The Queensland Government’s announcement on Wednesday, 16 June 2021 that child killers and people who commit multiple murders will be blocked from applying for parole for up to a further 10 more years after their current parole eligibility date is an extraordinary proposal. It represents a significant interference with the due process and procedural fairness principles of Queensland’s criminal justice system.

The catalyst for this change appears to be Barry Watts who has served 34 years for the appalling, utterly disgusting and despicable rape and murder of 12 year old Sian Kingi at Noosa in 1987. While it is totally understandable that the family and community of Sian Kingi would advocate for such a reform, it is a dangerous precedent to allow such high profile cases to direct significant changes to the criminal justice system in this State.

Minister Ryan’s proposal will mean that Watts and many others can be subject to rolling and consecutive periods of 10 years additional imprisonment. It is disturbing that such a radical reform is being proposed without any consultation with legal stakeholders and those working within the criminal justice system.

To give this power to a public official who heads a Board which sits in secret is totally at odds with the criminal justice system which is supposed to imprison people on the basis of an open, transparent and accountable court system. In making these observations no aspersions are cast against the current President of the Parole Board Mr Michael Byrne QC.  He is a well-regarded lawyer. It is the proposed process, not the incumbent of the Parole Board Presidency, that is to be criticised.

The proposed changes will give the President of the Parole Board the power to refuse parole for multiple and apparently endless rolling periods of 10 years after a person’s parole eligibility date falls due. For many cases, this will constitute retrospective criminal punishment which is contrary to the Human Rights Act 2019 (Qld). The government needs to demonstrate why such a breach of fundamental human rights is justified and that there are no other viable workable alternatives.

Terry O’Gorman