CCC probe launched after candidate booted from youth program
THE Department of Youth Justice has been rocked by an explosive claim of political interference by One Nation's candidate for Rockhampton Torin O'Brien, prompting an internal investigation and a referral of the complaint to the Crime and Corruption Commission.
For two years Mr O'Brien had enjoyed a productive working relationship with the Queensland Government's Transition to Success (T2S) program, mentoring at-risk youth in his Muay Thai Gym (for free) in an effort to keep them out of the justice system.
In a recent meeting with members of the Department of Youth Justice, Mr O'Brien was told his involvement with the youth justice program would cease due to his political involvement with an opposition party.
Mr O'Brien played a recording of the conversation to The Morning Bulletin where the staff members said they were acting under instructions from the Regional Director or even higher up from the Deputy Director General.
When Mr O'Brien asked for the name of the Regional Director, they wouldn't tell him, with the woman saying "if I was you, I'd probably address it to the Minister (for Child Safety, Youth and Women Dianne Farmer)".
"Why should I not be able to help a group of kids for free? If I was part of Labor, would it be fine?" Mr O'Brien asked.
One of them responded saying, "at the end of the day, we as a government department have to be supportive of the government of the day. Given that you're probably opposition of the government of the day, I think that would obviously create some sort of conflict".
Speaking out about the meeting, Mr. O'Brien said he was shocked the Labor Party would stoop so low and put politics over the outcomes of youth crime prevention.
"This has nothing to do with money or budgets because the last program I ran was provided for free due to State Government budget cuts," he said.
"I've been focused on youth justice outcomes here in Rockhampton and was told on multiple occasions that the Muay Thai gym classes I ran had the best attendance record and that the kids responded very well to the training.
"Positive outcomes mean nothing to the Labor Party, they prefer to play politics."
Mr O'Brien said it was passionate youth workers, business people, and community groups like his that achieved the results, not governments.
"These kids require positive role models who encourage them to get their lives back on track so they can either return to studies or transition into the workforce," he said.
"My gym removed the negative influences that they're faced with on the streets and therefore you could see the change over a very short period."
A Department of Youth Justice spokesperson said there had been no communication, or brief, between the Department and the Minister's office regarding Mr O'Brien's involvement in the T2S program in Rockhampton prior to The Morning Bulletin's media inquiry.
"The T2S program has worked successfully with Mr O'Brien previously," the spokesperson said.
"A decision was taken at a local level that another partner would be used for the next T2S program in Rockhampton and this was communicated to Mr O'Brien locally.
"A senior departmental officer is reviewing the process around this decision to ensure that a fair and appropriate decision is taken and will make contact with Mr O'Brien as part of this review."
The Department of Youth Justice said they were committed to an open and fair process when making decisions about local partnerships and would use an expression of interest process for partners in the T2S program in Rockhampton.
"The Department will encourage any interested organisation, including Mr O'Brien to put in an expression of interest to continue to support the T2S program in Rockhampton," they said.
"If there is evidence of miscommunication or poor decision making, it shall be dealt with through the review by the senior officer."
In a follow up statement to The Morning Bulletin, the spokesperson said "as a result of further information being provided to the Department, the matter is being treated as a professional conduct issue and will be referred to the Crime and Corruption Commission for assessment".
"The Code of Conduct for the Queensland Public Service is clear on the need for impartiality," they said.
Rockhampton MP Barry O'Rourke said in his capacity as the local member, he was not involved in the operational decisions of the Department of Youth Justice but was "furious" about what was being alleged.
"I take this allegation very seriously. No one should be punished for their political beliefs," Mr O'Rourke said.
"I've spoken to Minister Farmer about this and demanded a thorough and immediate investigation.
"I don't want to prejudice that investigation and everyone involved is entitled to the presumption of innocence. I also don't know all the facts and whether or not there is more to this than has been communicated."
Mr O'Rourke said he was happy to admit disagreeing with what Mr O'Brien stood for on a political level - especially when his party took the state to the High Court to try to force open Queensland's border to Victoria.
"But I respect anyone who is willing to put their hand up for public office and I will not stand for someone losing a contract on that basis," he said.
"These decisions should be based on merit, and that's all there is to it.
"Transition to Success - T2S - is an excellent program that's getting results - and the focus should be on making sure that continues."
The $28.7 million T2S program which has run for four years at 22 sites across the state was touted by the Department as providing the financial cost-saving benefit to taxpayers with reduced custody and supervision costs, as well as avoided costs to society.
Young people in the youth justice system or at risk of entering are referred to T2S to complete a 10 to 16 week program, completing vocational training certificates and work experience with local organisations.
T2S partners with local community organisations, TAFE, local councils and local businesses to enable young people to undertake work experience and complete certificate courses.
Transition to Success was introduced in Rockhampton in 2017.
All partners and youth justice service providers must ensure compliance with the Youth Justice Act, including ensuring that the identity of young people on youth justice orders is protected and remains confidential.
Courses are often tailored to the individual needs of the participants and local partners often change to suit the needs of the program.
The Department of Youth Justice has promoted the success of the program with an 81 per cent completion rate for young people and 82 per cent competition rate among Indigenous participants with six out of 10 T2S graduates not going on to reoffend.
A total of 550 graduate certificates have been issued as part of T2S program since 2015.
Of the 125 young people who completed or partially completed a T2S program have transitioned to casual, part-time or full-time employment, (inclusive of traineeships and apprenticeships) since the commencement of T2S in 2015.
How you can be involved in the T2S program
There are many ways you can be involved as a T2S partner or volunteer.
You could help with time and expertise, employment pathways, industry contacts,
tangible resources and equipment for partner agencies to use in the program (e.g. allowing young people to be trained using your equipment).
You could also support day-to-day program delivery, or support and mentor young people participating in T2S while they are in the program and after they finish the program.
To find out more email the T2S team at T2SYJ@csyw.qld.gov.au for more information.