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Youth Detention

27 September 2023

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS (15:18): I seek leave to make a brief explanation before addressing a question without notice to the Attorney-General on the topic of youth detention.

Leave granted.

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: Yesterday, the Tasmanian government tabled a report titled 'Who was looking after me? Prioritising the safety of Tasmanian children'. The 2,922-page report contains recommendations to reduce the number of children in youth detention and states that the Tasmanian government should, and I quote:

a. introduce legislation to increase the minimum age of criminal responsibility to 14 years, without exception

b. develop and provide a range of community-based health, welfare and disability programs and services that are tailored to…the needs of children and young people under the age of 14 years who are engaging in antisocial behaviour, and to address the factors contributing to that behaviour

c. work towards increasing the minimum age of detention (including remand) to 16 years by developing alternatives to detention for children aged 14 to 15 years who are found guilty of serious violent offences and who may be a danger to themselves or the community.

My question to the Attorney-General therefore is: is the Attorney-General aware of the recommendations contained in the Tasmanian report, and does he share similar concerns in relation to the welfare of children in detention here in South Australia?

The Hon. K.J. MAHER (Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Attorney-General, Minister for Industrial Relations and Public Sector) (15:19): I thank the honourable member for his question and his continued interest in the area of the criminal justice system and its interaction with young people. I had the opportunity, I think it was on Friday last week, to speak to the Tasmanian Attorney-General, the Hon. Elise Archer. Although this report hadn't been released and couldn't be canvassed in detail, I was made aware that there would be a substantial report. As the honourable member indicated, it comes in at just under 3,000 pages of a very substantial report.

One of the areas that I did traverse in discussions with the Tasmanian Attorney-General is what the report may say in relation to the minimum age of criminal responsibility, and also the minimum age of detention, as there are a couple of jurisdictions in Australia that have already indicated and flagged that they will be looking to raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility.

I think the Northern Territory has implemented that and Victoria and the ACT have given an indication that that's what they will be looking at doing. I think all those jurisdictions have not done as the honourable member has outlined in the recommendation, which is to raise it to 14, but have raised the minimum age to 12. I can't remember which jurisdiction it is, but I think most, if not all of them, have indicated that that is a first step, with an ambition to raise the minimum age to 14.

Certainly, I haven't read the whole report since it was released this week, the 3,000 pages, but, as I said, having had the benefit of hearing directly from the Hon. Elise Archer, the Tasmanian Attorney-General, I was able to get a bit of an understanding of some of the things that it might traverse. It will of course be up to the Tasmanian government for their implementation of the many and varied recommendations in that report. If I remember correctly, I think the Tasmanian government has previously announced an intention to raise the minimum age of criminal detention to—I can't remember if it's 12 or 14. It's not the minimum age of criminal responsibility but the minimum age of detention. I am sure the Tasmanian government will be looking very carefully at this very substantial report.

In terms of the parallels that might be drawn with the South Australian youth justice system and Kularna Tapa, obviously I will seek to get some understanding of what they are, but I am not sure how directly the parallels relate to the Tasmanian youth detention system. I know there has been very significant media attention on some of the difficulties with the Tasmanian youth detention system, which I am not sure are necessarily present in the South Australian system. That is certainly something I would be happy to look at in the weeks and months to come, and also to finalise it, too, because I know it is of great interest to the honourable member and to the Greens party in general.

We continue our work in relation to this area. I have said before in this chamber, and I am happy to reiterate it, that we are considering what the responses would be should we raise the minimum age in South Australia—as I have said before, those interventions that wouldn't be criminal justice but therapeutic family support interventions with the overriding aim of making the community safer. That work in South Australia continues, and it will be good to look at any parts of this report that can help inform and supplement the work we are doing in South Australia.