Thursday, 9 February 2023
Aiv PUGLIELLI (North-Eastern Metropolitan) (17:47): (34) My adjournment matter is for the Attorney-General and is concerning the ongoing crisis in Victoria’s justice system. Ten years old – amid all the government’s delays and talk about needing to get things right, it is important to remember that the law currently allows kids as young as 10 years old to be locked up. That is too young for an Instagram account; that is young enough to have baby teeth – and we are supposed to accept that these children should be charged, convicted and imprisoned. I am honestly left wondering how anyone could justify this.
It is our job as lawmakers to encourage and maintain an equitable and just society that works for all Victorians. When kids mess up, when kids break the law, they should be supported and guided to learn and grow. Countless studies have shown that when children have contact with the criminal justice system the damage to them, their families and their communities is devastating and lasting. The younger a child is when they are sentenced, the more likely they are to reoffend violently, to continue offending and to end up in prison as an adult. According to Victoria’s Sentencing Advisory Council 2016 report, 94 per cent of children in detention aged 10 to 12 returned to prison before they were 18. Right now the government is ignoring these facts and the widespread calls for urgent reform from community groups, legal experts and even the federal government. They are ignoring that this is part of a system set up to disproportionately criminalise First Nations people at every stage of life and that it is working extremely effectively.
This inaction is not surprising coming from a government that is dragging its feet while Victoria’s broken bail laws keep people languishing in prison. The government has known since 2019 what needs to be done, and the Greens have a bill ready to go. There are vulnerable people in pre-trial detention right now for no reason other than so the people in this building can score political points in the name of making the community safer.
Acting now does not bring back Veronica Nelson. It does not bring back any of the First Nations people who have died while in the custody of the state. It does not undo the untold damage to communities and families from politicised and weaponised justice. We can never undo that harm, but we can do everything in our power to prevent it from continuing. These are not the only reforms we need to our justice system, not even the only urgent reforms. But I ask the Attorney-General to act with urgency and follow federal government advice to raise the age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 14.