Government failure: Vulnerable children targeted for exploitation and criminal recruitment

Sep 27, 2023

Across North Queensland, shocking revelations have emerged regarding the Government’s shortcomings to safeguard vulnerable children, particularly those under state care and lumped in the controversial “resi-care” system.


Operation Uniform Kalahari was launched in Cairns in January 2022 aimed at investigating the alleged grooming and exploitation of children. To date, police have charged twelve offenders with offences against 52 child victims in the State’s Far North.


It’s been alleged that the suspected offenders offered drugs to children in exchange for sexual acts or recruited them to engage in criminal conduct. This criminal behaviour was broadly known by those “within industry” and Hinchinbrook MP and Katter’s Australian Party (KAP) Deputy Leader, Nick Dametto said he tried to bring these distressing reports to the attention of the Police Minister but was brushed aside.


“Earlier this year I asked the Police Minister if he was aware of reports that children were being exploited criminally and sexually by adults. The Minister denied that the Queensland Police Service was aware of any such activity,” Mr Dametto said.


“A few different things concern me about the Minister’s response. Firstly, Operation Uniform Kalahari was already underway at the time I asked this question so either the Police Minister lied, or he wasn’t aware of what the Queensland  Police Service was working on under his watch.


“Secondly, if the Police Minister did know of such allegations, and in true Labor fashion chose to craft his response using words that weren’t specifically untrue but also weren’t specifically accurate, then I find that also very alarming, deceptive and simply disappointing.


“The honourable response would have been to acknowledge the existence of a problem, address it and explain what the Queensland Police Service are doing about it.


“The State’s failing resi-care system is currently under review following reports of abuse and neglect and frankly, the review has been a long time coming. I really hope that the results shine a spotlight even more on the system’s flaws and the long-term negative effects that it has on our youth.


“The Queensland Family & Child Commission, who has oversight of the review recently published an interim report that even in the early stages has highlighted various inadequacies across the resi-care regime including a lack of services and specialist care for kids with high needs.


“Child exploitation is sometimes viewed as an overseas problem and not considered an issue that happens in Australia, but the reality is children have been recruited to commit crimes, coerced into dangerous situations, and subjected to unimaginable exploitation closer to home than many people realise.


“These crimes are being committed against children placed in resi-care houses scattered amongst our suburbs. It is a well-known fact that youth workers in these resi-care homes have no legal mechanism to keep children at the facility. They often abscond and become vulnerable to those who prey on them for exploitation, this is a stain on the Government’s conscience for failing to ensure the safety and well-being of children in Government care.


“Once the review is finalised, the public should expect a genuine and transparent response from the Child Safety Minister followed by a commitment from the Palaszczuk Government to completely overhaul the failed child safety and resi-care systems, but I am not holding my breath.


“To begin with, various options and strategies could be explored to reduce the number of children in resi-care and one of those options that KAP consistently puts forward is Relocation Sentencing.


“Not all the kids in resi-care are criminals or have been in contact with the youth justice system, but for those who have, instead of dumping them in a risky resi-care facility, those kids could be sent out bush where they are safe for up to twelve months and can begin to foster long-term and life-changing habits that will steer them down a different life path.”