Ms PATTEN (Northern Metropolitan) — I would like to make a few brief comments in regard to the Bail Amendment Bill 2015, which I will be supporting. Rather than go through the whole bill I just want to focus on the clauses that affect children in particular. By positively amending the bill to exempt children from the offences of contravening a condition of bail and introducing a presumption in favour of police proceeding by way of summons rather than by warrant or arrest we will have absolutely best practice; it is what we should have been doing and it is what we should do now.
When we are talking about the breaches of bail that will now be exempt, we are not talking about serious breaches. If it is a serious breach, there are other provisions and options available, including remand. These are not serious breaches; these are usually examples of where kids are just being kids. This is about kids trying to catch up with friends or failing to adequately understand the provisions of their bail. This is just kids being kids. It is the kind of scenario where a 14-year-old girl, who might be on bail and who has a curfew, sneaking out to meet a friend. I would prefer to support and foster that young girl and give her a better understanding rather than a justice intervention sending her back into the court system and possibly back into remand.
Like many members, I have received a lot of correspondence with regard to these amendments from a number of legal and social justice organisations, including the Commission for Children and Young People. They were all supportive of these clauses, which were designed to help prevent more children from falling into that rabbit hole that is our criminal justice system, which is very hard to crawl out of. We know that once young people get caught in the criminal justice system it becomes a spiral, and it can be a major indicator of people who are going to be in jail at a later age. Sadly this is only brought out by the statistics. I was sorry to find this coming as no surprise on reading a number of these statistics while looking at this bill. We are seeing an increase in the number of vulnerable children, particularly Indigenous Australian children, who have been remanded.
When we look at the conversation that was going on yesterday federally about closing the gap, we know that one of the major indicators for someone finding themselves in jail in Australia is still, sadly, the colour of their skin. The Youth Parole Board found that in 2014, 41 per cent of children and young people on sentence and remand had previous contact with child protection. Thirty-eight per cent of the kids we are sentencing are clients of the child protection system and youth justice. On one side we are trying to protect them via our child protection program, and then on the other side we are punishing the same group. I think this bill goes a long way to try to improve that situation.
The number of Indigenous Australians in out-of-home care has increased by 42 per cent. It is a 42 per cent increase at a time when we are trying to close the gap. But while we try to close the gap it seems that that gap is constantly getting wider and wider, particularly for young Indigenous Australians.
The Victorian Law Reform Commission in 2007 recommended that reverse onus tests and show cause be removed in regard to children and young people, and I think that this bill goes a considerable way to addressing that and to responding to those recommendations that were made nearly 10 years ago.
I note that in his contribution to this debate Mr Rich-Phillips indicated that he feels we still need to send a strong and serious message to young people. I do want to send a strong and serious message to young people that we care about them, that we do not want to see them in remand, that we do not want to see them in the criminal justice system and that we want to do whatever we can to keep them out of the criminal justice system. I believe this bill actually goes some way to doing this. So often it becomes a spinning door: once a child gets into that system, it is, as I have said, so hard for them to get out of it. We have to look at better ways. This bill, by trying to avoid the situation where a child might breach bail conditions just for the sake of hanging out with friends and then be put straight back into remand, straight back into criminal school, as it was, is a positive step.
Honestly I am slightly disappointed by the coalition’s amendments to this bill, which imply that we want to continue sending children to remand for minor breaches of bail conditions. We are not talking about serious offences under bail, we are talking about minor conditions. To continue to want to keep those kids in remand tells children that we do not care. I think it tells children that we are ready to throw them away, that we are ready to close the door on them and walk away. As I say, these are kids who are in the child protection system, and we are looking at throwing away the key for them. We are saying we are not caring. My message to these children is that we do care and we want to do whatever we can so that we can keep them out of remand and out of the criminal justice system and in some way help to improve their future options in life, help to keep them on a positive track rather than going down the rabbit hole of criminal justice. I cannot support the amendments that the coalition is proposing, but I do support the bill.