The Queensland government’s controversial youth crime laws have been passed in parliament despite strong opposition by human rights advocates and experts who warn they are ineffective and will result in more children incarcerated.
The laws include overriding the state’s Human Rights Act to make breach of bail an offence for children. They will also expand an electronic monitoring trial for children as young as 15 and provide additional funding of $9m to assist victims of crime.
Parliament passed the bill on Thursday night, after three days of debate.
During the debate of the bill, the police minister, Mark Ryan, boasted that “Queensland has some of the strongest, toughest and most comprehensive youth justice laws in the nation”.
He said this had resulted in “more young people detained and for longer periods”.
“This bill builds on those laws to ensure serious repeat youth offenders are held accountable for their actions and that there are swift and serious consequences for criminal offending,” Ryan said.
“This is what Queenslanders expect.”
The opposition leader, David Crisafulli, said the Liberal National party largely supported the changes, such as making breach of bail an offence for children.
The LNP’s push to scrap the principle of detention as a last resort failed as Crisafulli accused the government of misleading the public over maximum penalties for offences such as car theft.
The Greens MP for Maiwar, Michael Berkman, accused the government of driving “a baseless, media-driven response that suspends the Human Rights Act on four occasions to deny children their rights”.
“This is a disgraceful piece of legislation and I hope each and every one of these members of the government feels shame,” he said during the debate.
On Thursday morning the state’s youth justice minister, Leanne Linard, told the ABC the government “has a responsibility to keep the community safe” and did not take the decision to override the state’s Human Rights Act “lightly”.
Linard said the government would invest an extra $100m into frontline services that work with vulnerable families and young people “to change the trajectory of these young people’s lives”.
Her comments came as Guardian Australia reported that a 13-year-old First Nations boy remanded for minor criminal offences was kept in solitary confinement in a Queensland youth detention centre for at least 45 days.
When asked about the case, Linard said the boy had not been kept in his cell during his entire time in detention and that he had been attending programs and interacting with peers and staff.
“I spoke with the department and I believe the [information] the court was provided with … did not provide as fulsome a picture as it could have,” Linard told the ABC.
Linard said the boy “did participate in separation at times” but could not say when or for how long.
Human rights organisations also expressed alarm with the bill passing, saying they worry the laws will harm children.
Mena Waller, the Queensland state director of Save the Children, said “today we have witnessed a serious decline in children’s rights in Queensland”.
“It is deeply disappointing that the state government has proceeded with these new laws, despite repeated warnings from medical, legal and children’s advocates that such extreme measures will only serve to exacerbate the youth justice crisis in the state,” she said.
“We urge the government to reverse this dreadful course and instead focus on what we know works – early intervention, diversion and rehabilitation.”
The Queensland human rights commissioner, Scott McDougall, has previously warned “public anxiety” is “no justification” to suspend the Human Rights Act.
“We do want to preserve the Human Rights Act. We don’t want to set a precedent where the government suspends the Human Rights Act because there is public anxiety,” he told a committee last month.