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Housing – Ashley Youth Detention Centre

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Wednesday, 25 November 2020

Tags: Ashley Youth Detention Centre, Homelessness

Ms O'CONNOR - Thank you, the textile manufacturer. Minister, you talked earlier about people who have nowhere to stay or are sleeping rough. I want to draw your attention to the link between youth homelessness rates in the state's north and incarceration at Ashley.

As you are aware the causes of homelessness among young people include childhood trauma and neglect, poverty, family violence, addiction in the family, lack of educational attainment, lack of support and few prospects for a good life.

Can you confirm that a disproportionate number of young people who are sent to remand at Ashley Youth Detention Centre are not only homeless and then ejected out of the gates of Ashley into homelessness, but the decisions about where to send these young people are made not by a magistrate at the night court, but by a police prosecutor and a Justice of the Peace? Can you confirm that this disproportionately homeless cohort of young people have no legal representation at those night court hearings in Launceston over the weekend?

Mr JAENSCH - Thank you, Ms O'Connor. I do not have statistics with me regarding the representation. I do not have it to hand of young people in out-of-home care, I think you referred.

Ms O'CONNOR - Ashley.

Mr JAENSCH - In remand, you specifically said.

Ms O'CONNOR - That is right.

Mr JAENSCH - What I would like to go to is our recognition of the needs of young people in homelessness. We understand that young people are not given particular or special priority in the social housing register classification. There has been strong advocacy for young people to have greater buying power, if you like, to compete for available stock in social housing. That has been well articulated by Danny Sutton and others.

Ms O'CONNOR - It is not really relevant to the question.

Mr JAENSCH - Where I am going is to the program of investment in youth accommodation of various kinds. You mention Thyne House, which is currently heading into an expansion program that we are investing in. We have also delivered Eveline House at Burnie -

Ms O'CONNOR - I want you to answer the substance of the question.

Mr JAENSCH - We will be delivering new youth foyers in Burnie and Hobart under this Budget. Recently also we have -

Ms O'CONNOR - Point of order, Chair. Standing Order 45, relevance. The minister has not gone anywhere near the question. I understand that you cannot put words in his mouth -

CHAIR - Ms O'Connor, the minister is still replying and you know that is not like it is in the House. You need to wait and see what the minister has to say and then you can ask him another question if you are not happy.

Ms O'CONNOR - Thank you. I asked him specifically about youth homelessness contributing towards Ashley's population on the weekend.

CHAIR - Yes, and I cannot pre-empt what the minister is about to say. I ask you to allow the minister to finish his response, please.

Mr JAENSCH - You did mention where young people who are exiting corrections and detention go. What I am referring to is the supply of youth-specific supported accommodation, crisis facilities and transitional housing that we are also investing in to ensure that it is there.

Ms O'CONNOR - I don't need the list; that's in the Budget.

Mr JAENSCH - I am responding to the issue that you raised and showing how the Government is responding to the need that you referred to.

I have asked the secretary to comment on the access to legal representation over weekends that you referred to. If he is unable to bring that to the table we can take that on notice.

Ms O'CONNOR - No magistrates, no lawyers, and they send homeless kids to Ashley. Friday night to Monday morning.

Mr JAENSCH - I will take that issue on notice. I will bring additional information as it comes to hand.


Ms O'CONNOR - Minister, we were talking earlier about the disproportionate number of homeless and deeply at-risk young people who are sent to remand at Ashley by the Launceston Night Court which is not staffed by a magistrate and where they don't have legal representation - in contravention of their rights, by the way. Our understanding is that those young people, when they go in to Ashley over the weekend, are often released on the Monday. Can you confirm that?

Further, can you explain how it would be possible to arrange supports or access potentially to crisis accommodation or even longer-term accommodation by Ashley staff over the weekend?

Mr JAENSCH - I hear the situation being described by the member. I don't have figures with me regarding the numbers of children in the situations that you describe. The decisions regarding them being referred to Ashley are not made, as I understand it, by -

Ms O'CONNOR - A magistrate. No, they're not; they're made by a police prosecutor. Highly problematic.

Mr JAENSCH - Exactly but not by my department. We receive those children as a result of other decision-making processes and provide services in accordance with our standards and our capabilities for them. My understanding would be that those young people would be entitled to all of the supports and assistance that any resident of Ashley would be -

Ms O'CONNOR - Except a lawyer.

Mr JAENSCH - including access to a child advocate and the Commissioner for Children and Young People but the decision-making process is upstream of them coming to Ashley. It's a question better directed to the minister for Police or the minister for Corrections.

Ms O'CONNOR - We've already done that and we're talking to the Attorney-General about the lack of a magistrate and legal representation in the Launceston Night Court.

Mr JAENSCH - That's the appropriate place to raise those matters.

Ms O'CONNOR - Certainly but the issue is that in many cases young people have been picked up for minor crimes like theft. Invariably they have enormous housing insecurity. They go into the night court system where without legal representation, a police prosecutor - not a specialist magistrate or even just a magistrate - makes a decision to send them into an unsafe environment at Ashley over the weekend. Then invariably on the Monday or shortly after they are sent in there, they exit Ashley into homelessness. Can you confirm that?

Also, how can it be possible to provide for the staff at Ashley - those who are still there - to deliver whatever support and guidance towards services and housing is available, when that young person is in there on remand over the weekend? It is a homelessness question.

Mr JAENSCH - Ashley and the department do not have the authority to divert from the decisions of the courts. In relation to another comment you made, the kids at Ashley are safe; it is a safe environment.

Ms O'CONNOR - That is a big call.

CHAIR - Ms O'Connor, allow the minister to respond.

Mr JAENSCH - It is designed and managed to be safe. In regard to young people who may have been directed to Ashley by a decision of the court and who may not be under the guardianship of the secretary and are released from Ashley, we do not control their lives. We provide services, connections and facilities for them, including an increasing number of supported accommodation facilities, youth foyers, crisis centres, et cetera, specifically dedicated to the needs of young people potentially facing homelessness.

This capacity is growing under this Government. Ms Petrusma launched Eveline House in Devonport which has become the benchmark. We are growing that model now in Burnie and Hobart with the extensions of Thyne House as well and the evolution of that to an Education First Youth Foyer model so that it is more than a roof over kids' heads. There are wraparound services there, support for them to develop life skills and to be engaged with education, so that after their time in those facilities they emerge with a better ability to live independently, a qualification and a reference from a landlord, which helps them when they go out on their own.

Ms O'CONNOR - Doesn't it concern you as Minister for Human Services, across your portfolios from Housing to children, that a choice being made by the Government you are part of not to staff the night court in Launceston with a magistrate or provide legal representation to young people who are disproportionately homeless is extremely adversely impacting on those young people and that a disproportionate number of young people who go into Ashley over the weekend on remand are from the north and the north-west? Doesn't that concern you and what are you going to do about it?

Mr JAENSCH - As I said, those questions are best directed to the Attorney-General regarding the staffing arrangements.

Ms O'CONNOR - What, she can tell us whether or not you are concerned?

CHAIR - Ms O'Connor, the minister is responding.

Ms O'CONNOR - The minister is a world series buck-passer.

Mr JAENSCH - Ms O'Connor, issues about the courts, the legal system and the decision-making are better directed to the portfolio minister.

Ms O'CONNOR - So you're not even prepared to give a view?

Mr JAENSCH - Of course we are concerned but the children who arrive at Ashley are cared for and safe. The services there are available to them and we are building more services and more settings for them specifically, children at risk of homeless outside, and we will do our best. Our concern is great enough that we are doing all of that.

Ms O'CONNOR - Point of order. I need to raise a matter with you, Chair. We have been informed by the Attorney-General and the Department of Justice, on these questions that we have been asking but the minister is referring us to the Attorney-General for, should be put to this minister and this department.

CHAIR - You have made your point but that is not a point of debate in these Estimates.

Ms O'CONNOR - You can't buck-pass to a minister who has already buck-passed to you.

Mr JAENSCH - I do not control the courts.



Ms O'CONNOR - In response to my earlier question about the disproportionately high number of at-risk homeless young people who are sent to Ashley on remand over the weekend by a police prosecutor, or what's called a bench judge which is a JP with a bit of extra training, you sought to refer that question to the Attorney-General and Minister for Justice. We asked the Attorney-General that same question this morning and she referred us to you.

Do you want to try to respond to the issue about a disproportionately high number of at risk homeless young people in the north and the north-west of the state being sent to Ashley over the weekend in the absence of a magistrate at the Launceston Night Court?

Mr JAENSCH - I can't account for and have no jurisdiction over the staffing of night courts or the timing of decisions of police prosecutors or bench judges. When those decisions are made our service receives those kids and makes sure they're safe.

Ms O'CONNOR - This is an issue that goes to the welfare of children and young people which fits under your area of portfolio responsibility. Now that it has been raised with you that a disproportionate number of young people from the north and the north-west are going to Ashley over the weekend for want of a properly qualified magistrate hearing the matters and because they aren't told they're entitled to legal representation. Will you now take this up and address it so that these young people are not being denied justice?

Mr JAENSCH - I am happy to take further advice from my department and from the portfolio ministers in relation to these matters.