Children And Justice Legislation Amendment (Youth Justice Reform) Bill 2017 Second reading
Victorian Parliament - 7 June 2017 - Ms KEALY (Lowan) — I rise to make a contribution to the Children and Justice Legislation Amendment (Youth Justice Reform) Bill 2017. This bill is wideranging in its amendments, and it really is targeting, as referred to in its title, changes to the youth justice system.
As we know, there has been enormous chaos in the youth justice system over the past two and a half years. I think we are up to a count of over 40 riots in youth justice centres. We have seen stories of teens being lured or bribed with pizza from the roofs of centres where riots are occurring — —
An honourable member interjected.
Ms KEALY — Absolutely. And Xbox games and, ‘If we throw you a party, will you pretty please stop rioting?’. We have heard stories about youth justice workers locking themselves in cupboards and offices in terror because they are simply not equipped to deal with the situation. Their training has not equipped them; it is certainly not a reflection on those workers. They are not actually given anything to be able to properly manage these teens — who are very much young adults — who are very difficult to control and who have basically been abandoned by this Labor government, which has been flailing and struggling to come to grips with how it will address this youth justice crisis.
It is not just within our youth justice system that we have seen absolute chaos. This is of course something we have seen on our streets. I recall about a year ago we had the riots in Federation Square with the Apex gang and people being absolutely terrorised. When you think back to some of the comments made at the time, they were very much about the lack of fear exhibited by these youths, that they had no respect for police. They had no respect for anybody they came across and absolutely no fear of being caught. They had no fear of being apprehended or suspended in any way. They were certainly on a mission, and nothing could stop them that evening.
Looking through the main provisions of the bill, I will go into those in some detail. There are a number to go through. Clause 4 creates a new offence that applies to an adult over 21 who recruits a child under 18 to commit a crime on their behalf. Obviously we need to do all that we can to ensure that children are not exploited in any way. It is reprehensible that any adult would even think that they would be able to commit a crime by recruiting a child to do so. I think that is an appropriate provision and amendment within this bill. It is something that we would like to see which would lessen the incidence of children being used as criminals by proxy, which is highly inappropriate.
Clauses 9 to 19 introduce a youth control order involving intense supervision and monitoring as an alternative to detention, requiring offenders to engage in education, training, work, treatment or counselling. Youth control orders may include curfews and other restrictions. I will have something further to say on that later in my contribution.
Clauses 20 to 22 insert two categories of serious youth offences. Clause 27 provides for a person over 16 accused of a category A offence to be tried in a higher court and has category B offences involved when considering an uplift. This is something that we have actually publicly called for for some period of time. For youth who have been charged with serious offences and who have repeatedly engaged in violence, we have repeatedly called for those cases and for those instances to be heard in a higher court. This is something that is pleasing to see. However, there has been an enormous amount of violence and terror seen in the community because there has been the delay by Labor to make these relevant changes.
Unfortunately that seems to have been overlooked by members of the government who have made a contribution to the debate so far. In two and a half years all we have seen are riots on the streets and within the youth justice system. I think there have been 40 riots in the youth justice system, and it has taken this long to make any amendment to try and improve the situation. Sitting on your hands for such a long period of time is simply unacceptable. It is weak, and when you look at the conditions and what we have before us, there really is not anything too dramatic and certainly nothing new in the bill that has not already been aired by the Liberal-Nationals over the past couple of years. The ideas have been put out there; it just took Labor a fairly long time to copy and paste and try to brand them as their own.
Clause 40 is also based on one of the policies that we announced in the past 12 months. It allows for the identification of a child who has escaped from a youth justice facility. There has been some copying of the Liberal-Nationals policy when it comes to this clause; however, it takes a far weaker position than that of the policy that we have been calling for in the media. Our policy included youth who repeatedly engage in violent acts, so this clause has a different element. I think it would be important to consider this being included so that it is not just about those escapees from youth justice facilities but that it also concerns repeat youth offenders who engage in violence repeatedly, who terrorise the community and who need to be dealt with appropriately.
Clause 46 provides for tougher consequences for the assault of youth justice officers. This is entirely appropriate. We need to ensure that our workforce is safe. They certainly have not felt safe over the past couple of years.
Clause 59 provides for a diversion program to enable the Children’s Court to adjourn proceedings. If successfully completed, no conviction would be recorded. The child must acknowledge responsibility for the offence to be eligible for this scheme.
As mentioned earlier my contribution, I would like to go back to the elements around youth control orders, and I specifically refer to comments made in the second-reading speech by the minister. I am unsure when youth control orders would be applied. I refer to the second-reading speech:
This government understands that suitable young people should be given the opportunity to rehabilitate, which will protect the community from further offending.
That is all very well and good and something that we certainly support. The next sentence is:
The youth control order is a new sentencing option targeted at children who would otherwise be sentenced to detention because of the seriousness or ongoing nature of their offending …
So the court has deemed them to be a very serious offender; however, the bill proposes that these most serious offenders be then given a youth control order. I am uncertain as to why that would be applicable when there are other elements in the act as it stands today that contain effective diversionary programs — there are other opportunities to try and rehabilitate these youth. I am certainly unsure about the wording of this element of the bill. It is unclear whether or not it means a weakening of the laws so that the most serious youth offenders will be pushed into diversionary and rehabilitative programs rather than being appropriately sentenced because of, as outlined in the second-reading speech, the seriousness or ongoing nature of their offending. I would like that to be clarified, if it could be, throughout the proceedings. Otherwise I think that it would be appropriate for that to be amended so that we have a clear understanding that youth justice laws will not be weakened by the amendments put forward by the Labor government.
I would like to go through how much of an issue this is in Victoria at the moment in terms of youth offenders terrorising Victorians. Going through the headlines, some are appalling: ‘We’ve lost focus in the fight on crime’, ‘Government on the back foot after 24 hours of chaos’, ‘Prison breakout sparks youth justice rethink’ and ‘Time to ditch the kid gloves’. The headlines just go on and on and on: ‘Failing youth’, ‘Broken youth justice set-up fails everyone’. It is time that we took a stronger stance against these youth offenders. The Liberal-Nationals have put forward a number of policies that show a clear alternative and a clear pathway that will assist in ensuring that Victorians once again feel safe in their homes, that they feel safe in their vehicles as they commute to work or take the kids to footy or netball and that we do have a state in which people feel safe again.
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