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Motion: Minimum Age of Criminal Responsibility

16 May 2024

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS (16:33): I move:

That this council—

1. Notes that the government has undertaken consultation on a discussion paper titled 'Minimum age of criminal responsibility—alternative diversion model' released in January 2024.

2. Recognises that the consultation period closed on 24 March 2024.

3. Acknowledges:

(a) the continued advocacy of organisations such as Change the Record, SACOSS, the Justice Reform Initiative and the Guardian for Children and Young People in calling for the age of criminal responsibility to be raised to at least 14 years without exceptions;

(b) that an alternative diversion model is vital to the success of raising the age of criminal responsibility; and

(c) that the public are entitled to understand the views around the proposed alternative diversion model.

4. Calls on the Malinauskas government to publicly release the submissions to the consultation on alternative diversion models for raising the age of criminal responsibility.

This motion calls for the publication of the submissions that have been made to the government's discussion paper looking at the minimum age of criminal responsibility—alternative diversion model. This government has a bit of a track record, unfortunately, of adopting a clandestine approach to some of these submissions. I am reminded of the approach they took to the rental reforms, where they put out a discussion paper, they invited public submissions, but they did not actually publish the submissions from the public.

It was the Greens who drew attention to that and said, 'Hang on, if the public is putting in a submission then they have a right to actually know that it has been received and to see it published on a public website.' But also, as members of parliament, we have a right to access that information so that it can inform our own deliberations when we are dealing with bills.

In that instance, the government did change course and they decided to make that information available, redacting information if it was of a personal nature, or if, indeed, the person making the submission requested that it be kept in confidence. That is what we are asking the government to do in this instance. I am not suggesting that they compromise people's privacy but, if individuals have no objection to their submission being made public, then it should be made public, published on the website and made available to those who have an interest.

As we know, there is an ongoing debate about the need to raise the age of criminal responsibility around our country. The current age is just 10 years old, which is far too young. The Greens have been calling to increase the age of criminal responsibility to 14, alongside key advocates such as SACOSS, the Guardian for Children and Young People, Change the Record and the Justice Reform Initiative. I really want to acknowledge the leadership of those groups in pushing for action on this issue.

In January, the government released a discussion paper exploring an alternative diversion model. This model would involve diverting young offenders across a certain age away from the traditional criminal justice system into rehabilitative and supportive programs. The consultation period closed on 24 March and, as of now, it is still unclear what the next steps will be. People want to know that their submissions are not just disappearing into the ether and that they have been received, and that members of parliament, as legislators, will have an opportunity to hear their views.

To be able to stop jailing children, we need to look at what we can do instead. We know that the brains of young people are still developing. Research shows that 14 years of age is the age at which the adolescent brain is at a more cognitive stage and an age when young people are more able to understand the consequences of their actions. We know that early exposure to the criminal justice system causes harm to young people and that impact on wellbeing can continue well into adulthood. We also know that over 50 per cent of incarcerated children are from Aboriginal or Torres Straight Islander backgrounds, further adding to the disadvantage that they already face in their communities.

The Australian National University has provided alternative options for restorative and therapeutic care to support the reform. Whatever alternative model is created will underpin the success of raising the age of criminal responsibility. It is crucial that the submissions to this discussion paper be made publicly available. SACOSS's submission outlined some of their concerns with the government's proposed model. They provide some key principles to inform alternative frameworks and request that it be non-punitive, trauma-informed, therapeutic, culturally led, and non-discriminatory. Their key concerns with the model proposed relate to, and I quote from the submission:

The potential for this to provide further avenues to criminalise and brutalise children, including children from the minimum age of criminal responsibility by means of expanding policing powers, introducing a form of administrative detention and removing the legal protections afforded to children and young people.

If there are serious concerns that emerge in these submissions, then they need to be publicly considered. The public also have a right to understand if there are, indeed, any benefits in the proposed model. Publicity around releasing the submissions will promote transparency around this issue and would, of course, allow the public to have access to a range of views and opinions and, indeed, give them confidence in whatever outcome the government embarks upon.

It is important for researchers, advocates and members of the community to also review the full range of information. I submit to you, Mr Acting President, that that is something that would lead to better, more evidence-based policies that would serve the interests of young people. It is really important that we have the welfare of these young people in our minds as we make laws in this regard. With that, I conclude my remarks.