Wednesday, 22 February 2023


Children, Youth and Families Amendment (Raise the Age) Bill 2022



Children, Youth and Families Amendment (Raise the Age) Bill 2022

Second reading

Debate resumed on motion of Samantha Ratnam:

That the bill be now read a second time.

Sonja TERPSTRA (North-Eastern Metropolitan) (15:51): It is a busy day in the chamber today, isn’t it, on this non-government business day? I rise to make a contribution on the Children, Youth and Families Amendment (Raise the Age) Bill 2022, and I note this is an important issue in terms of raising the age of criminal responsibility. None of us in this chamber ever want to see children in custody. It is something that should only ever be an absolute last resort and always within a system that protects and supports young people in custody. You will hear that, but this is a difficult issue. It is a complex issue, and what you tend to hear in the discourse that has been created around this sort of discussion – it is not just this bill but the broader issue around raising the age of criminal responsibility – is that it is incredibly complex.

Some of the issues that present in this discussion tend to get conflated and skewed. Often what you will hear in the discourse in the media is around people feeling concerned about community safety and children or offenders needing to be punished and all the rest of it. But what is important to note around this issue is that there has been some work done in other jurisdictions on this. If you look around the world, for example, other jurisdictions have different ages of criminal responsibility. I believe in Japan the age of criminal responsibility is actually 21. And of course what that looks at is that a young person’s brain is still developing when they are a child.

There is this long-running debate that has not been settled about nature and nurture and about what happens when you put a young developing brain and a child in an environment that is riddled with conflict or perhaps family violence – or with crime present, neglect, abuse and the like. What we know is that oftentimes if you can have a therapeutic response or take a therapeutic approach to managing young offenders, the trajectory for young offenders is far better when they are out of the criminal justice system and they can get the support and the therapeutic response that they actually need. There is a high likelihood – or at least any likelihood, really – of young offenders being able to turn their lives around and then ending up being meaningful contributors to society. So that is an intervention strategy, which means that rather than having a young person being funnelled into the justice system, they are actually helped to stay out of it.

I note that people in the community say things like, ‘Well, there’s a lack of accountability there. A young person is not going to be held accountable for their actions.’ None of those things are actually true. And if you look at some of the things that happen in the justice system, there are lots of different programs where young offenders are encouraged to confront and think about some of the actions that they have done. We know that certainly in First Nations communities there are opportunities for elders to become involved with some of these kids as well. So again it seems like the issues often get conflated down into things about community safety and fear around crime and offending. But it is much broader than that. It is not just about that.

It is a much bigger issue. We know it is important that one of the most effective ways of keeping our young people out of the criminal justice system, as I just said, is to look at diversion pathways for young offenders to give them support and to address offending behaviour. That does not mean that we do not seriously consider and contemplate community safety as part of that rubric, and it is important to make sure that that aspect of that is addressed. You know, people need to feel secure and safe in their own communities. Our last budget included more than $600 million as part of a package of investments for the justice system, including youth diversion, reducing reoffending, increasing mental health support and providing financial assistance to victims of crime.

Before I go on to the next bit, I just wanted to touch on something that is well known and is something that we look at. It is a slight diversion away from this topic, but in our criminal justice system, in our prison population, often what you see is that amongst the prison population there is a high degree of prison inmates who present with mental health concerns, perhaps brain injuries or brain damage, and sometimes those things predispose people to acts of violence or violent behaviour. So oftentimes when offenders become touched by the criminal justice system, it is the first time in their lives that they may in fact have had a full assessment of what is going on for them, and they may have never had access to perhaps proper medical treatment or psychological services. Once they come into the justice system it can be, for the first time in that person’s life, quite revealing to them as well about what is actually going on for them. We know often people will self-medicate because they do not actually know what is going on. They might feel isolated and quite caught up and not know what is actually going on for them, so in some cases it is actually quite revealing for the person themselves.

Nevertheless the $600 million is part of the package of investments focused on the justice system. This builds on the investments we have already seen for young people to be successfully diverted from the justice system, including $15.5 million which has been provided to a range of programs to prevent more young people entering the system and to ensure that those that do have the best chance of rehabilitation, as I just said.

The other thing that is critically important to note is there are a number of other reforms that are really important, and this government’s commitment to early childhood education is one of those reforms. We know that the critical years, as we call them, are nought to five, where personality development is formed. Getting kids into early childhood education, into three- and four-year-old kinder, is one of the things that is noted that can significantly improve the trajectory of a young person. It is really, really important. The other part to it is support for families, and the other thing that this government has done, which is no secret of course, is that we have implemented all the recommendations from the Royal Commission into Family Violence, because what we know is that for young people, and I touched on this earlier, growing up in an environment where family violence is present – whether it be violence, coercion, intimidation or even coercive financial control – can influence and impact their brain development. Where we have programs that act to support families and reduce family violence, that is also critically important.

The other part that is also important is making sure there are proper parenting support programs for families who may be suffering disadvantage or hardship, or for those who have large families as well. There is absolutely no guarantee that a young person who might be experiencing neglect or have violence in their background will turn out to be a young offender. It is not that clear-cut. As I touched on before, the nature versus nurture debate is a very old one, and it is a bit like the chicken and the egg. Which came first? There can be a variety of answers to those sorts of things, so it is complex, and that is what I talked about earlier. The complexity of what makes a young person an offender is complex, but what we do know absolutely is if you incarcerate a young person, you will create a life-course offender, and nobody wants that.

The youth justice strategy that we created, the Youth Justice Strategic Plan 2020–2030, was released in May 2020 and commits to age-appropriate responses for 10- to 14-year-olds to keep them out of the youth justice system. Whilst the numbers are small, you can see the importance, the investment and the resourcing that this issue has been given, because it is critically important to try and assist those young people to stay out of the justice system and to help them turn their lives around. Oftentimes the environments that they find themselves in are no fault of their own, and to help them I guess on the path to becoming a contributor to society, being able to work and function as a member of society, is the ultimate goal in staying out of the justice system.

But the youth justice strategy also sets out a framework to reduce any over-representation of Aboriginal children in our youth justice system, and this is something that our government takes incredibly seriously. We are committed to addressing the over-representation of Aboriginal children and young people in the youth justice system. That was outlined in Victoria’s first Aboriginal Youth Justice Strategy, which was launched last year, and our government has backed that strategy with $55 million invested. So it is critically important, and we will continue to invest in our youth justice strategies.

But also we have invested more than $2 billion since 2014 to rebuild and strengthen our youth justice system. Last year’s state budget alone provides over $400 million in funding over four years to improve youth justice services, so $357 million in the budget for the new facility at Cherry Creek, which is due to open later this year; $11 million in last year’s budget allocated for programs to divert young people from entering the system; and currently $58 million is allocated to the custodial strengthening works initiative, expected to be complete by the middle of this year. As you can see, we have not wasted any time. There is a lot of work being done at numerous levels to try and help keep young people out of the justice system and then, when they do become involved in the justice system, to assist them in any way we can.

We have also introduced targeted behaviour programs and an intensive intervention unit for the most high-risk young people in custody, additional behaviour support specialists to support custodial staff to address challenging behaviours amongst young people and a dynamic risk assessment as well. An $11 million investment in the budget will go towards improving the Central After Hours Assessment and Bail Placement Service and fund the Children’s Court Weekend Online Remand Court, which commenced operation in September last year. This will ensure that children and young people are not remanded unnecessarily over weekends because there is no available court to hear their bail applications. Funding will also deliver additional Aboriginal youth justice hubs that will prevent children coming into contact with the justice system, including by embedding Aboriginal self-determination in the service delivery. These investments are working, with results that lead the nation.

We acknowledge over here on the government benches there is always more work to do on many, many levels, but we are certainly getting on with that work. As I said, these issues are complex. They are not straightforward. As I said, the debate and the discourse around this issue, often driven by those opposite, tries to conflate a whole range of issues and stoke community fear and say that we are soft on crime and all this kind of stuff. It is complete rhetoric, because what we know is, as I touched on earlier, these issues are complex, and we want to make sure we have got the right supports enabled to help young offenders.

The government obviously will not be supporting this bill. With all due respect to the member who is raising this and putting this bill forward – and I have touched on this before – what it actually does is oversimplify what I have said is a complex issue, and I hope in my contribution I have laid out some of the complexities that need to be highlighted. Bringing forward rushed legislation cuts corners on critical consultation. It does a huge disservice to our courts, our justice partners and the children that it intends to protect. The criminal justice system works very hard at trying to help young offenders, and ultimately, yes, there need to be criminal sanctions issued to children when they do offend. But at the same time I know magistrates, other court services and our justice partners work incredibly hard and take their work seriously in this area.

The bill seeks to immediately bypass and ignore Victoria’s participation in the national approach on this issue as well. As the Premier made clear less than a week ago, this is a process that deserves a reasonable and fair chance, and we want to make sure that that happens. There are key benefits to a national approach on the issue. For example, a nationally consistent approach means greater consistency in our laws with our borders and a more uniform approach to the application of these laws by our judges, because as we know we are divided up by state boundaries but often things do happen across state borders.

People do not live within state boundaries of course. I will just give a very brief anecdote. I remember when I was at law school studying criminal law there was a very famous case about somebody who lived in the ACT. They were driving a car, but they committed an offence in Canberra, and there was a lot of discourse around which criminal justice system would be hearing the matter and where the offence actually occurred. There might have been an accident that occurred on one side of the boundary; someone might have been flung out of the car and injured. There are all these complexities around jurisdictions. I know we get criticised for talking about why we need to have a nationally consistent approach, but ideally it is better to have a nationally consistent approach.

The national approach on the age of criminal responsibility was a key point of discussion at the most recent meeting of the Standing Council of Attorneys-General in December last year. There is a lot of goodwill between the attorneys-general across all of our states and territories. I know they work incredibly hard and give very serious consideration to these issues. As I said, it is easy to come up with something and just say we want to rush this through, but it is a complex issue and we cannot afford to rush it. An outcome of the meeting was for the national age of criminal responsibility working group to undertake further work to consider the need for adequate supports and services for children who exhibit offending behaviour, which again reflects the need to ensure support for young offenders is the crux of this issue.

The Premier has, however, made it absolutely clear that we will not hesitate to take our own approach if a nationally consistent approach cannot be implemented. This will not, however, be done without ensuring we closely consult with expert stakeholders and our partners in the youth justice system who are at the front line of this issue. Again I might just touch on a personal anecdote. In a previous life I did do some volunteering with a youth outreach service. We would go and visit at-risk youth who were on the streets of Melbourne. As volunteers in that service, we would offer a whole range of things – food and whatnot, toiletries, whatever – but we would also offer an ear to often young children who were out on the streets and not at home. Obviously the question is that if a 14-year-old child is on the streets of Melbourne with a skateboard, not wanting to go home, there is a reason for that. Oftentimes what we found was that kids really just wanted to talk to an older person or a parent. Perhaps what was going on at home was unbearable, and their choice was to perhaps either sleep on the streets or couch surf rather than go home.

What you heard me say in my contribution earlier was to make sure that we have the appropriate supports in place. There are a range of reasons and circumstances for why young people may begin to offend, and I touched on them earlier. Some of these things can be related to trauma. I talked earlier about family violence, abuse and neglect – there can be those things. There can also be mental illness. There can be brain injury and sometimes lifelong brain injury. Someone may have a brain injury that is caused by fetal alcohol syndrome – something that a person will never recover from. It is a lifelong condition that may predispose a person to violent outbursts. Do we punish that person, ongoing, for the rest of their life? I do not know that that is appropriate. I do not know that we should. What does that person require as a young person? Do they not require our support? Do they not require support and appropriate services – wraparound support from government services or other services or agencies to help them actually live the best life that they can given the lifelong condition that they have? Is it their fault they have a brain injury that might predispose them to violent outbursts? Again, I do not know that it is.

We hear lots of discussion around human rights in this place from some people, but the bottom line is that it is a balancing act. We need to balance the rights of individuals. We need to balance the rights of community members to feel safe in their own communities. We also need to ensure that we have the best approaches that we can towards people who are young offenders and, where absolutely possible, divert them from the criminal justice system so that they do not become life course offenders. There is something that is absolutely crystal clear: incarcerating a young child will absolutely make them a life course offender, and that is something that I do not think anybody wants in Victoria.

To incarcerate someone for the entire period of their life is actually incredibly expensive. And of course if you incarcerate someone at a young age, when they are 14, the person that they are when they are 50 or 60 may be an entirely different person. Perhaps with help and support and rehabilitation that person may be able to turn their life around. Again, circumstances that may have prevailed may have prevented that person from being able to live a full life. So there are lots of different approaches that could be taken. As I said, it is expensive to incarcerate someone for the rest of their life, so why wouldn’t we frontload any efforts by investing in reforms and support services and taking therapeutic approaches to young offenders where we absolutely can.

I might conclude my contribution there. It is a serious issue. It is a very complex issue. I just really want to say that whilst I think the bill does oversimplify this I want to thank the member nevertheless for bringing it forward and I guess for the chamber to have a debate around these issues as well. It is important, and it also gives the Parliament here in this chamber an opportunity to explain to people who might be watching at home, watching our debate, the complexities around this. Because again we do see in the media a conflation of issues around softness on crime. It is actually not about that at all, and I think most fair-minded Victorians given half the chance to understand the complexities around this issue would find a lot of sympathy with some of the things that have been raised today.

I know a lot of constituents in my own region also do not want to see children incarcerated. They are up for looking at appropriate reforms where we can see people, young offenders perhaps, turning their lives around and living their best lives and becoming fully functioning members of our society, which is ultimately what we all would like to see. So thank you. I will leave my contribution there.

Matthew BACH (North-Eastern Metropolitan) (16:12): It is fantastic to rise, finally, to have a discussion about raising the age of criminal responsibility. We have been waiting a very long time for this moment, and it is odd to hear members of the government say that they are really pleased to have a debate about these matters. We could have had a debate about these matters hundreds and hundreds of days ago, because of course 500 days ago this week – it is a sad anniversary – the Children, Youth and Families Amendment (Child Protection) Bill 2021 was introduced by the government; a good bill. The Minister for Child Protection and Family Services is in the house, which is fabulous. She was discussing a different child protection bill that she reintroduced. It is not her fault that it lapsed last term. We had a different child protection minister at the time; I cannot remember who it was. It could have been one of a whole range of people. Nonetheless, this minister has brought back the Children and Health Legislation Amendment (Statement of Recognition, Aboriginal Self-determination and Other Matters) Bill 2023, and that is a very good thing.

Of course at the time, hundreds and hundreds of days ago, the government was so desperate to avoid this very debate about whether we should raise the age of criminal responsibility that it ditched a bill that it said was absolutely vital for vulnerable children, introduced 500 days ago. I know I am going off topic at the start, but seeing that bill again, the children, youth and families bill, will not be a bad thing either because I do not think Dr Ratnam – I cannot speak for her – will necessarily be seeking to attach an amendment to raise the age of criminal responsibility, because she has brought forward this private members bill, and I for one am incredibly pleased that she has done so.

I concur with many of the points that Ms Terpstra made. I caught the eye of Mr Puglielli while Ms Terpstra was talking. The three of us – along with you, President – all represent the good people of Melbourne’s east and north-east. I dare say again on this point we would all be in agreement that the vast majority of people in that community want to see not only fewer and fewer young people in custody but also fewer and fewer young people having any interaction whatsoever with the youth justice system. So it has been good to hear members from across the chamber talk about a commitment to more diversion, for example. I think we need to do that. We need to see that. We need to see more done.

Again, this is ongoing work from the minister for child protection, who is here, to seek to end the dreadful pipeline that has existed for so many years between child protection and youth justice whereby the most vulnerable and traumatised young people in the state are funnelled, as a result of policy, into youth justice. We know our recidivism rates are out of control in Victoria. So what we do as legislators when we put in place dysfunctional policies that funnel the most vulnerable and traumatised young people in this state into youth justice is not somehow magically fix or redeem them but brutalise and traumatise them further, making it more likely, not less likely, that ultimately they will go on to lead lives of significant dysfunction and, yes, greater criminality.

Again, I agree with the points that Ms Terpstra made. Too often, probably since the 1980s or 90s, we have seen a chest-beating exercise that has been engaged in by parties certainly of the centre left and the centre right, in an effort to be seen to be tough on crime. This impulse has led to, again, bad policies and far too many young people coming into the orbit of criminal justice systems. I am on the record as saying that, in my view, youth prisons represent the greatest social policy failure of the last 200 years. We need to have prisons, I think, and there is a need presently, due to a paucity of other options, to incarcerate people who commit really serious crimes in order to keep the community safe. But there are far too many young people – and there are far too many adults, in my view – who have been imprisoned under our current laws for offences that are not violent offences and for offences that are not sexual offences.

Ms Terpstra was right of course that certainly over the last 20 or 30 years it has largely been centre-right parties, often followed along by those on the centre left, who have championed a tough-on-crime agenda. Yet historically, interestingly I think, it has been those on the left who have been far more hopeful about outcomes for people after entering prison, which makes sense when you really think about it. You have to have a touching and I think naive view of the power of the state to do good to think that, by putting the most vulnerable and traumatised people in society all in one place, away from supports and under the gaze of the state, that will somehow redeem or fix them. So my view as a liberal is that we would do far better, principally for young people, to keep as many as possible within their families and their communities. Again, I do not disagree with some of the points Ms Terpstra made specifically about this bill, but I also think that this bill could move forward standing on its own, as it does, as long as then there was an understanding about what could be done outside of a legislative framework to support the young people who have hitherto come into the orbit of the youth justice system.

Here is what I mean. I know that Dr Ratnam is very cognisant that should we go down this pathway – raising the age of criminal responsibility, some people have said to 12, Dr Ratnam argues to 14 and many experts argue to 14 – her view is not that there is no need then for any other systems or processes, and she touched on these issues in her introductory speech, in order to support young people who previously would have moved into the youth justice system. It has been good for me over recent, well, months now to have discussions with the Police Association Victoria and to have discussions with people at the Centre for Excellence in Child and Family Welfare, the Victorian Council of Social Service and other fabulous community organisations, and I am actually convinced that, given how fabulous our community sector here in Victoria is, should we move down this pathway it seems unlikely today but potentially at some point in the very near future our community sector is at a point where it can step up. There are fantastic programs that are currently funded by the government, I would argue, to an extent that needs to be scaled up, but nonetheless they are currently funded by the government. I am thinking about programs like functional family therapy.

This is one of the programs that in my mind’s eye could be used to support young people who have committed crimes but who we all I think desperately want to keep out of the youth justice system. And I would reject any notion that programs like this are a soft option. I have had detailed discussions, for example, with the CEO of Anglicare Paul McDonald about functional family therapy. Anglicare runs functional family therapy – funded by the government; thank you, Minister – and that is a tough program for parents and families to go through. In particular it is a tough program for deadbeat dads to go through. So again I agree with some of the remarks of Ms Terpstra that one of the reasons why it is so important to be having this debate is that there is still, hopefully in a small portion of the community, a misunderstanding about the nature of supports available for young people. I think, should we go down this pathway, today or at a future point, there will certainly be a need to very significantly scale up the amount of funding, first and foremost to the community sector, to carry out that work. I think the approaches are already there and the expertise is there in our community sector in order to support young people who have experienced shocking trauma and do so in a way that far more often than not would, I think, leave members of the community satisfied that they will be kept safe.

There are questions of course about specifically what should be done in the very, very rare cases where young people commit particularly heinous crimes. I suppose I am thinking about violent crimes and sexual crimes. Again, I am well aware that advocates of raising the age of criminal responsibility to 14 – advocates who I deeply respect – argue that even in those cases there should be principally a welfare response, a community-based response, rather than a criminal justice response. I think that, however, is a very difficult question for many members of the community and one that needs to be unpacked to see if we could get to a point where there is some consensus across the community. I understand, of course, that advocates of raising the age of criminal responsibility to 14 – and this includes Dr Ratnam and the Greens team – are very keen not to see so-called carve-outs. But nonetheless on a personal level I do not mind saying that I am exercised about what we would do in that very, very small number of cases where particularly egregious crimes have been committed. And obviously the Police Association Victoria and some others who work in law enforcement have views of their own there as well.

So from the point of view of the Liberal Party and the National Party, we are not in a position to support this bill today. We are very pleased that Dr Ratnam has brought it forward. I want to acknowledge her longstanding advocacy in this area. It is advocacy that is founded on her understanding of the evidence and her deep compassion for young people who have experienced trauma as well. I am pleased to hear from others in this chamber about the commitment across the board, it seems to me, to seek to do far better, whatever the particular mechanism may be, to not only keep vulnerable and traumatised young people out of youth justice facilities but stop young people rubbing up, if you like, against the youth justice system.

Again, this is a point that Dr Ratnam has made time and time again, and I think she makes it well and aptly. Yes, we are talking about a tiny population, praise God, in Victoria’s youth justice centres. But the number of young people who have interactions with the youth justice system is far greater, and we know from all the evidence that outcomes for that much, much broader cohort are also dreadful. So it is a very important discussion to be had, principally because of the fact that we are not at a point yet where we have either a fulsome understanding or a commitment – largely a funding commitment – from the government about scaling up the supports that would need to be done in order to make sure that we support young people in a way that gives the community satisfaction that they will be kept safe up to the age of 14. It is principally for that reason – but also because we want to have ongoing discussions about the tiny proportion of young people who commit really violent or sexual crimes and what is the best way forward for them – that we are not in a position today to support this bill, notwithstanding the fact that we thank Dr Ratnam heartily for bringing it forward.

Georgie PURCELL (Northern Victoria) (16:26): I rise today to speak in support of this bill to raise the age of criminal responsibility, and I thank the Greens for bringing this important issue for debate. I would like to start by asking you all to consider where you were, what you were like and what mattered to you at the age of 10. I would suspect that, coming from diverse backgrounds, our responses would all differ a little, but I could hazard a guess that no-one in this place, the other place or anywhere in Victoria as a whole would say that at just 10 years old they believed they could be identified as a criminal. But under our current laws that is exactly what can happen. This in most instances is not the fault of the individual, the family or the school. It is the decades of failure of governance, systems, services and society that make it more likely for some children to be more disadvantaged than others.

For me at age 10 my best friend was a budgie named Cletus, I still had a favourite teddy – her name was Lucy – and I had not quite broken the habit of running down to my parents’ room when I woke up scared in the night. It is incredible to me to think that when I was this young I could have been arrested, charged and potentially jailed, but the reality is it is unlikely that I ever would have been. In just one year across Australia close to 600 children were locked up and thousands more were hauled through the criminal justice system. But it is Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children that are disproportionately impacted by these laws at even higher rates, accounting for 65 per cent of younger children in prisons.

We know that locking children up has a lasting detrimental effect on them, only making them more likely to reoffend in the future. Criminalising children creates a vicious cycle of disadvantage and only widens the gap of racial injustice in this state. We must listen to First Nations people, who have been crying out for this most basic of reforms to protect one of the most vulnerable cohorts of our society: our children. Our nation and our state are lagging far behind our international counterparts on this issue. It is not just embarrassing that we are failing our children, it is heartbreaking.

This bill will also prohibit in law the use of solitary confinement on children held in youth detention. I support the full reform of this system to genuinely rehabilitate and support our youth. The Victorian government has a chance to lead the way on this reform, and as a progressive state I hope that we can do this and encourage the rest of the country to follow in our footsteps. The current age of criminal responsibility is one of the biggest failures of our state’s justice system. Our children belong in schoolyards and not in prison cells. I am hopeful that we can support the significant findings from the recent inquiry on the need to reform Victoria’s bail system and to raise the age of criminal responsibility to 14 years in this state, and that is why I am proud to support this bill today.

Jeff BOURMAN (Eastern Victoria) (16:29): I rise to give my input to this issue. It will not surprise anyone that I am not supportive of it, but I am not hardcore against it in principle, and I will go into why. We see the world through the lens of ourselves. We grow up. We go through everything. Ms Purcell had a budgie named Cletus, which is probably more than we ever thought we would find out, and probably had a nice childhood. Now, not everyone in this place will have had that. We have had people come from diverse backgrounds, but we all knew right from wrong, and I think that was the difference.

I think because we see things through our own lens and our own experiences, we forget that other people have a different outlook on life and different experiences. Do I think jailing people under 14 is the first answer? No. Do I think it is the only answer? No. But having experience of dealing with some of these people, these so-called kids, some of them are just caught up in a wheel that they cannot get off, and by all means have the system help them to get off, but some of them – I do not know whether it is nature or nurture – are broken. Some of them are rapists and some of them are murderers, and they are under 14. By increasing the age of criminal responsibility to 14, you are leaving a gap of what to do with them. I hear a lot about raising the age. I do not hear a lot about what to do with the rapists and the murderers, and they are out there at that age. Sadly, I had to meet a few of them. I can only imagine they are either in the system or dead by now. But I think as we propel ourselves headlong into a brave new world, we need to be careful. We need to not put the horse before the cart. We need to have answers to the things like what to do with the hardcore criminals that are under the age of 14 before we start letting everyone out.

Now, perhaps Ms Ratnam in her summing up will help me with this, but until we have that done, I think it would be grossly irresponsible for anyone to change the age of criminal responsibility. I mean, as a young person, in fact as an adult, it is pretty hard to go to jail. Unless it is a particularly serious crime, you do not just get caught shoplifting once and get sent to the can. Nope. You will go through a number of things and then eventually if you are a recidivist offender you may or may not find your way into the prison system. Now, to a small degree, a touch in with the justice system is the first opportunity for the wider government – the justice system, the government, social services or whatever you want to call it – to have an influence on a person’s life. Now, as it is at the moment under 10 there is no criminal responsibility, but if we just raise that to 14, well, then what do we do?

I think this may or may not get through in this term of government and all that sort of thing, but very much like the public drunkenness laws, the cart was definitely put before the horse, and that was as much a health response as a police response. The police were looking after people as drunks, and I can tell you from personal experience that does not always go well, but someone was looking after them. Now, if it is no longer an offence, who is going to look after these kids?

Lee TARLAMIS (South-Eastern Metropolitan) (16:33): I move:

That debate on this bill be deferred until later this day.

Motion agreed to and debate adjourned until later this day.