The Ashley Youth Detention Centre and Launceston General Hospital
Ashley Youth Detention Centre and Launceston General Hospital were focuses of a child abuse inquiry. Image by Ethan James/AAP PHOTOS
  • inquiry

Child abuse risk at detention centre ‘live and current’

Ethan James September 27, 2023

Tasmania’s government is still working on a concrete plan to close an embattled youth detention centre where child abuse is described as an active risk, conceding it will take years to shutter the facility.

A final report of an inquiry into state government responses to child sexual abuse allegations has called for the Ashley Youth Detention Centre to be shut as soon as possible.

The inquiry observed a closed culture at the facility, which has operated for about two decades and was previously a boys’ home, that enabled the humiliation and degradation of children.

“We consider child sexual abuse is not merely a historical problem for the centre but remains a live and current risk,” the report released on Tuesday said.

The government in 2021 pledged to shut the centre by the end of 2024.

Minister for Children and Youth Roger Jaensch on Wednesday indicated the centre would be closed in a couple of years.

He said since the 2021 announcement the state had embarked on broader and better youth reforms that would take more time.

Mr Jaensch acknowledged the centre needed to be shut as soon as possible but pointed to mid-2026 as “reasonable”.

He said he was committed to delivering a concrete timeline for the delivery of facilities to replace Ashley.

“It’ll be concrete by virtue of being a timeline for an actual project … not a political arbitrary date in the future,” he told state parliament.

Tasmanian Premier Jeremy Rockliff has said if the state had the capacity to close the centre immediately, it would.

” … these young people need to have somewhere that keeps both them and the community safe and where they can access learning and therapeutic supports,” he said.

“If there were immediate alternatives to Ashley available today, we would be taking them.”

There were calls during the inquiry’s public hearings in 2022 for the centre to be immediately closed, including from human rights group Amnesty International.

The inquiry’s report said excessive use of force against children was a “longstanding” method used by some Ashley staff.

It said since at least the early 2000s, the use of isolation as behaviour management, punishment or cruelty contrary to the law had been a regular and persistent practice at the centre.

The government is providing an extra $5 million in 2023/24 to ensure the safety of detainees and is installing more CCTV camera to cover black spots.

State parliament was told there are 11 detainees at the centre, with 10 of those on remand.

The government on Tuesday announced the preferred site for the new more-therapeutic centre was Pontville in the state’s south.

The inquiry found failings across state government institutions, including the Launceston General Hospital, in responding to allegations and instances of abuse.

It made 191 recommendations which the government had pledged to adopt.

The inquiry said there had not been a comprehensive review of all information relating to child sexual abuse allegations held by the Department for Education, Children and Young People.

“As a result, we are concerned that there may still be people working with children who are the subject of child sexual abuse allegations who have not been investigated,” the report said.

Mr Rockliff didn’t confirm whether such a review had started, saying uncovering allegations was an ongoing process.

1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732)

National Sexual Abuse and Redress Support Service 1800 211 028