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Question: Raising the age of criminal responsibility

30 April 2024

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS (14:44): I seek leave to make a brief explanation before addressing a question without notice to the Attorney-General on the topic of raising the age of criminal responsibility.

Leave granted.

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: Yesterday, the Guardian for Children and Young People, Shona Reid, released two submissions to the government's discussion paper on alternative diversion models for raising the age of criminal responsibility in South Australia. The first submission, titled 'From Those Who Know', is on behalf of young people who have been detained or denied their liberty at the Adelaide Youth Training Centre, compiled in her role as the South Australian Training Centre Visitor. The second is a more formal submission on the guardian's own behalf. The Guardian for Children and Young People's submission highlights concerns with the government's proposed alternative diversion model. In particular, these relate to the increases in police powers. I refer specifically to page 21, where the guardian states:

…I am seriously concerned that the places of safety network may not prevent arrest of children, but instead act as authority for a form of pseudo-arrest. If this occurs, it is unlikely to reduce children's admissions to police facilities, or the time spent in police cells.

The submission that the guardian has made on behalf of detained young people contains firsthand accounts of their experiences in the judicial system. Young people in particular talk about their challenges understanding the terminology used when they are arrested and finding their interactions with police difficult. One young person states:

I just remember crying. And I told [the police] everything, and then I became a snitch because I didn't know what was right, didn't know if I was meant to say it or I wasn't. Yeah. It was embarrassing. It was real scary as well. Like, imagine two police officers coming in and saying, 'Oh, yup, you're getting arrested for this,' and at that point in time I didn't actually think [I had done anything wrong in terms of my behaviour].

My question to the Attorney-General therefore is: has the Attorney-General read the submissions from the Guardian for Children and Young People and what assurances would he provide to that young person quoted in the report in relation to the government's proposed alternative diversion model?

The Hon. K.J. MAHER (Attorney-General) (14:46): I thank the honourable member for his question. As the honourable member has correctly stated, there was a discussion paper released in relation to the topic of the minimum age of criminal responsibility.

Certainly, there are a number of other jurisdictions around Australia that have started processes in relation to this. I think the ACT, Victoria and the Northern Territory are all at various stages and I think all of them are proposing to raise the age to 12, certainly at least initially. I note that in the submissions the honourable member refers to that is a topic of criticism, if it was being proposed here.

The discussion paper set out one possible model. I will include in my comments that we don't have a formal view, as the government, as to what if anything will change in relation to the minimum age of criminal responsibility, but the discussion paper was a start to look at what various models might be in place if it wasn't a strictly criminal justice model.

Consultation has closed. There are some dozens and dozens of submissions. I have read a summary of all the submissions that have been made. I am now working my way through what will amount to many hundreds of pages of submissions made by a whole range of stakeholders who have views on this and then the government will decide what action it takes.

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS (14:47): Supplementary: will the government commit to releasing the submissions publicly so that members of parliament and the community can consider the stakeholder feedback?

The Hon. K.J. MAHER (14:47): I thank the honourable member for his question. I am certainly happy to consider this. I am trying to remember, amongst the many submissions, if there may have been some that were asked to remain confidential, particularly if they were ones that talk about people with lived experience. Particularly in the youth criminal justice system there will be very good reasons to remain confidential. But I am happy to have a look at it to see what we can do in relation to that.