Tuesday, 20 December 2022

Questions without notice

Age of criminal responsibility


Age of criminal responsibility

Ellen SANDELL (Melbourne) (16:38): My question is to the Premier. Premier, right now our laws in Victoria allow kids as young as 10 to be arrested, tried in court, held on remand and even jailed. It is a policy that disproportionately affects our First Nations Victorians, with devastating results. First Nations leaders and communities, the UN and medical and legal experts are all calling on the Victorian government to raise the age of criminal responsibility to at least 14 with no exceptions. The ACT has already committed to it, so there is no longer any reason why Victoria cannot act now; we do not need to wait any longer for a national approach. My question is: will the Victorian government commit to doing this in this term of Parliament?

Daniel ANDREWS (Mulgrave – Premier) (16:39): I thank the member for Melbourne for her question. The issue at hand here is every best effort is being made to try and have a nationally consistent approach. There is nothing wrong with that; that, after all, is how you get laws that operate with a degree of consistency in every part of our country. That is something that is worth pursuing. Without wanting to be overly partisan, it is our judgement that there is a greater likelihood that we can achieve that nationally consistent approach under Attorney-General Dreyfus as part of the Albanese government than was the case under the government that they took over from. However, that it is not an unlimited thing; that is not something that we will pursue forever. We will give that a reasonable chance, a fair chance. If, however, we cannot deliver – that is, as a nation – a nationally consistent set of laws, then the government reserves its right to make further announcements. Today is not the day to do that.

Today, however, is an opportunity for me to point out to the member for Melbourne and to all honourable members and, beyond this place, to all Victorians that we take the welfare of our children very seriously. That is why the government has invested some $2.8 billion in family services and children services. That is why we have an 86 per cent case allocation rate in child protection, up from 81 per cent when we came to office. That is why we have built new, much safer, much more fit for purpose correctional facilities for offenders across the board. It is why we are also pleased to say that my last report, late last week, was that we had less than 100 young people in the youth justice system –98 I think was the number last Thursday, which is still too high. None of them are 10 years old – none. I am happy to try and get a further breakdown, but I do not believe any of them were 11 or 12 or 13 years old either. That is not to say that the only debates that are important are ones where you can point to an actual example. We do make policy in this place, we make laws in this place and we try and set things up for the future. So I am not being critical of the question, but it is important to get on record that no young person, as described in the question, is currently in our youth justice system.

We will continue to pursue a nationally consistent approach, but the government always reserves its right – not just our right but our responsibility – to make sure that this is the most progressive state in the nation and that we have laws that reflect the values and that sense of hope and the absolute aspiration of our Victorian community to lead our nation. Today is not the day to make those announcements, but if and when a nationally consistent approach proves beyond us – ‘us’ as in governments across the nation – well, then the government reserves its right to act. Today is not the day for that.

It is also I think very important to acknowledge, just in closing, those people who work in our youth justice system, those people who work in our courts, those people who work in our youth system, if you like, those who are about saving lives and changing lives, those who are about making sure that every young person can reach their full potential – and you only do that with passion, high levels of skill and strong and consistent investment from a Labor government.

The SPEAKER: Before I call the member for Cranbourne, can I acknowledge in the gallery former Speaker Judy Maddigan, former ministers the Honourable Joe Helper and the Honourable Philip Dalidakis and federal minister Catherine King.