The Queensland Labor government has strengthened the powers of police and the courts. Many of the new laws, announced in late December, target juvenile offenders. They include raising the maximum penalty for stealing a car to ten years imprisonment, building two new youth detention centres and increasing the scope for courts to impose tracking devices on youth detainees.
The announcement followed a historic increase in police funding in 2020 and the abolition of the presumption of bail for certain youth detainees in 2021. Last year, Queensland Labor voted against a bill, moved by the Greens, to raise the minimum age of criminal incarceration from ten to fourteen.
Queensland’s prison population has grown by nearly 70 percent in the last decade, with the poor and oppressed copping the worst of it. Most prisoners face the prospect of homelessness on release, and one in three live with a disability. Inequality is worst in youth detention. Queensland locks up more young people than any other Australian state, and 62 percent of youth detainees are Indigenous.
Labor has repeatedly provided the police and magistrates with resources and political license to lock people up, despite revelations of abuse in Queensland’s criminal justice system.
The 2019 “Watch House Files”, aired by the ABC’s Four Corners program, exposed widespread practices of incarcerating youth detainees in adult prisons—including instances of placing young girls with adult sex offenders. Last year’s follow up report showed that this practice has continued.
The bolstering of police powers is particularly egregious considering recent inquiries and whistle-blower leaks revealing extreme misogyny, far-right attitudes and racism within the Queensland Police Service.
A government-commissioned inquiry released a damning report into Queensland police responses to domestic and family violence, A Call for Change, in November. A significant portion of the inquiry was based on interviews with victim-survivors of domestic violence, as well as hundreds of current and former Queensland Police members.
The report revealed that Queensland Police members widely expressed a misogynistic view typical of the far right: that the oppression of women is an invention of the left. The Queensland Police Union condemned the inquiry as “woke” and labelled women’s organisations the “DV [domestic violence] industry”. Many cops believe that women commonly fabricate domestic violence claims out of jealousy or revenge against male partners or invent accusations of rape as an alternative to launching child custody cases in the Family Court.
Unsurprisingly, Queensland Police members were revealed to have behaved in appalling ways towards women seeking help. One anonymous respondent, a former Queensland Police member, described:
“Police officers would use derogatory names and make degrading comments and jokes about the clients. These included statements such as ‘she’s just a druggie slut’, ‘she doesn’t deserve to have these children’. The most common reference was ‘grub’. In responding to domestic violence, I’ve had police officers say, ‘she’s just a filthy grub trying to get back at him and this is a waste of our time’.”
A former police officer recalled a senior detective labelling a statement provided by a female rape victim a “struggle-cuddle” and said: “It’s not a good rape unless you get [an erection] whilst reading it”.
Alongside the official inquiry, several whistle-blowers provided the Guardian with examples of racist and anti-protest attitudes, including using racial slurs, wanting to injure Extinction Rebellion protesters in 2019, and railing against local Greens councillor Jonathan Sriranganathan.
The inquiry recommended introducing special training protocols, reporting mechanisms and diverse hiring practice to combat the bigotry within police service. But these revelations are not simply products of poor HR methods; they stem directly from the core function of the police as violent enforcers of an unequal status quo. To maintain the law and order of capitalism—a system based on inequality and oppression—the police have to accept the values of the society they are tasked with defending.
The police operate with impunity, confident that no matter how many allegations of obscene behaviour come to light, they can be assured of funding increases and a thumbs up from whoever is in government. If the police know they can kill and get away with it (no police officer has ever been convicted of murdering an Indigenous person in Australia) what is to stop them expressing prejudice?
The Queensland Police Service and Queensland Premier Anastasia Palaszczuk refused even symbolic admissions of wrongdoing in response to the Call to Change inquiry. Palaszczuk rejected calls for the resignation of Queensland Police Commissioner Katarina Carroll, who strenuously denied the existence of widespread misogyny within her force.
Some argued that Carroll should not lose her position as Queensland’s first female police commissioner because she can’t be held responsible for “inherited” misogyny. But one former female police officer told the inquiry: “We all hoped a female commissioner would have changed the culture, sadly this hasn’t happened”.
Instead, Palaszczuk has affirmed that the Queensland government is happy for the police to continue in this way and has indeed given them greater ability to do so.
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