Queensland Law Society has voiced concern on “increasingly short timeframes” for making submissions on proposed significant changes to the law.
The society was one of several stakeholders to raise this concern in response to a Government call for feedback on a raft of proposed changes in the Corrective Services (Emerging Technologies and Security) Amendment Bill 2022 (the Bill).
The Bill was introduced in Parliament on 29 November and two days later referred to the parliamentary Education, Employment and Training Committee for consideration and report by 10 February 2023.
The reforms include change to 10 state Acts, including the Youth Justice Act 1992, Corrective Services Act 2006 and Regulation 2017, Penalties and Sentences Act 1992, Police Powers and Responsibilities Act 2000, Public Guardian Act 2014 and Mental Health Act 2016.
The Government called for submissions on the Bill on 6 December 2022 with a response deadline of 11 January.
QLS responded to the call on 22 December, with outgoing 2022 President Kara Thomson raising concerns about ongoing insufficient timeframes being given by the Government for stakeholders to comment on important law changes.
Other organisations to raise similar concerns included the Office of the Public Guardian (OPG) and Prisoners’ Legal Service (PLS).
Ms Thomson, in a 12-page QLS submission, said: “At the outset, we are concerned with continually short timeframes to respond to important legislation, and in particular consultation over the end-of-year break.
“The reforms proposed in the Bill are significant and will have wide-ranging implications for Queenslanders.
“This is an inappropriate time of year to conduct such significant consultation and the timeframe provided is inadequate. It is in all our best interests to ensure proposed laws work as effectively and efficiently as possible, and this requires meaningful and robust consultation with stakeholders.
“Short consultations held during the Christmas and New Year shutdown period will not yield the best legislation for the people of Queensland.”
OPG Deputy Nicholas Dwyer, in his 11 January submission, said their office was not even consulted about the amendments.
“I would like it noted that the Office of the Public Guardian (OPG) was not consulted on the proposed amendments to the Youth Justice Act 1992 or the Public Guardian Act 2014 included in the Bill,” Mr Dwyer said.
“This is concerning given the proposed amendments significantly impact OPG’s community visitor program by expanding our legislative remit to include temporary detention centres.
“OPG plays important oversight role in independently monitoring the standard of care provided to children and young people in Queensland’s youth detention centres, and any expansion of our functions must be a consideration when proposing changes to our overarching legislation.”
PLS Director and Principal Solicitor Helen Blaber said: “Due to the short time available to respond to the Bill, PLS is unable to prepare comprehensive written submissions on the topics that we consider require further attention.
“To ensure these concerns are ventilated, we would appreciate the opportunity to appear at the Parliamentary Committee hearing.”
According to the Government’s briefing paper, the objectives of the Bill are to:
- Modernise how corrective services facilities and youth detention centres respond to emergencies that threaten the health and safety of people within them.
- Respond to new security risks by criminalising the use of drones over corrective services facilities and youth detention centres, as well as entry onto their rooftops and other restricted areas.
- Provide clear authority to use x-ray body scanners, closed circuit television, body-worn cameras and other emerging technologies to maintain safety and security in correctional environments.
- Promote prisoner health and wellbeing, and support frontline service delivery and interagency collaboration, by facilitating greater information sharing.
- Update the prisoner security classification framework to better align with corrective services facility infrastructure and appropriately respond to risk.
- Clarify sentence calculation issues, enable the effective operation of the Official Visitor Scheme, and support the delivery of prisoner health services provided by Queensland Health by updating outdated terminology within the Corrective Services Act 2006.
The Government has received 14 submissions ahead of a scheduled public parliamentary committee hearings on Monday 23 January.
Other stakeholders to raise a number of other concerns about the Bill include the Australian Psychological Society, women’s prisoner advocacy group Sisters Inside, Queensland Teacher’s Union, Queensland Nurses and Midwives Union, Australian Workers’ Union, Together Queensland and Dr Brendan Walker-Munro – a University of Queensland (UQ) research fellow.
Dr Walker-Munro, who clarified his submission was based on his personal views and not those of UQ or the TC Beirne School of Law, said: “I believe that the Bill addresses some of the policy concerns which it sets out to achieve, but that the objectives of the legislation could be fulfilled with more proportionality and less intrusive impacts on prisoners’ human rights.”
The concerns raised on inadequate stakeholder consultation come less than three weeks after Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk announced a number new law changes within days of reported community outrage after the alleged stabbing death of a mother by two juveniles on Brisbane’s northern outskirts on Boxing Day.