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Question: Conditions in youth detention centers

17 November 2022

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: 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: On 14 November of this year, the ABC's Four Corners program reported on restraining practices used in youth detention facilities in Western Australia and the Northern Territory. The ABC has reported that young people in those places are being locked in their cells for unacceptably long periods of time using the folding up position, where they are restrained by being folded into a position that has been linked to risks of suffocation.

On 4 November, the South Australian Training Centre Visitor report was tabled. It revealed that 80 per cent of day shifts were unstaffed at the Kurlana Tapa youth detention centre, and children were given fast food in an effort to placate them. The report also stated that microwave meals were often served when they were not properly thawed.

A coalition of South Australian organisations has called for the age of criminal responsibility to be raised to 14 in South Australia. These organisations include the Public Health Association of Australia, the Australian Health Promotion Association, the Rights Resource Network, Amnesty International Australia, the Aboriginal Legal Rights Movement, the Commissioner for Children and Young People, the South Australian Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisation Network, SACOSS and Change the Record.

My question to the Attorney-General is: is the Attorney-General concerned about the welfare of children in detention here in South Australia, and what steps are being taken by the Malinauskas government to protect children who are caught up in the criminal justice system?

The Hon. K.J. MAHER (Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Attorney-General, Minister for Industrial Relations and Public Sector): I thank the honourable member for his question and his interest in this area and acknowledge that he has brought this matter to the chamber a number of times, including in legislation that he has drafted and put before us. A basic answer to the question is: I am concerned about the welfare of children, whether that is in relation to contact with the criminal justice system, youth detention or more generally.

Although the youth detention system falls under the ministerial responsibility of my colleague the Minister for Human Services, the member for Hurtle Vale, the Hon. Nat Cook, it certainly touches upon my portfolios in relation to broader justice issues as Attorney-General, and also given the dramatic over-representation of Aboriginal children in the youth detention centre, but also coming into contact with all facets of the criminal justice system in my role as Minister for Aboriginal Affairs.

The organisations that the honourable member talked about—Change the Record, SACOSS, SAACCON, ALRM, Amnesty and many others—have raised concerns not just in South Australia but around Australia about the minimum age of criminal detention, and I certainly thank them for their advocacy. I have met if not with all of them certainly with most of them, not just in my time as minister but in my time as shadow minister in relation to this area.

As I have outlined to this chamber before, it is a matter we are looking at in South Australia. We haven't made a commitment in relation to what we may or may not do in relation to the minimum age of criminal responsibility, but it is something we are looking at. We are looking at what other jurisdictions have done in relation to this area—countries that are similar to Australia, such as New Zealand, Scotland, Ireland—and are also looking at some of the proposals in other jurisdictions in Australia: the ACT, the NT and Tasmania, who are not raising the age of criminal responsibility but a minimum age for detention. It is not exactly the same solution but certainly one that has the potential to make an impact. That work is continuing.

We are evaluating what the other jurisdictions have done, bearing in mind the sort of prism that we are looking at this through is looking for ways, at the end of the day, to make the community safer by looking to see if there are therapeutic interventions that may be more successful than contact with the criminal justice system in terms of helping young children and their families who would otherwise come into contact with the criminal justice system.