Thursday, 21 March 2024

Questions without notice and ministers statements

Bail reform

Katherine COPSEY, Jaclyn SYMES

Bail reform

Katherine COPSEY (Southern Metropolitan) (12:30): (482) My question is for the Attorney-General. Attorney, yesterday you announced a backdown on youth justice reform, reversing your commitment on bail reforms for children, and instead announced a trial of ankle bracelet monitoring for children. These changes were part of the larger reform package including raising the age of criminal responsibility to 12. The Victorian Aboriginal Legal Services has called this:

… a betrayal of all children and young people whose experience of abuse and trauma has had undeniable consequences for their emotional development and affected their ability to respond appropriately, rendering them more likely to offend.

You are also ignoring the Yoorrook Justice Commission’s report on justice. And I note your own evidence to the Yoorrook Justice Commission was that you believe that the bail reforms for children were ‘a significant step in the right direction’. Attorney, were you wrong then or are you wrong now?

The PRESIDENT: You are asking for an opinion. I am happy if you want to rephrase.

Katherine COPSEY: Attorney, can you explain the difference between your stance taken at the Yoorrook Justice Commission and the stance you took yesterday?

Jaclyn SYMES (Northern Victoria – Attorney-General, Minister for Emergency Services) (12:32): I thank Ms Copsey for her question. Again, similarly to Mr Ettershank’s question yesterday, the characterisation in your question of replacing policies and things being instead of other things is just not a true reflection of policy development and a response to youth crime in this state. In relation to bail, the bail reforms that passed the Parliament around about six months ago come into effect next week. You will remember you were in the chamber when we had a significant conversation about provisions for consideration of circumstances related particularly to the Aboriginal community. I was very, very proud of those reforms, and that is a direct response to advocacy from the Aboriginal Justice Caucus and stakeholders. I very much value their opinions.

In relation to your concerns in relation to the settings for child bail and the announcement yesterday that we are not proposing to change those at this time, my position when we discussed this six months ago is the same now. With vulnerable children, which is nearly every child that comes into contact with the justice system – very similar to Minister Blandthorn’s experience of child protection and that correlation, not causation, which some would create a narrative about – the system very much recognises that very nearly all children that come into the justice system are meeting the compelling reasons and exceptional circumstances tests each and every day. Magistrates are considering that it is an extreme measure to put young people in remand or in a custodial setting, and therefore the discussion that magistrates and lawyers are having is about the unacceptable risk to the community. That is the appropriate consideration, in my view, and that is what is happening in practice. In relation to the changes that we made to bail six months ago, it was very much because there was an evidence base that it was causing harm to vulnerable cohorts. That is not the case in relation to the child bail settings.

Katherine COPSEY (Southern Metropolitan) (12:34): I thank the Attorney for her answer. Attorney, your government has also given a commitment as part of these youth justice reforms to raise the age of criminal responsibility to 12 and then to 14 in 2027, which you have advised this house of on a number of occasions. Attorney, given the ease with which your government has reversed your commitment to First Nations people on bail reform for children, will you confirm that the government will not betray First Nations people again by walking back your commitment to raising the age of criminal responsibility to 14?

Jaclyn SYMES (Northern Victoria – Attorney-General, Minister for Emergency Services) (12:35): Ms Copsey, everyone keeps asking me about raising the age to 14. The announcement that we made last year was very clear: we are starting with 12, and that legislation will be this year. Can we get that done? Can we focus on that? What we should be spending our attention on is the alternative services model, which is going to address the concerns that we have in relation to how you then raise the age to 14, because we recognise that that is a more complex cohort. Let us focus on delivering the policy. There is no change in government position. Can we get through in a stepped-out way what we are trying to do – and that is to focus on the youth justice bill, which the minister has spent a lot of time on. It is going to come to the Parliament soon. It will contain raising the age to 12. The commitment in relation to the work on the next step – that is the next step. We are going to do the work after we do the first step. The first step is – (Time expired)