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Ashley Youth Detention Centre - Response to Commission of Inquiry

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Tuesday, 6 September 2022

Tags: Ashley Youth Detention Centre, Commission of Inquiry

Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens) - Mr Speaker, every child has the right to grow up feeling safe, loved and wanted but all of us in here know that too many do not, that some Tasmanian children are born behind a massive eight ball. There are many Tasmanian families who need help and guidance to raise their kids. So far, the state has not been able to effectively provide that support.

Many of the kids ending up in Ashley have trauma, complex mental health issues, disability. They are damaged children. What we are doing as a state is sending damaged children into a place that demonstrably can and has damaged them more. We are talking here about a century, generations, of trauma to children.

I have no doubt that the Premier and Minister for Children and Young People are absolutely sincere in the sentiments expressed by the Premier today, the statement the minister made in here - after repeated questions, I must say, in relation to Ashley's closure date. I have no doubt that they want to see a better youth justice system for Tasmanian children and young people. The issue we have here is that it is going too slowly.

This Government has had eight years to develop a new model for youth justice. This Government has had six years since Noetic released its report recommending Ashley's closure. Now the Government has commissioned Noetic to do more work on the new model and locations, and advise on youth justice reform going forward. I hope that this time the minister, and the government he is part of, listens to the experts because we have had years of delay where Liberal ministers in the child safety portfolio refused to acknowledge the extent of the problems at Ashley. They refused to accept the recommendation of the Noetic report. They dismissed the Greens when we put forward a therapeutic alternative model in 2015 exactly the same, fundamentally, as the model that has been announced. It is going too slowly.

It has been a year since the previous premier announced that the Ashley Youth Detention Centre would close. What we learnt in parliament the other week is that there has been a year of delay. My theory about that - and of course, I cannot prove it - is that for the past year we have had senior managers and executives in Communities Tasmania more concerned with covering their backsides to prepare for the commission of inquiry than they have been to deliver the new model and get those kids out of Ashley

Because of the whistleblowers like Alysha who came forward, because of that courage, because we now have evidence before the commission of inquiry which is confronting and terrible, the momentum, the argument for moving faster is utterly compelling.

It would be good to know what this minister has been doing for the past year. We have had Pam Honan, the director of youth justice, come before the commission of inquiry. We have had Mike Pervan, the current but not much longer secretary of Communities Tasmania, both giving evidence to the commission of inquiry that it very hard to see how that centre could be closed by September 2024 or by the end of 2024.

I heard what the Premier said in his ministerial statement, that 'the Ashley of today is not the same Ashley we inherited, or even of two years ago'. As of last week, at the last hearings of the commission of inquiry on Ashley, we discovered there are 11 children and young people in Ashley. One of them is on a sentence; 10 of them are on remand; and there were four staff. Those kids were locked in their rooms for 22 hours of the night and day: no freedom, no education. It is reasonable to ask how it got to be like that. How can it be like that only two weeks ago when this Government and this minister have known about the problem for years? It is simply not good enough. Enough delay, enough dithering.

We wrote to the Premier, the Attorney General, and Minister for Children and Young People on 31 August out of frustration, a sense of powerlessness that we could not do more to help those children, proposing alternatives to sending kids on remand to Ashley. It is our understanding that while the Youth Justice Act 1997 is outdated and punitive, there is no practical impediment to declaring another place a place of detention where magistrates may choose to send children and young people awaiting a court appearance. That can be done by gazette notice. We have a response here, from the Premier, which is reasonably argued.