The Queensland government has come under heavy criticism after it announced new criminal penalties that mean children could face up to 10 years in prison for car theft.
The premier, Annastacia Palaszczuk, unveiled the measures on Thursday after two teenagers were charged with the murder of North Lakes woman Emma Lovell, sending out a press release headed “Tough laws made even tougher”.
In 2021 the Palaszczuk government introduced changes to strengthen anti-hooning laws, trial GPS tracking for youths as young as 16 and reverse the presumption of bail for serious offences.
The new measures include a maximum of 10 years for car theft, a maximum 14-year penalty for violent offences or crimes committed at night and increased penalties for criminals who boast about their offences on social media.
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Palaszczuk said “a lot of people aren’t going to like” the new measures, which also included the construction of two youth detention facilities and extreme high-visibility police patrols.
Maggie Munn, an Indigenous rights campaigner for Amnesty International Australia, said further penalties would disproportionately affect First Nations people.
“This is not what commitment to justice looks like; this is what failing our children looks like,” Munn told Guardian Australia.
“More than half of the kids in detention on remand are [from] First Nations and the government wants to fast-track their sentences.
“[These changes] will not address any of the causes of problematic behaviour but rather increase the likelihood of arrests and contact with the criminal legal system.”
Monique Hurley, the managing lawyer at the Human Rights Law Centre, said building more prisons would not improve community safety.
“There is an abundance of evidence that kneejerk responses only serve to turbocharge injustice by pipelining and trapping more children in prisons,” she said.
The Justice Reform Initiative also condemned the measures, noting Queensland already imprisoned more children per capita than any other state or territory.
Its executive director, Mindy Sotiri, said: “Tough-on-crime approaches might be politically popular in the short term but will not deliver results. Queensland needs a smart approach to genuinely address crime and improve community safety.”
The Greens federal MP for Brisbane, Stephen Bates, said on Twitter any punitive measures would be “ineffective” unless the root causes of crime were addressed.
But others said the policies didn’t go far enough.
A petition has amassed more than 86,000 signatures calling for violent home invaders who have repeatedly offended or used weapons not to be allowed out on bail.
The deputy opposition leader, Jarrod Bleijie, said the government had failed to curb youth crime.
“Why on earth did the premier not take the opportunity yesterday to reintroduce … breach of bail as an offence?” Bleijie said on Friday. “The one thing the community are calling for.
“This is a failure of leadership. It is a failure of legislation.”
The government has staunchly defended the measures. On Thursday the police minister, Mark Ryan, said his government would “never stop looking for innovative new ways to target wrongdoers”.
“Tougher penalties, elevated surveillance and a concentrated ‘extreme’ police visibility in strategic locations at certain times will help disrupt the illegal activities of those who wish to do harm to the community.”
The minister for youth justice, Leanne Linard, said: “The community is deeply concerned about the actions of young repeat violent offenders – and rightly so.”
She stressed the measures would “strike a balance between dealing with serious repeat offenders and stopping or slowing emerging offending behaviour among other young people”.
“This is not a one-size-fits-all problem and the government has not proposed a one-size-fits-all solution,” Linard said.
“This is why we are also investing heavily in programs and services to break the cycle of youth crime and prevent more young people from offending in the first place.”