Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk dining with Rockhampton community representatives (to her left) Dr Ali Arshad and Rob Hughes and ( across the table) Juanita Peoples and (foreground) Susan Ryan. Marion Lawler is dressed in black to the right.
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk dining with Rockhampton community representatives (to her left) Dr Ali Arshad and Rob Hughes and ( across the table) Juanita Peoples and (foreground) Susan Ryan. Marion Lawler is dressed in black to the right. Frazer Pearce

Premier night for Rocky's grateful eight

FOR Marion Lawler it represented an opportunity of a lifetime.

She sat across a dining table from the most powerful person in Queensland and for the next 10 minutes she had her complete attention.

Marion, a stalwart of the North Rockhampton Men's Shed, was alongside seven other community champions during a dinner with Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk at the Criterion Hotel held during the State Government's community cabinet in Rockhampton.

They had been selected for the event, the first ever for this government, after nominating through The Morning Bulletin.

Marion was there to ask for urgent government support before the Men's Shed group lost their temporary venue (they had been forced out of their original building by Cyclone Marcia damage).

She told the premier about the 50 men who relied on the club to provide an opportunity for companionship and purpose.

She also told her about the men they had to turn away due to a lack of space.

You can say a lot in 10 minutes and the premier listened intently, taking notes.

It was the first of eight person to person chats she was to have as she moved around the table hearing about various challenges being faced by the diverse group of community representatives .

From youth suicide to the Muslim society, the premier soaked up the grass-roots issues.

One of the matters I discussed with her was the vicious and destructive cycle of youth crime in this community and the need for major action to address this most serious of social problems.

It was the day before the Premier announced a $200m prison expansion for the Capricornia Correctional Centre to provide more cells to house the state's bulging prison population.

The irony of what I was addressing and this investment in housing more criminals wasn't lost on me the next day.

The Premier asked several questions when I told her I believed most juvenile crime stemmed from the enduring cracks in our education system.

"They are lost at seven years of age, " I told her.

I know this because I have heard it directly from front-line educators at the coalface of this social crisis.

Video still from CCTV footage of a group of youths breaking into the Post Office Hotel in 2012. These types of offences are still common in Rockhampton. File photo
Video still from CCTV footage of a group of youths breaking into the Post Office Hotel in 2012. These types of offences are still common in Rockhampton. File photo

These specialists cannot cope with the numbers of children who are at risk of slipping down the pathway of delinquency, even in Year 2.

I asked the Premier for access to Education Minister Kate Jones to address this issue and seek more information and the Premier agreed.

I also asked the Premier if this extended visit to Rockhampton for Community Cabinet (five days) had more to do with the rise in popularity of One Nation than a sudden desire to connect more with the community.

"Not at all,” came the earnest and frank response.

She told me they had decided to extend the Community Cabinet because the standard two days was too rushed.

Five days gave the ministers an opportunity to have a stronger connection to the community and this dinner, the first of its kind, was an extension of that.

She proceeded to talk about her deep connection in her own seat of Inala and of her upbringing from a migrant background, including strong family links to Rockhampton.

As the night drew to a close, it was clear the evening, the first of its type, according to the Premier, had been a huge success for the community representatives and the host.

"So many different ideas,” she told me on the way out.

"And issues that people are facing here they would like to be addressed. I get a real sense of a love of this city and the region.

"This is a great way to understand the community. People from different backgrounds, different ages, raising different issues but also there was common ground around the table.

"The issues the (Shoalwater Bay) graziers are facing, everyone felt very strongly about that, employment was also important.

Some of the couple of hundred people who turned out to the rally opposing the expansion of the Shoalwater Bay Training area at the Lakes Creek Hotel in Rockhampton earlier this month.
Some of the couple of hundred people who turned out to the rally opposing the expansion of the Shoalwater Bay Training area at the Lakes Creek Hotel in Rockhampton earlier this month. Chris Ison ROK010217crally7

"We are not going to have all the solutions tonight. The ones raised tonight are very real, complex issues and ones as a government we can look at helping to address.

"They range from youth suicide to people in aged care facilities who are feeling very distressed. That was something I had not heard of before.

"This is a very caring community so people are there, organisations are there. Some people have full-time jobs and they are giving up their time to help others.”

Pearce: And what about education?

Premier: Education is very important, honestly it's the corner stone of giving people that opportunity to succeed in whatever they want to pursue.

Pearce: What about the number of kids failing at school at such a young age and ending up as juvenile criminals and then moving into the more serious offending as adults?

Clearly we are not doing enough.

Premier: We can always do more. But the education results are showing we are getting results in Naplan scores with the best results in four years.

Pearce: I don't dispute that. It's the number of kids getting lost along the way.

Premier: There are a few. It's not unique to Rockhampton. It happens across the state in my community.

Pearce: It's a national problem

Premier: We need to work with families, work with parents, strengthen families.

Pearce: Can I talk to Kate Jones about this problem?

Premier: Absolutely.

I (Frazer Pearce) received a phone call from Kate Jones last week and she told me in a 10 minute discussion that her department was already working on this very issue. Watch this space.

I took the following from Ms Palaszczuk's maiden speech to Parliament on October 12, 2006.

"My grandfather was a Polish migrant who fled Europe following the Second World War to start a better life here in Australia.

"He arrived first at Wacol migrant camp, later settling in Inala with his family, and he remained there until the end of his life three years ago.

"He was not a doctor nor a lawyer but a boilermaker who told me it was good work and paid the bills.

"At night he would read encyclopaedias to find out as much as he could about the world.

"He did not have any opportunities for education when during his early adult years he was in a German slave labour camp.

"He installed in my father a strong sense of education. My father became a schoolteacher before entering this House. He then passed those values on to me.

"Education is about opportunity. It is not just about going to university; not all people want to do that.

"It is about giving children the skills necessary in life to pursue a job they want to do or to learn about the world.

"Giving the young boy from Camira or Gailes the opportunity to become a carpenter or a scientist, or the young girl from Inala or Forest Lake to become a nurse, an office manager or a doctor.

"It is about enabling a child to have a choice in life, just the same as any other child.”

So more than 10 years after her speech, there are still hundreds of children in Central Queensland every year, right now, who are not getting that opportunity.

This is a tragedy for those children as individuals and it is a ticking time bomb for our society as they are set up to fail by a system that is failing them.

Premier, it really is time to come true on that 2006 pledge.

The numbers don't lie

In 2015-16, 6,757 juvenile defendants were dealt with in the Magistrates Court in Queensland, an increase of 1.6% from 6,651 in the previous year.

Of these, 301 were committed to a higher court for trial or sentence, a decrease of 3.8% since 2014-15 and 6,456 were disposed of, either by a guilty finding (5,523 or 85.6%) or by discharge (933 or 14.5%)

Of the 24,861 charges against juveniles in the Magistrates Court in 2015-16, 23,440 (94.3%) were disposed of, while 1,421 (5.7%) were committed to a higher court for trial or sentence.



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