I love my home town of Toowoomba. It’s a wonderful place to live, to work, to raise a family. It’s a great place in and of itself—a wonderful city, a wonderful lifestyle—and it’s been a hub for so much of south-west Queensland and northern New South Wales for years. Growing up, this is where we came to—and for good reason; it’s got fantastic health care, great educational facilities and, today, wonderful work opportunities. We’re growing. There is excitement as to what the future of our region holds. Housing, I would say, is affordable, certainly in comparison to what can be found in Brisbane or on the Gold Coast or the Sunshine Coast. I absolutely love my home city and it’s been a choice of ours to be there, to invest in it. I joined with many people across the state in making that choice.
Sadly, one day the Queensland state government made changes to the Youth Justice Act that deeply impacted my beautiful city of Toowoomba. Specifically, the changes they made to breach of bail as an offence and to making detention a last resort for magistrates had a profound impact on our city. We didn’t know how much they would change us. It’s terrible to be standing here and seeming like I’m talking my city down, but, I have to admit, we have a crime problem. It is right across Queensland and it is hurting Toowoomba. We’re seeing not just antisocial behaviour; this has escalated to break-ins, car theft and, more recently, terrible assaults. There is footage of young offenders brandishing machetes as they walk in to commit an offence in broad daylight in a place like Toowoomba. It is something we would never ever have thought possible.
I was doorknocking in Centenary Heights not long ago, and I came across a young policeman. He invited me into his kitchen and he sat me down. He is of Italian heritage; he fed me a cannoli he’d made himself. He said, ‘You’re going to need time to listen to this story.’ For eight years he’d been working with a young youth and watching him spiral further and further downhill into a life of crime. He’d gone from stealing from shops to breaking into cars and committing assaults. The reason he invited me in and wanted to talk to me, with tears in his eyes, was that this kid had been involved in a terrible and high-profile car accident in our community. This policeman sat there looking at me, saying: ‘Mate, I just didn’t have the tools to do anything about it. For eight years I’ve intervened. I’ve picked up. I’ve taken him home. I’ve tried to get this guy on the right track, and I couldn’t. He just kept getting pulled back into a life of crime.’
I can tell another story, of a young mother who came to see me in Rangeville. She had been broken into multiple times. Their children had witnessed two of the break-ins and they now could only sleep on mattresses in their parent’s bedroom—this was six months in at that stage—with furniture barricading the door. That’s how this mother had to get her children to sleep. What made it worse was that the kids had not only seen the break-in, they then saw footage of the break-in online subsequent to this. And the last story to tell is that of Mr Robert Brown, a 75-year-old man who died in a violent assault outside Grand Central Shopping Centre. A young perpetrator, well known to our local police, pushed him over and he never recovered: he died subsequent to his impact with the ground. This was just so the guy could steal his backpack—which he did, from his lifeless body, by the way. That just adds to the impact this has had on our beautiful city.
This is happening too much. The people of Toowoomba, the people of Groom, have had enough. I commend the Chronicle on their excellent campaign, ‘Enough is Enough’. They did a fantastic job in bringing the Premier up to Toowoomba. She didn’t come to the forum we had with the people of Groom. She came afterwards and stood in the car park with the police. This is but one example of Toowoomba’s voice rising up. We’ve had enough of this.
I want to talk about two other groups: one is Voices of Victims. These are people who have got together after being victims of the crime wave and, for too long, wanting action. I thank Helen Bell for her excellent advocacy on behalf of them. And there’s Jo Noble’s Toowoomba Crime Alerts Facebook page, reaching out and giving us examples. The people of Groom expect every level of government to do everything they can to address this crime wave. Very clearly, this is the result and the fault of the state Labor government; this crime wave is entirely of their making. People expect us to do everything we can and, in this House, the Federal government has responsibility for internet carriage services. This was brought to me from the ground up, from these groups—the Voices of Victims and from the Facebook page: we are responsible for this.
This is a very important point when we come to this youth crime crisis: these kids are being recruited online by videos taken of these crimes. What astounds me when I speak to victims of these crimes is that the perpetrator will hold up their phone and record them whilst they’re committing these crimes. Or they have their friend do it, to make it even better. One of the worst ones is a picture online of a young ‘gentleman’, to be very loose with the term, standing next to an elderly female victim who he is robbing from beside her bed, taking a photo while she sleeps and posting this online. What happens with these is that they post them and glamourise them. These videos aren’t just there by themselves; they’re up with pumping soundtracks and modern music—great graphics. You can see everything if you go online right now, on Instagram in particular. There are dozens of these pages just representing the postcode 4350 in my electorate. You can see drug use, you can see car theft, you can see speeding through the streets and you can see assault and battery.
The member for Herbert is right—it’s the same in Townsville. This is across the state. These kids are being drawn into it. These are vulnerable kids. I have seen them; I have met them out at the PCYC at Oakey, helping them do their boxing classes, which are a way to try to pull them towards the righteous and the good. But these are vulnerable kids from disadvantaged backgrounds, and these glamorous videos show a lifestyle that seems like it might be something better than what they currently have to look forward to. I don’t want to see more of these kids in detention. I want to see fewer of them committing these barbaric crimes.
To bring down the posts is very difficult and, apparently, it’s a very inefficient process. I have tried myself, and members of the Toowoomba Crime Alerts page have tried. You get an inefficient response. Sometimes I have seen them taken down—that’s true, and I admit that. But most of the time, requests to take these down are not responded to at all and certainly not actioned. On this front, Meta is failing its own standards—the standards it puts on its own website to say what it’s doing. So this is the time that we need some interaction. That is why this bill is needed.
The Online Safety Amendment (Breaking Online Notoriety) Bill 2023 amends the Online Safety Act 2021 to empower the eSafety Commissioner to explicitly handle online content of criminal activity material in a similar way to how cyberbullying and cyberabuse material is treated.
The previous government created the eSafety Commissioner, and it was right and it was worthy that we focused on the cyberbullying and cyber abuse that we saw prevalent at that time. What we didn’t have at that time was the youth crime wave that is crippling Queensland and that is absolutely devastating my home town. That has changed, and with it comes a community expectation that we will act on that. What this does is explicitly include criminal activity material in the eSafety Commissioner’s scope.
What are others saying about the bill?
This bill has received very good support.
Griffith University criminologist Ross Homel said, ‘Use of platforms for notoriety was a “crime facilitator” similar to weapons,’ noting an example of a child posting a picture from a stolen car with the speedometer showing 191km/h.
‘These kids are getting additional amplification of their other activities within the peer group that matters to them.’ (Courier Mail, 23 Feb 2023)
Child and Family Wellbeing Association of Australia vice president Deb Tsorbaris said there was a ‘huge opportunity’ to expand the eSafety commissioners’ powers.
I’m very happy to see an effective endorsement of this bill by the Queensland Police Service when they announced 25 new officers specifically to deal with this issue. So since the issue was raised with me and tabling it here today, we’re now playing catch-up. What this bill does is bring the eSafety Commissioner in line not just with community expectation but with the powers of the QPS.
I want my city back. I want Toowoomba to be the place that it was, a beautiful place where you could raise a family, that people saw great value in, that had a wonderful community—the sort of place where kids would walk and play down the street without concern, the sort of place where an elderly gentleman could go into the centre of town and do his grocery shopping without having to look over his shoulder. I want my city back. I say this to this to the state premier: you need to do a lot to act, but I’ll make sure that we do everything we can in this place to support the people of Queensland.