New laws introduced in State Parliament today will pave the way for the United Nations Subcommittee on the Prevention of Torture to conduct independent visits and monitor all Queensland places of detention.
The Queensland Government today belatedly provided the legislative framework – the Monitoring of Places of Detention (Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture) Bill 2022 – to allow the UN Subcommittee to attend places of detention under the protocol (OPCAT).
It comes a month after the UN Subcommittee abandoned a tour of Queensland places of detention when it was refused access to mental health facilities used to detain people on remand for alleged crimes.
It also comes on the same day that a forum hosted by the Queensland Human Rights Commission (QHRC) and Public Advocate in Brisbane called on government to prioritise implementation of these measures.
More than 120 people from government and civil society attended the full-day Queensland OPCAT Forum at Kangaroo Point’s Queensland Multicultural Centre to discuss the implementation of the protocol throughout the state.
Human Rights Commissioner Scott McDougall, who opened the forum, said the recent suspension of UN Subcommittee’s visit of Queensland detention facilities was a “seriously embarrassing event” for both Queensland and Australia.
“It was truly a serious embarrassment and a poor reflection on the defending of human rights in Queensland,” Mr McDougall told the forum.
After hearing of the Government’s introduction of the Bill, but McDougall welcomed the announcement.
“While we’re glad to see legislation introduced to State Parliament today to resolve the apparent issue with allowing UN inspectors access to Queensland mental health wards, it should have been done earlier to avoid what is now unfortunately an international embarrassment.
“As a human rights jurisdiction it is deeply disappointing for Queensland to be lagging so far behind other jurisdictions in terms of our implementation of critical international obligations.
“Queensland, along with the rest of the country, needs to prioritise independent inspectorates – and not just legislated, but with a commencement date in sight – and oversight of all places of detention. That includes not only prisons, youth detention centres and police watch houses, but also mental health wards, disability homes, and state-run aged care services.
“Many of our places of detention are responsible for housing and treating people with multiple and complex support needs, and their rehabilitation is a critical part of the work of those places.
“Making sure they are working as humanely and effectively as possible helps make those facilities safer as well as our broader community.”
Attorney-General and Minister for Justice Shannon Fentiman said today the Bill would ensure Queensland could provide unhindered access for the UN Subcommittee.
Ms Fentiman said: “The Bill will remove the legislative barriers that prevented the UN Subcommittee from physically accessing in-patient units of authorised mental health services and the Forensic Disability Service during its recent visit to Australia.
“In addition, the Bill makes provisions for the UN Subcommittee to not only visit places of detention in Queensland but also to access information and conduct interviews in accordance with its OPCAT duties.
“(It) also allows the UN Subcommittee to interview detainees and other people at the place of detention in private.
“Safeguards are provided in the Bill to protect the privacy and protect against reprisals for assisting the UN Subcommittee.”
During the Queensland OPCAT forum, attendees discussed a myriad deficiencies in the implementation of the agreement so far.
- Independent oversight of prisons, youth detention centres and police watch houses has been legislated by the Inspector of Detention Services Act 2022, but there’s no commencement date as yet for this.
- Mental health facilities and disability homes are also places of detention, but aren’t covered by that Act and it’s unclear what the plan is to introduce independent inspections for these facilities.
- That the Queensland Government has only 50-days left to comply with its commitment to allow for future UN SPT visits to these facilities in January 2023.
Other dignitaries speak to the OPCAT forum in Brisbane included Australian Human Rights Commissioner Lorraine Finlay, Commonwealth Ombudsman Iain Anderson and Disability Discrimination Commission spokesperson Sophia Rinaldis.
The day included a civil society forum hosted by Steven Caruana (Australia OPCAT Network), Helen Blaber (Prisoners Legal Service), Deb Kilroy (Sisters Inside), Shane Duffy (ATSILS) Mali Hermans (First People Disability Network), Vanessa Krulin (Aged and Disability Advocacy) and Matilda Alexander (QAI).