29 August 2019

Bimberi incident proves youth justice centre needs urgent attention

| Elizabeth Kikkert MLA
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Canberrans deserve a transparent and independent investigation into the Bimberi incident, Elizabeth Kikkert says. Photo: Region Media.

A ‘major incident’ at Bimberi Youth Justice Centre Monday evening, 26 August, resulted in seven staff being taken to hospital, triggering the second ambulance bypass at Canberra Hospital this month. Police intervention was necessary to restore order to the detention centre.

This will have been a deeply traumatising event for the staff involved. It is important to remember that it will also have caused trauma to the young detainees who were not directly involved – most of whom, based on recent data, are probably in the centre on remand and not because they are serving custodial sentences.

The United Nations Rules for the Protection of Juveniles Deprived of Their Liberty require that young people be protected from harmful influences and risk situations. As I stated in the Assembly exactly two years ago, ‘The sole purpose of a youth detention centre is to rehabilitate young people. Exposing them to trauma whilst detained will only result in their returning to our community more broken than they were when they first went in’.

The Canberra Liberals worry about the safety and welfare of both staff and detainees at the Bimberi Youth Justice Centre. The ACT Government has serious questions to answer regarding this latest incident.

In its wake, the Community and Public Sector Union raised issues around training, noting that Bimberi staff have been ‘crying out for more’. This statement reflects concerns that I have repeatedly raised over recent years regarding the provision of adequate training for staff, who do challenging work in this important facility.

A 2016 report jointly authored by the Australian Children’s Commissioners and Guardians identified factors that greatly reduce the likelihood of major incidents occurring in places of youth detention. Primary ones are adequate staffing levels, staff retention, and comprehensive training, including training in the appropriate use of force.

Unfortunately, these are all provisions that the ACT Government has struggled to deliver in recent years.

I am relieved that an independent investigator will oversee the review into this latest incident and that his report will be made public. People have raised concerns with me about how investigations of past incidents have been handled.

I expect the government to make sure that this investigation is a model of procedural fairness and transparency. Nothing less will do.

Elizabeth Kikkert is the Shadow Minister for Families, Youth and Community Services.

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