30 August 2023
The Hon. R.A. SIMMS (15:10): I seek leave to make a brief explanation before addressing a question without notice to the Attorney-General on the topic of young offenders.
The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: Yesterday, the Attorney-General tabled the Young Offenders Regulations 2023. Under section 9 of these regulations, a young offender who is detained within 40 kilometres of Adelaide's General Post Office:
…may be detained in a police prison or approved police station, watch-house or lock-up in accordance with those sections.
That applies for as long as it is reasonably practicable.
In a 2022 report on South Australia's progress on recommendations made by the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, the commissioner for young people noted on page 15 that children were arrested and detained in SA police cells or watch houses at least 2,030 times between 2020 and 2021. Of these separate admissions, 43 per cent of these young people were First Nations young people.
My question to the Attorney-General is: why does the government think it is appropriate to detain children as young as 10 in police stations, watch houses or lock-ups for indefinite periods? When will the government move to raise the age of criminal responsibility to 14 years?
The Hon. K.J. MAHER (Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Attorney-General, Minister for Industrial Relations and Public Sector) (15:12): I thank the honourable member for his question and his passionate advocacy in the area of raising the minimum age of criminal responsibility in particular. As I have outlined in this place and in public before, we are undertaking work to look at what it would look like if we did raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility. It is not a policy we have committed to, but there is certainly a large body of work that we are undertaking in South Australia, as there is being undertaken nationally by all states. The national process commenced under the former government, who committed to looking at what it might look like and the evidence for raising the minimum age of criminal responsibility.
Some of the areas that continue to be looked at in South Australia are areas that you might expect; that is, if you raise the age from 10 to 12, as I think the NT and the ACT have done, and I think Victoria made a recent announcement about raising the age, and I think Tasmania have made an announcement about raising the minimum age of detention, which is not the minimum age of criminal responsibility, but in some areas it has a similar effect in terms of children who are actually detained in custody facilities. One of the main areas is: what comes instead of the criminal justice system—those other sorts of interventions, be they therapeutic interventions, family supports or other interventions?
I have to say, I have been surprised at just the complexities and the amount of work that has gone into this already. There is another matter that touches on what the honourable member raised, in addition to what the other interventions are in a young person's life that might even be more successful in making the community safer by having a lower chance of reoffending. But then, what are the immediate powers of, particularly, police officers in terms of being able to intervene immediately?
There are very successful processes in place in terms of family conferencing that the police use. The immediate police powers to intervene in situations, particularly dangerous situations, is another element of the work that's ongoing. The honourable member raises one of them, and that is detention in police cells, and it is acknowledged that that is often a suboptimal experience for children, but that is certainly part of the work that we are undertaking as we look at this issue holistically.
The Hon. R.A. SIMMS (15:14): Supplementary: when will the parliament receive an update on that work that is being undertaken and, in particular, does that work involve consideration of the report of the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child?
The Hon. K.J. MAHER (Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Attorney-General, Minister for Industrial Relations and Public Sector) (15:15): I thank the honourable member for his question. As much as I would love to give the honourable member a date, that it will happen on this day of this month, I don't have a date. It is important work that we want to do thoroughly. From the outset, the overriding factor about these changes is what makes the community safer. We are looking internationally, too, at what the results have been in terms of the reduction in reoffending and the effects on community safety. We will do the work as thoroughly as possible, and I know the honourable member will look forward to any announcement we have in this area.
The Hon. R.A. SIMMS (15:15): Supplementary: again, has that work been informed by the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child report?
The PRESIDENT: I am not sure that that report of the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child—I didn't hear that in the original answer. However, Attorney, if you would like to answer the question you can, otherwise we will move on.
The Hon. K.J. MAHER (Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Attorney-General, Minister for Industrial Relations and Public Sector) (15:16): I am most helpful and I am happy to do so, sir. As I said, certainly the work has looked at international experiences and looked at a whole range of different jurisdictions that have moved this way, and are looking at it as well.