The Victorian Greens will begin the 60th Victorian Parliament focused on First Nations justice, by introducing a bill to raise the age of criminal responsibility in Victoria from 10 to 14.
Children should be cared for and protected, supported and guided to learn and grow, not charged, convicted and even imprisoned.
Yet, in parts of Australia, children as young as ten can be arrested, put through the court system and potentially locked up, even for minor legal missteps.
If passed, the Greens’ Children, Youth and Families (Raise the Age) Amendment Bill 2022 would amend section 344 of the Children Youth and Families Act 2005, and allow sufficient time to strengthen existing therapeutic and restorative programs before raising the age.
The bill would also prohibit in law the use of solitary confinement on children held in youth detention.
Earlier this month, Australia’s Attorneys-General released a report it had been sitting on for two years which recommended raising the age to 14 without exception.
And just last week the Yoorrook Justice Commission heard powerful evidence of the ongoing failures of the youth justice system, with witnesses calling on the state government to raise the age. These calls were echoed by the co-chair of the First People's Assembly of Victoria.
Leader of the Victorian Greens, Samantha Ratnam, said the Victorian Government was at a crossroads.
MPs across the political spectrum have started to break rank and support the reform, joining calls to raise the age from groups as diverse as Change the Record, Amnesty Australia, NATSILS, the UN, and the Australian Medical Association.
Ms Ratnam said that by supporting the Greens’ bill, the government could lead the way on reform and encourage other states to follow suit.
The Greens’ Children, Youth and Families (Raise the Age) Amendment Bill 2022 will be introduced today, and then second-read when Parliament resumes early next year.
The Greens will also reintroduce their Strengthening Integrity Bill today, which would strengthen IBAC, create stronger laws for lobbyists, make Ministerial diaries public and immediately establish a Parliamentary Integrity Commissioner.
Quotes attributable to Leader of the Victorian Greens, Samantha Ratnam MLC:
“If we are committed to listening to First Nations, we must raise the age of criminal responsibility as a matter of urgency. That is what the Greens are committed to from day one of the 60th Parliament.
“We need to treat children as children, not as criminals. Criminalising children creates a vicious cycle of disadvantage and only deepens the racial injustice in this country.
"As a community we have a duty to listen to First Nations people who are crying out for justice reform including raising the age of criminal responsibility.
“Children need to be kept out of the justice system for as long as possible. Locking them up at such a young age makes them more likely to reoffend.
"Our bill would raise the age of criminal responsibility so that kids as young as ten are supported rather than punished.
"By passing our bill, the Victorian Government has the opportunity to lead the way on reform and encourage other states to follow suit.