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Criminal Law Consolidation (Recruiting Children to Commit Crime) Amendment Bill

14 May 2024

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS (15:48): I rise to speak briefly on this bill and to indicate that the Greens will also support it. The Greens have been advocating for many years, as members of this place will know, to raise the age of criminal responsibility. All of the research demonstrates that people under the age of 14 are far too young to understand the implications of the judicial system and our incarceration system.

In 2022, in this place, in introducing the Greens' bill to raise the age of criminal responsibility to 14, I outlined the ever-increasing body of evidence that supports this. The recent report from the Guardian of Children and Young People, entitled From Those Who Know, presents actual accounts and the views and opinions of young people who are living in the Youth Training Centre. I do reiterate the comments made by my colleague the Hon. Connie Bonaros: she is right in her assessment about the Youth Training Centre. This is not an appropriate place for young people to be held.

What we know is that when we lock young people up in these sorts of conditions, what we do is set them on a path of criminality that can continue throughout their lives. We lock them in to ongoing interactions with the criminal justice system, and that is just not right. It is precisely the opposite of what we should be seeking to do as legislators and as people who make policy in this state. I want to quote a few comments from that report. Some of the testimonies that are included are really harrowing. One young person stated:

I think that kids as young as 10 might not know what they're doing, but they could be influenced by other people that might pervert the way that they see everything.

I think that young person has made an important point, and one that is addressed by this bill—that is, the potential for young people to be used as surrogates, in effect, to commit crimes, and that is a practice that we need to shut down.

It is shameful that adults could seek to influence young people to commit criminal acts, and this bill really closes that loophole. It aims to address the issue by imposing a penalty on adults who recruit children for criminal behaviour. It is our understanding that current aiding and abetting laws that exist mean that an adult who has influenced a child to commit a crime can only be charged with that offence if there is, in fact, a crime that has been committed by the child. In effect, that means that if the child is below the age of criminal responsibility then they are not actually committing a crime and, therefore, it is difficult for the adult to be appropriately charged and convicted.

It is our hope, of course, that this government will raise the age of criminal responsibility to 14, in line with calls from the United Nations, the South Australian Council of Social Service, the Law Society, the Law Council, the Australian Medical Association, Change the Record and more, and we need to ensure that, if we do that, we do close this loophole as well. The Greens support this bill. It is our hope that it is the first in what we hope will be a suite of measures that come to us in preparation for raising the age of criminal responsibility.

I do want to commend the Attorney-General in that, having engaged with him over the years on this issue, I know he is someone who is passionate and genuine in his desire to address this. I urge the government to make this a priority and to ensure that they do everything they can to get children out of these inappropriate environments, to ensure that they can realise their full potential in life.