Ms PATTEN (Northern Metropolitan) (11:47): My question is for the Attorney-General. Only minutes ago on the steps of Parliament I received a petition of 65 799 Victorians, and this was from the Smart Justice for Young People coalition, calling on the government to raise the age of criminal responsibility to at least 14 years.
This is a proposal that is largely consistent with the findings and recommendations of the inquiry into Victoria’s justice system that was undertaken by this house’s Legal and Social Issues Committee.
Previously, Attorney, you indicated a federally consistent approach was your focus, so with the Meeting of Attorneys-General occurring just a few days ago, can you detail what progress was made on this issue and when we might expect a report from the working group and action in Victoria?
Ms SYMES (Northern Victoria—Leader of the Government, Attorney-General, Minister for Emergency Services) (11:48): I thank Ms Patten for her question. Of course the conversation around the age of criminal responsibility is very important, and I do welcome continued advocacy from groups. Of course no-one wants to see young people caught up in our justice system, let alone in our custodial system.
What we know is that those numbers are very, very small here in Victoria, and I am very proud of the work that the government continues to do, particularly in the youth justice space, to continue to drive down those numbers. The Meeting of Attorneys-General last Friday was really positive—a really, really welcome conversation about raising the age, about diversion and about alternative pathways for young people to keep them out of the custody system. We have had a change of federal government, which has meant a change of focus—an actual interest in this issue, which was very forthcoming.
But to have every state and territory interested in this issue cannot be understated. I think the conversation at the national level is important, particularly for those of us that have electorates that border other states. I think national consistency in this space is really good. I have always said raising the age, for me, is not about a number, because I want it not to matter.
I want to make sure that, as a government, in a whole-of-government approach, we have the services, the support and the programs in place so that kids that are currently caught up in the justice system have somewhere else to go. I do not want to be in a situation where we raise the age to an arbitrary number and all we are doing is deferring the date that those children come into contact with the justice system.
What we want to do is make sure that any changes to the age of criminal responsibility involve careful consideration about what happens to these kids. Right now in Victoria we do not have any kids aged 11 or 12 in custodial settings, for example. We have not for a while, and we hope we will not have that. We have the Children’s Court and services that are really focused on making sure that any of the kids that are at potential risk of entering the justice system in that age cohort are wrapped around and making sure that there are alternatives for them.
We do have some 13-year-olds—small numbers again. I know that there is an argument for raising the age to 14 or 12. We are all having these conversations, but for me the importance is making sure that those support services—the safety net, for example—are put in place before a number is changed.
Ms PATTEN (Northern Metropolitan) (11:50): Thanks, Minister. You are right, we do need those services, and when we are spending $3000 a day for children in our justice system that is $3000 a day that we cannot be spending to support those families. As you said, we know that this is largely around disadvantage—and families in intergenerational disadvantage many times.
So I agree with you that there are better ways to deal with children at this age, and I am pleased that you are welcoming this advocacy. By way of supplementary: would you be prepared to receive from me directly the petition from Smart Justice for Young People and respond directly to the organisers of that petition?
Ms SYMES (Northern Victoria—Leader of the Government, Attorney-General, Minister for Emergency Services) (11:51): Ms Patten, I am sure if you would like to present anything on their behalf that is fine, but I can guarantee you that most of the signatories and all of the organisations that are signatories have personally met with me in a range of forums or at least had contact with me, my office or the department.
If you wish to double that advocacy by personally representing them, then I welcome that, but that is not to say that I do not have personal contact with many of the people that are represented by that petition.
Fiona Patten MP
Leader of Reason
Member for Northern Metropolitan Region
Question without notice 16/8/22