Ms PATTEN (Northern Metropolitan) — I rise to speak briefly on the Children and Justice Legislation Amendment (Youth Justice Reform) Bill 2017. As my colleagues are aware, I sit on the Legal and Social Issues Committee which is holding an inquiry into youth justice in Victoria. We have received over 65 submissions and gathered days of expert evidence via public hearings. That inquiry is now in its drafting stage; we are due to report in less than a month. It has been a very insightful process and we have heard a really interesting and productive range of evidence-based solutions. That is why I find it so frustrating that we are debating this bill now while we have got an inquiry going on. Instead of waiting for the conclusions of that inquiry and listening to the expert material that we gathered, we are steaming ahead with this bill.
My frustration is absolutely compounded when we see the report that this government commissioned on youth justice being brought down on the weekend. It is a very good report. Penny Armytage and Professor James Ogloff, who also gave evidence to our committee and really outlined the significant issues within our youth justice system, made a series of 162 recommendations which this government has supported.
We have a backlog of over 24 bills in this house that we are trying to get through, so why are we bringing this bill on now? If we are going to support the recommendations made by this report, we will be seeing a whole new youth justice act being introduced into this Parliament soon. I personally support the recommendation that we need a completely new and separate youth justice act. I think this is a very significant report. I am disappointed that we are debating this bill when these significant recommendations have been made and when we have a committee doing an inquiry into this area and being ignored. We are sitting here going through this bill, and I would expect that we will be debating a new piece of legislation on youth justice in the early part of next year. As such I am quite ambivalent about this bill.
Despite what we have heard and despite what much of the media may tell us, youth crime is actually decreasing in Victoria. It has been doing that since 2010. This is also noted in the Armytage-Ogloff report. But as Dr Carling-Jenkins mentioned, this is complex. This is a complex area. Despite the fact that the number of children sentenced in the Children’s Court has halved over the last eight years, we are seeing troubling trends of certain offence types. But what we know is that cohort is a very small group, in fact as small as 180 young people. That is 1.6 per cent of youth offenders, and very sadly they are committing 25 per cent of crimes.
As I articulated just a few weeks before the break, in my budget reply speech — and I am pleased that Ogloff and Armytage agree — this cohort is so small that these children could be reached really proactively. Our focus should also be on the criminogenic factors that drive offending. Let us look at the reasons children are offending. That is how we will reduce offending. That is how we will reduce recidivism. It is obviously in the ultimate best interest of our community, of the public safety of our community and of the wellbeing of young people in our community.
There are so many tangible successes in other jurisdictions that we should be learning from. I mean the Netherlands is closing prisons down. They are incarcerating 69 per 100 000 people compared to 138 per 100 000 people in Victoria. We spend $2000 per day to hold a child in youth detention. I think we could be spending that money far more intelligently to reduce youth offending in this state, but this bill does not chart that path, and I note from the Armytage and Ogloff report that 58 per cent of the budget is spent on incarceration yet only 3 per cent is spent on court diversion and other schemes to keep children out of incarceration. As we have said, incarceration of young people should be the very last option.
Just turning quickly to the key elements of the bill, the bill creates a new children’s sentencing disposition — the youth control order. I must say I am somewhat supportive of a further non-custodial sentencing option for children, but I am concerned that an exceptional circumstances threshold upon breach will work against any prospects of rehabilitation and will see children in my opinion unnecessarily put back into incarceration. I am very supportive of changes that introduce a legislative basis for youth diversion, and certainly I think this is one of the better elements of this bill. We know that youth diversion programs such as ROPES have been hugely successful — so successful that 88 per cent of the participants in ROPES do not reoffend. That is a much higher proportion than low-level recorded outcomes when we incarcerate children. It is this type of evidence-based policy that we should be adopting in Victoria, and I do commend the government for putting this into the legislation. It goes to Mr Morris’s concerns about the recidivism and the ongoing recidivism of our children, so supporting youth diversion programs such as ROPES is great.
The dual-track system prevents young and vulnerable offenders with good prospects of rehabilitation from entering the adult system at a young age, and this is abundantly sensible. I have been out to Malmsbury and I have seen how that dual-track system can be effective in giving those young people the tools they need, the education they need and the skills they need to enter back into society and certainly into the workforce or into higher education. To limit the availability of the dual-track system as this bill does, to limit it via offence type rather than the prospects of reform, which the dual-track system was always based on — the prospects of rehabilitation — and now to deny that in this bill and limit it to sentencing via offence will ultimately burden our community more in the long run. It works directly against the recommendations from Armytage and Ogloff that the government has stated it will support. So on one hand they are supporting the recommendations of Armytage and Ogloff but on the other hand we are introducing a bill that absolutely contradicts those recommendations. As I have stated, detention must remain an option of last resort. Depriving a child of their liberty is detrimental to adolescent development and dislocates young people from protective factors.
There is no evidence and we have not seen any evidence in our committee that custodial orders reduce offending. Elevating the short-term protection of the community as a sentencing consideration in some cases is again less protective of the community in the long run. Youth sentencing should focus, as I said, on the reasons for offending — the criminogenic needs. This change to youth sentencing considerations in this bill does the opposite.
The mandatory parole charges in this bill are quite curious; in fact I would have to say they are poorly drafted. The new subsections 458A(1) and (3) insert what conditions the Youth Parole Board must impose, and then subsection (2) provides an exception so broad that they will not need to impose those conditions. I really think this is knee-jerk legislation, and I think we could have done better. I think we should have waited for the parliamentary inquiry to report and waited to consider the excellent report from Penny Armytage and Professor James Ogloff. I commend the youth diversion changes to the house, but I must say I am fairly ambivalent about the rest. I look forward to hearing more about this bill in the committee process.