Today’s the day. You probably will have seen and heard considerable media coverage about ‘OPCAT’ (the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture, and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment) supposedly going live in Australia today. This commits Australia to preventive human rights obligations for people held in all forms of detention (for children and young people this includes youth justice facilities, police and court cells as well as secure facilities in the care, health, mental health and other sectors).
I have signed this Joint Statement with other oversight bodies to mark OPCAT’s formal commencement. Unfortunately, the ongoing tug of war between the Commonwealth and State/Territory governments about funding means that I am unable to implement the new functions. It is regrettable that we cannot yet say that we’ve maintained faith with the community with respect to protections for vulnerable fellow citizens deprived of liberty. I need legislation and resources to do this work and have been left wanting.
OPCAT will and must complement existing protections for vulnerable children and young people such as those I deliver through my roles as Guardian, Training Centre Visitor, Community Visitor (in residential care) and Youth Treatment Orders Visitor.
Delivery of an internationally benchmarked preventive human/child rights function in collaboration with civil society will be a substantial achievement. Enabling this properly is a challenge that our governments must address soon.
This is a massive job that Commonwealth and State governments have been talking about for over five years. It’s time to stop talking and just get on with the job.