Ms O'CONNOR question to MINISTER for EDUCATION, CHILDREN and YOUTH, Mr JAENSCH
Children are again being locked up at Ashley for 23 hours in a day because you cannot properly staff the place and because you refuse to explore alternatives for remand. This comes after rolling lockdowns from June to August were described by child psychologists as having 'the potential to cause significant and devastating effects'.
At the time the state's Commissioner for Children and Young People described this forced, prolonged isolation of children as a gross failure to uphold the rights of children as articulated by the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. We are betting that the child detainees were let out of their cells when the UN delegation on the prevention of torture recently visited the facility. Can you confirm that?
Can you guarantee that the current cruel practices at Ashley are compliant with all aspects of the Youth Justice Act? How long will this lockdown last? Do you expect this to be a repeated pattern until that house of horrors is closed?
Mr Speaker, I thank Ms O'Connor, Leader of the Greens, for her question, her interest in this important matter, and her concern for the young people who are residents in the Ashley Youth Detention Centre.
I am advised, as late as this morning, that the young people residing in Ashley are out of their rooms all day today, engaging in normal programming. I thank the management and staff of the Ashley Youth Detention Centre for doing everything they can every day to ensure that we are keeping those young people safe and giving them access to the services, resources and programs they are entitled to while they are spending time in Ashley -
Ms O'Connor - While they are isolated alone in their rooms.
Mr SPEAKER - Order.
Mr JAENSCH - As I said, Ms O'Connor, the advice from my department is that the young people are out of their rooms today, engaging in normal programming thanks to the continued efforts of our staff on the ground and all those they are working with to assist them. I will name the union and Lucas Digney, who has been a spokesperson, who has been out publicly talking about what is going on there. He is on site working with our staff and our management. They are pulling every lever they have to ensure that we can maintain the staffing levels. While the union continues to be very vocal in support of the welfare and wellbeing conditions for their members, our staff working in that setting, they are also working with the management on ideas. If there were more and better things that we could be doing to recruit people we would be doing them.
Ms O'Connor - Do you want to answer the questions?
Mr JAENSCH - I need to just highlight a few things -
Ms O'Connor - But will you answer the questions?
Mr JAENSCH - Mr Speaker, may I answer the question?
Ms O'Connor - Would you?
Mr JAENSCH - Thank you. The Government is doing everything in its power to ensure that the centre restrictions are eased wherever possible and removed completely at the earliest opportunity, today being a case in point. There has been a group of senior officials convened across government agencies to deliver urgent reponses to the current situation at Ashley, particularly in regard to staffing. They are delivering immediate actions to alleviate staffing challenges and ease restrictions on centre operations.
Additional leadership positions have been deployed into the structure at Ashley Youth Detention Centre as an interim measure. On 5 October, seven experienced and therapeutically trained staff from the Northern Territory arrived and commenced working on the Ashley Youth Detention Centre roster. A further five new youth workers will graduate from the Youth Worker Induction Training at the end of this month. A recent recruitment round has been advertised. Following this recruitment round, a youth worker induction training course is scheduled to commence in December 2022. A further recruitment round is also planned.
A hybrid roster has been implemented to over-resource the day shifts to maximise the opportunity for young people to participate in programs and education.
Ongoing psychological support through telehealth services is available to young people on a weekly basis. Telehealth is recognised across Australia and internationally as a contemporary mode of mental healthcare delivery. The Australian Childhood Foundation has a staff member on site every day, providing individual assessments and therapeutic services.
The department has also recently engaged a consultancy firm to undertake CCTV and security assessment on the facility.
I thank the Ashley Youth Detention Centre staff who are doing an amazing job under very difficult circumstances.
Ms O'CONNOR - Point of order, Mr Speaker, on relevance. This is important and interesting information but the question related to whether the Youth Justice Act was being complied with. Perhaps the minister could address that question?
Mr SPEAKER - As the member knows, I cannot inform, ask or tell the minister how he should be answering the question. The minister has that right and I will allow him the opportunity to do so.
Mr JAENSCH - Thank you very much, Mr Speaker. I note that when young people in Ashley are unable to be supervised due to staffing ratio requirements, which are there for their safety and for the safety of staff, that we have needed to apply restrictions from time to time on the amount of time they are able to spend outside their rooms. This is not punishment. This is about us upholding our obligations to the safety of those young people.
In terms of our obligations under relevant legislation and conventions, we have at all times made sure that there has been access and opportunity for scrutiny and monitoring of the operations of Ashley through the Commissioner for Children and Young People, through their extra position who has an office and a presence on the site there, through the Australian Childhood Foundation, through the custodial inspector and also through the OPCAT delegation. This delegation was supported to be able to conduct their work visiting that site and others in Tasmania very recently, when they were not permitted to do so in other states.
We remain open to scrutiny. We will support those who are charged with the responsibility of monitoring and measuring our compliance under relevant regulations and conventions at all times. Our staff on the ground will continue to do everything they can to provide for the safety and wellbeing of the young people resident in Ashley, and their colleagues and fellow workers, as we work through this difficult period.
We have had an uptick in the number of young people in Ashley, a mixture of girls and boys, which means we have to maintain additional separations, which puts additional stress on that workforce. Again, I commend them for their excellent work and we will continue to support them in every way we can.