine a light on failures of this and past governments of all colours. I repeat my desire and my commitment to implement the recommendations to the commission of inquiry. We have provided two ministerial statements for discussion in the parliament where we have clearly demonstrated that we are not waiting for those recommendations but now acting where appropriate.

As a government we are committed to developing a youth justice system, including new custodial settings, that achieve better outcomes for young people, their families and keeps our community safe.

In September last year, we announced our intention to close the Ashley Youth Detention Centre and establish new youth custodial facilities. This is not just about custodial youth justice. It is about resetting our whole approach to a youth justice system and young people at risk. I hope that when it comes to our justice system more broadly, the appointment of our Minister for Corrections and Rehabilitation is a strong signal to appropriately reform in this area. We want to support our young people, children and families, engage young people at risk early and direct them away from the youth justice system, and restore young people who come into conflict with the law as valued and productive members of the community.

I understand the calls for closing the Ashley Youth Detention Centre now. We have a plan in place to close Ashley and replace it with contemporary therapeutic facilities.

Ms O'Connor - Within two years?

Mr ROCKLIFF - It is important that we invest in the time to get this right, given the failures that they have highlighted.

Ms O'Connor - Every day those kids are in there is a day they're in danger.

Mr SPEAKER - Order, Ms O'Connor.

Mr ROCKLIFF - I want to get this right. I am committed to it. Appropriate care of these young people is not about bricks and mortar. It is also about having the right models of care and contemporary therapeutic approaches through the entire youth justice system, which I am sure you would appreciate, Ms O'Connor.

Ms O'Connor - You do not need to reinvent the wheel here. I have done a lot of work on it.

Mr ROCKLIFF - You have done a lot of work on it and you were also the minister responsible.

Ms O'Connor - No.

Mr ROCKLIFF - You were not?

Ms O'Connor - No.

Mr ROCKLIFF - You were part of a government that certainly was for four years.

In the meantime, we are ensuring that those who are sent to Ashley by the courts are safe and have the supports they need as we transition to new facilities.

It is also important to note that Ashley today is not the same Ashley that we inherited or even the Ashley from two years ago. It has a more therapeutic approach, greater oversight and better protections in place. Over recent years, we have established better safeguards and protections for young people currently at Ashley, including new CCTV technology which has increased accountability and safety for both young people and staff. A new personal searches policy introduced in 2019 ensures that all personal searches at the Ashley Youth Detention Centre comply with the new intervention on the right to the child. The centre now has strong independent oversight mechanisms in place.

A custodial inspector appointed in 2017 provides that independent statutory oversight of Ashley. This includes completing independent inspections and reports relating to Ashley Youth Detention Centre. The Commissioner for Children and Young People also conducts monthly visits and provides direct advocacy for young people at the centre. Young people can contact the Commissioner for Children and Young People directly with concerns they have in relation to their care at the centre and the commissioner can advocate with centre management or the department on their behalf.

The centre also reports all critical incidents and follow up actions to both the Custodial Inspector and the commissioner for children and, importantly, each month provides the Ashley Youth Detention Centre incident, isolation and search registers. This has been further enhanced with the advocate for young people in detention now providing more regular advocacy services for young people on behalf of the Commissioner.

Ms O'Connor - Yes, but back to the question.

Mr ROCKLIFF - I am answering the question. In addition to these safeguards, engagement has commenced with the Australian Childhood Foundation and the Centre for Excellence in Therapeutic Care to provide an independent authorative review on the safety for young people at Ashley Youth Detention Centre. They will also provide guidance on any further actions we can take now and during transition to improve the safety of a service for young people and staff.