Alleged abuse at youth detention centres: D’Ath orders independent review

CCTV images appear to show a teenager with ankle-cuffs being held down at the Townsville centre. Photo: SuppliedQueensland Attorney-General Yvette D’Ath has ordered an independent review into the state’s youth detention centres after released internal government reports show the alleged mistreatment of children.

The government’s Ethical Standards unit quarterly reports from Queensland’s two youth detention centres, Cleveland Youth Detention Centre and Brisbane Youth Detention Centre, dated between 2010 to 2015, were released under Freedom of Information laws on Thursday.

Within the reports were allegations of the mistreatment of children, including CCTV images showing a teenage boy, 17, handcuffed and ankle-cuffed, being restrained on the floor by five guards before being allegedly carried into an isolation cell where his clothes were cut off.

Amnesty International, which obtained the 1000-page documents, said the reports showed a “culture of abuse and secrecy going back many years”.

While calls have been made to have Queensland’s youth detention centres included in the Royal Commission into Youth Detention in the Northern Territory, Ms D’Ath said the situations in the state and territory were different.

“The images are confronting, but it is important to note these images were contained in an Ethical Standards unit report that is provided quarterly where recommendations are made and actions are taken on an ongoing basis,” she said.

“This is not a situation like the Northern Territory where concerns were raised and potentially no action taken, or views were expressed where things were hidden.

“I have confidence in our system and in our youth justice system, but I need to make sure the community has confidence in our system and the best way to do that is to have an independent review.

“These are serious allegations that affect our community, that damages the reputation and the confidence that the committee has in our youth detention centres and it affects the staff who operate in these centres.

“I believe it would be damaging to allow these allegations to continue to be made and not to be able to respond to them which is why I am conducting an independent review.”

Amnesty International welcomed the independent review, but called for any staff involved in any alleged mistreatment to be suspended.

“As a first priority, Amnesty International urged the Queensland government to ensure the safety of all children currently in detention, including suspending any staff alleged to have been involved in abuses,” a statement read.

Amnesty International Indigenous rights campaigner Roxanne Moore called on the Queensland government to learn from the process of establishing the Northern Territory royal commission when setting up the terms of reference for the review.

“The abuse of children in detention is an issue that has lurked under a cloak of secrecy for many years, under successive Queensland governments, and we welcome the Queensland government’s swift response,” she said.

Ms D’Ath said she could not comment on any specific incidents but said some staff had been dismissed.

“What is important and what the people of Queensland expect from us is where an employee uses force inappropriately, or unauthorised force or excessive force, that it is reported, that it is investigated and that action is taken,” she said.

“We have zero tolerance to excessive force and, as we have said, staff have been terminated for inappropriate behaviour in the past and we will continue to do that.

“Without the express consent of those individuals involved, including any former employees who were terminated, I am unable to address in any meaningful way the substance of these allegations.

“It is clear that while these allegations continue to be made and consent has not been provided to respond to them fully, an independent review is the appropriate mechanism to address all allegations that have been made and any additional allegations that may come forward.”

Ms D’Ath said she was looking for two people, a man and woman, to head the investigation who would have a detailed knowledge of the youth justice system, cultural awareness of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander experience and legal knowledge.

“The government will shortly release the full terms of reference for the review, but the focus will firmly be on the practices, operation and oversight of Queensland’s youth detention centres, specifically referring to the allegations raised last night,” she said.

“The review will report back to me by November.”

Queensland Council for Civil Liberties president Michael Cope said more could be done to make sure youth detention was the last resort.

“Early intervention programs offer one avenue for reducing the prison population overall,” he said.

“There is good evidence that treatment of drug dependence is an effective way of reducing reoffending.

“There is also good evidence that it is possible to rehabilitate offenders using methods such as conferencing, cognitive behavioural therapy or training in basic life skills.

“We accept that detention may be needed in some cases, but they are a very small minority of those who are detained at present.”

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Most comprehensive booze injury study ever undertaken in Australia

Crowds in Brisbane’s Fortitude Valley on a weekend. Photo: AFRAs debate about lockout laws continues, researchers from across Australia are working on the most comprehensive studies ever conducted into reducing alcohol-related injuries.

They’ll examine closing times, preloading, education, policing, ID scanning, patron banning and a host of other option in research stretching for four years.

The health experts started gathering early data at the beginning of this year but weren’t expecting to have initial results available until early next year.

Respected sociologist Professor Peter Miller is leading the research along with researchers from James Cook University, the universities of Queensland and Newcastle and several others.

They’re looking at prevention strategies from 11 different angles, including economic impact, foot traffic, patron experiences and hospital and police data

“This is going to be undoubtedly and by far the biggest and most comprehensive study of this type,” Professor Miller said.

Previous studies pointed overwhelmingly to a reduction in trading hours resulting in a reduction in harm to late-night revellers.

But the hotel industry raised concerns new laws introduced in Queensland would devastate the late-night economy in nightspots such as Fortitude Valley.

Six weeks on from the Palaszczuk government winding back closing hours to 2am (3am in entertainment precincts) and banning shots and other “rapid intoxication drinks” after midnight the effect was still impossible to judge, according to Professor Miller.

Completely anecdotally, police said assaults appeared to have gone down after a couple of weeks and hoteliers said takings were down in the first weekend.

When asked how much stock could be put in those assessments, Professor Miller was straight to the point: “None”.

The Deakin University Professor of Violence Prevention and Addiction Studies said he expected it would take six months at a bare minimum to see any meaningful trends emerge post law change.

“We see that change takes time,” he said.

“People don’t immediately change what they do and certainly we’ve been out interviewing for a while and we saw quite a few people pushing back and those people are purposely not changing their behaviour.”

His team began gathering data on the night-time economy – things like foot traffic and patronage – in January, with the study beginning in earnest mid-year.

“We’re out on the streets talking (to people) about their perceptions,” he said.

“We’re going to be doing web-based studies into people’s’ experience and of course, all of the hard data, all of the core stuff around assaults and deaths and injuries and ambulance attendances.”

He expected an interim report to be available in September or October next year.

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West End not-for-profit Mu’ooz could expand interstate

Saba Abraham has trained more than 140 people through her West End restaurant, Mu’ooz. Photo: Bradley KanarisSaba Abrahams knows a thing or two about the troubles refugees can face as they adapt to life in Australia.

Almost a quarter-century ago, Ms Abraham fled Eritrea, in the midst of a bloody battle for independence with neighbouring Ethiopia.

She had found herself on the wrong side of the authorities and came to Australia as a political refugee in 1992.

And while she has found a safe haven, Ms Abraham never forgot her past.

That was why, through her West End not-for-profit restaurant Mu’ooz, she had helped more than 140 people, mostly refugees, receive training, education and employment to make the most of their opportunities in Australia.

And now, Ms Abraham is looking at expanding interstate.

“We try to help a lot of people, including some Australians who have some difficulty in their lives – they might be homeless people, for example,” she said.

“I try to talk to them, find out their problems and try to give them hope and, of course, at the same time I feed them.”

Ms Abraham said she had been in touch with women in Canberra, Sydney and Perth about extending her foundation to those cities.

“My dream is these restaurants will be sustainable and grow not only but interstate as well, because there are a lot of women who can benefit from this foundation,” she said.

Ms Abraham opened Mu’ooz in 2008 and has offered hospitality and language courses, traineeships and employment to needy women since.

Most recently, Ms Abraham employed and trained 18 women from Eritrea, Burundi, Congo, Fiji and other backgrounds in Certificates I, II and III in Hospitality at Mu’ooz.

The restaurant name came from Ms Abraham’s native tongue.

“In the Eritrean tradition, when you eat food and you really feel good about it, you say ‘oh wow that’s mu’ooz’, which means it’s something really tasty and your body’s accepting it as well,” she said.

Ms Abraham’s story was part of a State Library of Queensland exhibition, Tradition NOW, which showcased 12 diverse Queenslanders through objects, photographs, art and memories – an involvement she was thrilled with.

“I really feel great, very happy and very valued,” she said.

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Science on a soapbox comes to King George Square

Doctor Megan Saunders spoke about how rising sea levels will change coastal conditions. Photo: Robert Shakespeare Professor Vickie Clifton from the Mater Medical Research Institute discussing the effects of stress in the womb. Photo: Robert Shakespeare

In the age before mass communication, standing atop a soapbox in public places was one way the citizenry was able to make a point to an audience.

In the post-digital age, women at the cutting edge of technology are going back to 19th century methodology to talk science and challenge gender stereotypes.

Soapbox Science co-organiser Alienor Chauvenet said it was all about demystifying science and, importantly, bringing it to the people.

And Dr Chauvenet said she had no trouble finding volunteers to spend their Saturday afternoons on a King George Square soapbox, even with the threatening grey skies.

“We have 12 speakers today and we had 57 applicants,” she said.

“So 57 women said ‘this is a new event, I’ve never heard of it before, and I want to get on a soapbox and take my science to the public; to tell them what I do and show them that scientists are quite diverse’.

“So no, it’s actually very easy to convince people to do it.”

Dr Chauvenet said Soapbox Science started in 2011 at Speakers’ Corner at Hyde Park in London.

“Every year since then, 12 women scientists were selected to get on soapboxes,” she said.

“I was in London as a volunteer for two of those events and, when I moved to Australia, we agreed I would bring it here.”

Soapbox Science had proven popular in London, Dr Chauvenet said, and she hoped to see that success replicated in Brisbane.

“Usually, we’d get between 2000 and 15,000 people walking through the event and so it’s quite a big crowd,” she said.

“From conducting a few surveys, we know that people tend to stay for a few minutes and families stay a bit longer.

“There has only been positive feedback – there has been absolutely no negative feedback – so I’m hoping for the same thing in Australia.”

Dr Chauvenet said the hardest thing about organising the first Soapbox Science event in the southern hemisphere was whittling down the speakers.

“We looked at trying to get a diverse range of subjects, because this represents science,” she said

“So we went for a range of subjects and a range of career stages.

“We have professors, lecturers, postdoctoral fellows and PhD students, so we tried to represent a good mix of things.

“We could have picked another 12 women and it would have been just as great.”

There were four soapboxes in King George Square, with each speaker having one hour to speak about her research over the three-hour event.

Within minutes of the first speakers getting on their soapboxes, a small crowd was already starting to stop and see what was going on.

For Dr Chauvenet, that was a welcome early sign.

“It’s great, isn’t it,” she said.

“It’s about bringing science to the people and showcasing the diversity of scientists we have in Australia.”

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Victorian weather: Ski fields receive dumping of snow as Melbourne faces wet week ahead

Early morning at Mount Hotham on Sunday. Photo: Karl Gray Wrapped up: A girl and her dogs run along the pier in Williamstown on Sunday. Photo: Jason South

Victoria’s ski fields received a dumping of snow over the weekend, to the delight of those venturing to the mountains to catch the end of winter.

On Sunday morning Mount Hotham had about 113 centimetres of  “very good” snow cover, with 85 centimetres at Mount Buller. Mount Baw Baw had about 11 centimetres, Buffalo 13 and Dinner Plain 12.

Bureau of Meteorology duty forecaster Dean Stewart said the ski fields would get more snow in coming days.

“It appears they’ve all had reasonable dumpings of snow over the last 24 hours. Mount Buller received a fairly good amount and there will be further snow showers up there tomorrow. It will be pretty isolated if anything on Tuesday, but then there will be further snow showers Wednesday and even into Thursday and Friday as well – not huge dumps on any particular day but some scattered snow showers up in that area.”

Winter certainly isn’t over yet. Melburnians should prepare for a wet working week ahead; rain is predicted for most days bar Tuesday.

“There will be passing showers today, tomorrow, and further showers Wednesday, Thursday and Friday,” Mr Stewart said on Sunday.

“The temperatures will sit around the mid-teens this week, so we’re back to very wintry weather.

A weak trough of low pressure moving across Victoria could bring thunderstorms to Melbourne on Monday, he said.

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