A bipartisan committee set out to end Queensland’s politicisation of youth crime. It failed spectacularly

<span>Queensland independent MP Sandy Bolton chaired the parliamentary committee on youth justice, which has collapsed after Labor and LNP members could not come to agreement.</span><span>Photograph: Russell Freeman/AAP</span>
Queensland independent MP Sandy Bolton chaired the parliamentary committee on youth justice, which has collapsed after Labor and LNP members could not come to agreement.Photograph: Russell Freeman/AAP

Queensland’s only independent state MP, Sandy Bolton, had high hopes last October when she was made chair of a parliamentary committee tasked with coming up with solutions on youth crime.

It was the first parliamentary committee to be independently chaired in more than two decades, and Bolton hoped it would stymie the politicisation of the issue by taking “a collaborative and bipartisan approach” that would lead to “constructive solutions”.

But after 26 meetings, 13 public hearings and hundreds of submissions, the youth justice reform select committee still could not come to an agreement. And on Wednesday night, it finally collapsed.

Related: Queensland government accused of failing to provide adequate schooling to locked up children

Bolton told parliament her position as chair was “untenable” despite her attempts to work “patiently, impartially, respectfully and collaboratively” with both Liberal National party and Labor members.

“This has been an incredibly difficult environment, heightened by the media and the politicking with the upcoming election,” she said.

The committee’s interim report was finally tabled on Thursday after the Labor government compelled its release while claiming the LNP had attempted to block it from being published after three LNP members of the committee refused to sign off on it.

The LNP committee member Laura Gerber said her party could not support a report that “gagged the media”. She claimed Labor had attempted to do so by recommending the government look into the impacts of media and social media reporting on crime.

The deputy chair of the committee, Labor MP Jonty Bush, rejected Gerber’s comments and said her party recommended greater transparency and opening up the courts to victims and the media.

Gerber also claimed Labor voted down its policy to remove detention as a last resort from the Youth Justice Act.

‘Chest beating and political point scoring’

Queensland’s human rights commissioner, Scott McDougall, said it was “disappointing” a “bipartisan, evidence-based approach” had been lost at the “expense” of the rights of children and the safety of the community.

“It’s a real blow to Queensland’s prospects of meaningfully addressing the underlying causes of youth offending.”

The chief executive of the Youth Advocacy Centre, Katherine Hayes, said her organisation was “very disappointed that the select committee has degenerated into a squabble”.

“The Queensland government and the opposition have both failed to make the community safe by failing to finalise this report.”

Hayes praised some recommendations in the report, including the proper resourcing of the courts and detention centres, rethinking the use of watch houses and establishing youth Murri courts.

“There are over 350 kids in custody today who urgently needed the Queensland government to implement some of these excellent recommendations,” she said.

The Queensland Council of Social Service chief executive, Aimee McVeigh, said “the last thing Queenslanders want to see right now is chest beating and political point scoring”.

“We need politicians to do their job and produce long-term solutions for the sake of our children and for the safety and wellbeing of all Queensland communities.”

Genevieve Sinclair, the chief executive of Youth Empowered Towards Independence (Yeti), said Queensland was in a “race to the bottom” on youth crime.

“We are going to have a death in custody of a child in Queensland that absolutely should not happen,” she said.

“Watch houses in places like Cairns, Mt Isa and Townsville cannot cope with the demands and this is a missed opportunity to implement what we know and is evidenced will work.”

The Greens MP Michael Berkman accused the major parties of using youth justice “as a political football”.

“They’ve turned real people’s lives into a pantomime of finger-pointing and media stunts, and it’s real people who are suffering the consequences,” Berkman said.

“The root causes go unaddressed, offending gets worse, and more children are locked in the cycle of criminalisation while these politicians bicker.”

What was in the report?

The interim report recommended the state government immediately review the Youth Justice Act to determine “whether the central principle of community safety is being overshadowed by the principle of detention as a last resort”.

Other recommendations included the implementation of weekly or real-time data on children in watch houses and for an immediate investigation on the alternative options to watch houses and detention centre for kids with significant mental health conditions and/or disabilities.

The report also recommended the establishment of a code of practice for the management of children in watch houses, clear and enforceable limits on “separations” – a term for solitary confinement – at youth detention centres and strategies for the centres to be sufficiently staffed.

The premier, Steven Miles, said his government had not had time to consider the recommendations and has yet to commit to implementing them.

Additional reporting by Andrew Messenger.