Motion- Youth Justice

This motion requests that the Government provide new information about issues of very significant concern to many Victorians. In essence the motion asks for that information in two forms. The first is that members of the government provide us with their latest thinking on how they intend to strengthen the security of the state’s youth justice centres between now and the planned opening in 2021 of the Cherry Creek facility. The second is that they release a full version of the 2018 interim evaluation of their youth crime prevention grants (YCPG) program rather than the very abbreviated one that remains the only publicly available version of that report.

I know that the management of individuals in youth detention is an issue that has been debated on a recurring basis for many years in this place. Clearly it is an extremely vexed and difficult problem, no matter which side of politics is in government or whether it is in Victoria or any other part of the world. I completely understand, respect and acknowledge that. In fact it is for that reason that Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party is asking for the two things that we are through this motion, because we hope that a discussion and resolution of each of these two points might help inform improvements to the current arrangements.

In relation to fortifying security and safety at the youth justice centres, it remains very clear that we have two largely overcrowded facilities at Malmsbury and Parkville that are no longer fit for purpose in their current form. Given the limitations on me this afternoon in terms of time I will not delve in extensive detail into the numbers of the despicable ongoing attacks on the custodial officers at those two facilities nor the recent announcement that on the basis of a detainee’s attack on an employee at Malmsbury in 2018 WorkSafe has officially charged the Department of Justice and Community Safety with failing to provide a safe workplace there. However, I will briefly cite the Herald Sun’s recent revelations that at least 60 workers across the centres are now too traumatised and/or injured from assaults on them to return to work. More broadly, according to a report in the Age the CPSU says there were 311 assaults on staff in the first 120 days of this year and that as many as 29 detainee-on-detainee assaults were even reported on a single day in September.

Against that background I am asking through the motion if government members can simply give us all an understanding of what work is currently being done and will continue to be done during this term of Parliament to address these terrible realities. I ask this partly because of an unfortunate chain of events in late September and early October. On 27 September the government issued a media release outlining some changes in its future plans for the operations of the state’s youth justice facilities. This concentrated exclusively on how the Malmsbury and Cherry Creek centres would be used and how Parkville would continue to be used once the construction of Cherry Creek is completed in 2021. Yet within a matter of days after that there was another wave of attacks at Malmsbury and the spectre of staff actually walking off the job on account of safety fears. As trite as this remark possibly sounds, it is abundantly clear that things cannot simply continue as they are and/or that significant changes have been largely placed on hold as we wait for the planned reorganisation of the facilities in 2021. Something more has to be done in the meantime. Victorians also need answers on the public record about what that something is.

That is a basic summary of what the first part of the motion asks. To move to the second request in the motion, about the youth crime prevention grants program, it is the position of Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party that there must always be a strong emphasis in the state’s justice system on the importance of primary prevention and early intervention. On the cause of trying to reduce the number of troubled youths and youth offenders and lowering the numbers of young people in detention, we regard the importance of these two considerations as being paramount.

At least $17 million has already been spent on the YCPG program over a period dating back to 2016. This includes, for example, around $1.4 million on the ReBoot program, which is targeted specifically at children aged from 10 to 14 who have already engaged in low-level offending and/or have a potential for future criminal behaviour. Unfortunately, though—and this was confirmed from an adjournment response that I received from Minister Carroll about ReBoot earlier this year—there does not seem to have yet been a full evaluation of whether this money is being well targeted and well spent in helping to reduce the proclivity to crime among young Victorians.

I am not suggesting that the money is not being used effectively, and I do have very genuine respect for Mr Carroll and think he is sincerely committed to these goals. However, from outside of government it is impossible to know the answer about this expenditure when all that has apparently been completed to date in this sense has been an interim report in October 2018. To add to this picture, the only part of that document that ever appears to have been made public is an excerpt of just two out of the 109 pages. I do accept that there is apparently an ongoing, fuller evaluation being undertaken and hope to see it whenever it is finalised. Again, though, it is unclear if and when this report will ever be made available, and I do think it is critical, even before then and as a matter of urgency, that the Victorian public is given access to far more of the information that is already in the government’s possession about how well this program and all of its individual elements are or are not working. These evaluations lead to the basis of reforms and resources to be applied to support and assist these young people through that crucial early intervention and primary prevention.

If we want to reduce the number of our young people here in Victoria becoming a part of the justice system, we need to do more. We need to do more preventative work on the ground. In this policy area, and in an era in which the challenges of managing youth crime remain especially problematic, it is absolutely critical that we know whether such programs are well focused. Are they fit for purpose? Are they correctly targeted? And are they actually proving to be effective? If they are not, then they need to be replaced. It is as simple as that. They need to be reprogramed. They need to look at other ways to support these young people. And in the meantime I would like to see further commitment to providing the transparency of these reports. I would like to commend this motion to the house.