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April 22, 2024

Qld’s draconian/progressive drug law reforms

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Children are being held in police cells for days and weeks at a time.

Over the border, the Queensland Labor government is behaving so erratically in the sphere of law reform and criminal justice that it is hard to know whether to laugh or cry. 

So, I did both. 

I once read a theory that the closer you get to the equator, the more right-wing and extremist the government becomes. I call it the ‘gone troppo’ hypothesis. 

This model has only been half-proved this month. 

In Queensland, detention centres are full. Dozens of children are being held in police cells for days or weeks at a time. Well over 70 per cent of the detainees are First Nations, 80 per cent have not been convicted of any crime, and on more than 2,800 occasions in the last 12 months solitary confinement was used on children under 14 years. 

Children are being monitored and targeted by police in North Queensland, and it is no surprise that 95 per cent are First Nations. 

And the reaction of the Queensland ALP government? Tougher bail laws inevitably leading to even more young Aboriginal people behind bars. 

With nowhere safe to put them, the children will be held in ‘watch houses’, which essentially means no segregation from adult defendants, no education or rehabilitation, no visitation facilities and no oversight by independent agencies.  

That will make the world a safer place, for sure!  

The new Queensland laws required an overriding of the Human Rights Act for the first time – proudly proclaimed by the police minister. 

So, young people can now be locked up with a new offence of breaching bail – on no more than suspicion that they may breach bail in the future. And the initial gatekeepers of this provision are not the courts – but the police themselves. 

Previously for most offences, police were required to (or ‘must’) consider alternatives to detention. Now it is only ‘may’.

For more offences, there will be a presumption against bail, and ever longer sentences. 

This is a symptom of a system that has run out of alternatives, and those calling for more jail time will never be satisfied. I visited a ‘do-drugs-do-five-years-jail’ jurisdiction in the USA in the 1980s, and the media was calling for even tougher sentences, because this did not solve the drug problem. Such is the unquenchable thirst of shock-jock tabloid reactionaries. 

This tragedy is a knee-jerk reaction to red-neck racist sentiment from the deep north. 

Bob Katter country. 

If governments are judged by how they treat the most oppressed, disadvantaged and disempowered, then the Queensland ALP fails the test. And of course, they say they are being ‘held to ransom by rogue courts and rogue justices’. 

And yet, in the ultimate pea and thimble trick, on the very same day, under the cover of locking up more First Nations kids, the Queensland government announced the most radical and unexpected changes to drug laws in Australian history. 

Under the new legislation, a person found carrying a small amount of any illicit drug for the first time will only be given a warning, while on the second and third occasions, they will be offered a place in a drug diversionary program. 

Only on the fourth apprehension will they need to go to court. And even then, there are other behavioural change and non-conviction alternatives.  

I nearly fell off my decanal chair when I heard the Qld police minister say that the laws have been introduced at the request of the Queensland police. The commissioner apparently proposed the changes, so that her troops could spend more time on serious crime. Gosh!

Not only that, but Murdoch’s Courier Mail – the real power in Queensland – waived the changes through without blushing. Probably because they were too busy trumpeting the oppressive youth bail amendments they had been promoting for months. 

And the joy just kept on coming – Queensland, on the same day, also introduced stationary and mobile pill testing, doing what no other state has had the guts to do, despite judicial and medical support. Inner-city Brisbane and music festivals around the state will be serviced by life-saving teams, who can test drugs for strength and toxicity. Again, despite the expected spluttering of the LNP, and some ‘don’t do drugs’ ignoramuses, the Courier Mail declined to condemn. 

If safety is truly the number one issue for festival organisers in Northern NSW, maybe they will just have to move over the border? 

Or at least threaten to.

The comeuppance is that, in Queensland, fewer people will be locked up for possession of drugs, and more people will be saved from drug overdose, only to be replaced by more traumatised Indigenous young people in paddy-wagons, watch houses, detention centres and eventually adult prisons and early graves. 

So, I am laughing at the concept of Queensland leading the way on drug law reform, against all the odds. I am crying at the thought of abandoning so many younger vulnerable people to the whims of police discretion and racist rhetoric. 

Is the trade-off worth it? 

Well, you be the judge. 

♦ David Heilpern is SCU Dean of Law, and a former magistrate.

Faculty of Business, Law and Arts


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10 COMMENTS

  1. When you handle Black kids as you would White kids, they malfunction. If you treat them as Black kids, aka the way their elders would, leftists scream child abuse because you imagine them to be White kids with a tan, and that treatment would mess up a White kid. So everyone gets treated as if 50,000 years of evolution means nothing and you end up broken kids and broken Aboriginal Adults.

    They need their own nations separate from the Commonwealth to do things the ways that works for them, and don’t you lefties look at how they organise things to work well for them, because you will cry ‘intervention’ just as your ‘colonial church lady’ predecessors did. End forced integration! Let people treat Aboriginals as Aboriginals!

    The drug thing is a separate, and unrelated matter. You are the White supremacist for thinking that they must be White inside – That everyone must be secretly like White people. They are not you – They are them, and it’s OK. They aren’t suppose to be like White people. Nature wanted them to be Aboriginal. Deal with it.

      • We instituted the same apartheid rules against the Papuans in the 60s and they are yet to complain. Once we kicked them out of the Commonwealth they were far less trouble.

        • Yep Christian, having a completely segregated criminal system would be apartheid. Never going to happen. And you are wrong – PNG remains part of the Commonwealth. Same King as us.

          • Mr Heilpern, what is the legal name of the country you live in? What happened September 16, 1975?

    • Holy Bio-essentialism Batman. You’re really arguing for “separate but equal.”

      No codes, no dog whistle, just a pure mask off moment.

      • Being honest and straight forward in the current year is a bit shocking to people. An Aboriginal People’s Republic solves a lot of problems. I’m one of God’s chosen people, so I must be right.

  2. Rather than relying on the handwringing ‘Voice’ to cure all ills, why not invite Koori Elders to attend Qld Courts and let them contribute to sorting out the offenders, using their experience and community power.
    This has been tried elsewhere and had some success.

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