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Estimates Reply – Attorney-General Archer

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Wednesday, 2 December 2020

Tags: Youth Justice, Corrections, Ashley Youth Detention Centre, Justice

Dr WOODRUFF - We had a very interesting Estimates process with the Attorney-General. I want to speak about the Attorney-General's role as Minister for Justice and also Corrections. One of the issues I raised at the beginning was concern that had been brought to the Greens about the lack of access to proper justice for young people who are arrested and brought before a night court that is operating out of hours in either the north, the north-west or in Hobart. It appears that young people who are brought to night courts around the state do not see a magistrate.

Ms O'Connor - They do not have a lawyer.

Dr WOODRUFF - We have been told there is no legal representation. The minister said she was not able to answer that. We will follow this matter up. It is a deeply concerning allegation that children are going to night courts and appearing before a justice of the peace or a bench justice, which is not a magistrate, and a police prosecutor, and that those two people are deciding to, in cases, detain children and send them to a place of detainment. For young people in Tasmania that means Ashley Youth Detention Centre.

We have heard the evidence - more and more evidence is coming out, and we understand more will come out - about how unsafe Ashley Youth Detention Centre is as a place for young people as well as being completely ineffective in its function of attempting to provide restorative justice and rehabilitation for young people who so much need thoughtful and careful care, education, training and support. It is appalling that we have a situation where young people can be picked up by the police - often these cases are minor theft or petty offences - and taken at any time after 5 p.m. to a night court. They do not appear before a magistrate. They have a hearing before a police prosecutor and a JP or a bench justice, which is the same sort of person, and then they are taken away. We understand from information given to us that it can often be on a Friday night and they are sent to Ashley all weekend. They get to be sent to that place which has the most appalling information coming out about child sexual abuse, about violence, about cultural and ongoing and systematic degradation of children and totally inappropriate so-called behavioural techniques like leaving them alone in isolation for, well, the allegations in some cases are days.

This is utterly inappropriate. We are deeply concerned. We asked the minister some questions about the numbers - and it is true that, in the last five months, the figures for the last month included one child from the Burnie night court, one child from Devonport, six children from Hobart, and two from Launceston. These children were detained as a result of night court proceedings where, it is alleged, they may not have had legal representation and were not taken before a magistrate.

What other country in the world, Mr Chair, allows children to be taken away and incarcerated without legal representation or without being brought before a proper magistrate and form of justice? It is really deeply concerning that this is a normal practice. The minister says there is no magistrate who is funded. Well, fund one - fund a magistrate to be in a night court.

Ms Archer - No, I did not say that.

Dr WOODRUFF - You said there is no magistrate that is funded. There is no magistrate funded?

Ms Archer - You said that I said that at the hearing, and I did not. I urge you to quote from the Hansard.

Dr WOODRUFF - You confirmed that magistrates do not work -

Ms Archer - No. I think you will find that it was the administrative Magistrates Court is á qui de fait because it is a matter for the court that answered the questions on that.

Dr WOODRUFF - Yes, there is a funding issue, though. There is definitely a funding issue about -

Ms Archer - No. What I confirmed is we provided an additional magistrate.

Dr WOODRUFF - Okay. The minister is right.

Ms Archer - It is up to them -

Dr WOODRUFF - There is a funding issue here; it has to be fixed. The bottom line is it has to be fixed. If it means the minister needs to have a conversation with the Chief Magistrate and work out what the impediment is to having a magistrate working after hours, that should happen.

I also spoke to the minister about the Commission of Inquiry Act and the Tasmanian Law Reform Institute's recommendation report about changes - a 17-year-old report - and the minister has said that she will be looking at the recommendations from the TLRI report. It is important that its recommendations are included in any consideration to amendments to the act that need to happen before a commission of inquiry is formalised in Tasmania.

I will briefly mention a robust and useful conversation I had with the minister about non fatal strangulation standalone offence law for Tasmania. This is a really critical priority, and the minister confirmed that she referred this matter to the Sentencing Advisory Council in May, so it has been sitting with the Sentencing Advisory Council for six months now.

It is a critical issue. It is about protecting women's lives. Often non-fatal strangulation is used as a form of power and control, obviously, but it can also be a precursor to homicide. There is no doubt about that. It is the case that other states have this law, and the TLRI, the Women's Legal Service Tasmania and women's support services all agree that it is past time for it to be a standalone offence in Tasmania.

I believe that the minister made her strongest statement of intent at the end of our long conversation, that she is committed to introducing this law and it is a matter of organising how it will fit in with the existing laws of the state and to make sure there is no overlap or duplication. I believe - and I really hope - it is her intention to proceed to this standalone offence as soon as possible and to encourage the Sentencing Advisory Council to be a quick as it can.

Ms Archer - I can clarify that because I do not think I said it in those words.

Dr WOODRUFF - You said it in lots of different words -

Ms Archer - I will do whatever I can to ensure -

Dr WOODRUFF - You did not say 'I will do it.'. That is what I was hoping you would say, but I think you came very close to saying -

Ms Archer - I just said we have to be careful of diverse - I do not want a diverse outcome. That is all I said. There was a qualifier there.

Dr WOODRUFF - No, understood. No-one wants a diverse outcome. I understand that.

The other matter I wanted to mention was Westbury. It is pretty clear that no due diligence was done by this Government, by this minister, on the second choice of site. There is no doubt about it. It is also clear that the community consultation process is a pathetic way to make a decision for a hundreds of million-dollar decision.

Ms Archer - That is what they called for.

Dr WOODRUFF - No. It is not enough. It is required, but it is not sufficient. It is essential that all the other issues like the environmental impacts, like the road costs, like the huge bushfire risk of putting a prison in the middle of a forest and a Forico plantation as well - all of these things were never considered. There was no due diligence. It is on the record. It was never done. At least we have that one and put it to bed, and the community can keep fighting it and we will be behind them.