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Question: Raising the Age of Criminal Responsibility

31 May 2023

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS (15:19): 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 8 May 2023, the ACT government announced that they would introduce a bill to raise the age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 14 years of age. The bill proposes a two-stage rollout, with an initial step to raise the age to 12 on assent and then to 14 years of age by 1 July 2025. This comes after the Victorian government committed in April to raising the age of criminal responsibility to 14 within the next four years. When the ACT government announced their bill to raise the age of criminal responsibility, the Attorney in that state told ABC news, and I quote:

This is a significant reform [that] recognises…young people are not considered to have a full understanding of the implications of the activities…they might be involved in.

There [are] responsibilities under the United Nations Convention of the Rights of the Child, there is clear medical evidence, and we think that young people should be supported, not criminalised.

My question to the Attorney-General therefore is: does the Attorney share the views of his ACT counterpart that young people should be supported, and not criminalised, in our justice system, and what progress has the Attorney-General made towards raising the age of criminal responsibility in South Australia? When will this parliament get an update?

The Hon. K.J. MAHER (Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Attorney-General, Minister for Industrial Relations and Public Sector) (15:21): I am happy to provide an update to this council and acknowledge that this is something that the honourable member has a significant interest in and has pursued it in motions and legislation since he came into this place. I have outlined previously to this chamber that it is an issue that all states and territories are looking at.

Way back in November of 2021, under the former Attorney-General, the former member for Bragg in this parliament, attorneys-general from around the country supported work to develop a proposal, and to see how it would look, to raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 12 and, importantly, that work would look at having regard to any exemptions, timing and implementation requirements.

In August of last year, state and territory attorneys-general agreed to re-form a national working group to continue and further target looking at the work, particularly in relation to implementation requirements and what would come in the place of a criminal justice intervention. Certainly, I was pleased, and I have had the benefit of talking to not just the Attorney-General, who I think is a member of the honourable member's party in the ACT, but also members of the Labor Party in the ACT who have been involved in the work in the ACT. It certainly is a significant amount of work that the ACT has undertaken, particularly the work in relation to what do you do if it is not a criminal justice response.

I think it is not just a case of raising the age in statute, which of course would be necessary to do, but also looking at the therapeutic and family supports that would come in its place, but also importantly, and this I know is what states are grappling with at the moment, what role is there for the criminal justice system? If you are raising the age of criminal responsibility, what role do elements of the criminal justice system play?

Family conferencing that the police use and all of the feedback and evidence is used quite successfully, and it is the case in what I have seen in South Australia that much of that first involvement of a young person with the family conferencing system is generally successful. It is the young people who are back a number of times that is where that more thorough work about the therapeutic or family supports needs to come in.

Earlier this year, attorneys-general met again, and included the Justice Policy Partnerships as part of that national working group; that is, to ensure that the knowledge and experience of the Justice Policy Partnerships would include First Nations people being involved more heavily in the work of that working group because, of course, the issue of detention of young people disproportionately affects Aboriginal young people, not just in South Australia but right across country.

So work does continue. I have to say that it is a more complex and challenging area of public policy than I expected when we came to government and started undertaking this work. As I said, what carve-outs or exemptions there might be if the age was raised, and if the minimum age of detention is raised what aspect would that play in the system? Probably most importantly, and the most complex part, is: what are the interventions, if they are not a criminal justice intervention? When we have done further work, I will be happy to update the chamber as this work progresses.