The faces and names of Queensland’s slain children – Mason, Tiahleigh, Tyrell, Hemi, Matthew and Kyhesha-Lee – are etched deep in our consciousness. There can be few who have not grieved for these children, felt disgusted by those responsible for their deaths and fervently hoped for them to be caught and punished.
We have been saddened, grossly offended and angered that innocent children have died at the hands of adults who were meant to protect them. Outrage about the leniency of sentences handed to those charged with offences relating to their deaths came as no surprise. Nor is it now a surprise that new laws aimed at putting an end to this leniency will be applauded.
The Government has done well in responding to the Queensland Sentencing Advisory Council’s report about the sentencing practices of courts and the penalties imposed on those responsible for child deaths. The council concluded that sentencing has not reflected the unique vulnerabilities of children, nor has it met community expectations about punishments that fit the crime. The finding of discrepancies in the sentencing of those responsible for the deaths of adults compared with those who have killed children outrageously smacked of children’s lives being ascribed a lesser value than those of adults.
The new laws will redefine the crime of murder to include reckless indifference for human life that will allow certain persons to be charged with murder rather than manslaughter, along with other changes that will increase the length of sentences. Opposition Leader Deb Frecklington has vowed to go further by introducing a Private Member’s Bill to set a minimum non-parole period of 25 years for the murder of a child and a new offence of child manslaughter with a minimum sentence of 15 years. Before embarking on a bidding war to see who can appear toughest in dishing out punishments, there are some truths that should be considered by our politicians. As laudable as it is that laws are being introduced to ensure that justice is properly served in relation to those who kill children, no matter how punitive the law, it will not bring those children back to us.