Raise The Age

Abigail showed support today for the Greens led Bill to raise the age of criminal responsibility in NSW. 

Abigail said:

I will speak briefly in support of the work of my colleague Mr David Shoebridge and long-overdue Children (Criminal Proceedings) Amendment (Age of Criminal Responsibility) Bill 2021. Sometimes standing here, when we are talking about issues like this, the responses we get from Government and Opposition members make it sound as though we are making an unusual or rare suggestion. The idea of raising the age of criminal responsibility from 10 years is in accordance with the global consensus. This is what the United Nations and so many other countries have agreed to do. It is being done in the Australian Capital Territory. It is not some wild, out-there idea. This is eminently doable. We have had many years to consider it. Anyone who is saying that this is somehow rushed or flawed has not been paying attention to the debate.

It got me thinking. I have a nine-year-old at home. I also have a 12-year-old. Neither of them take responsibility. They are kids. Punishing them or telling them that they have done the wrong thing is not how I get good outcomes from my kids. I get good outcomes by talking to them about where we want to get to, what is holding them back and what made them do the thing. To get them to the point where I want them to be, where they are taking responsibility for their actions, takes investment and time and really nurturing my children. It is not achieved by punishing them.

I think about why we have this criminal responsibility at age 10. Is it a product of history? Is it because we did not understand kids and we thought that this kind of really hard punishment approach was where it was at? Perhaps we were just behind. Now we know. We have decades of psychological research, of people understanding children better, of fantastic teachers and educators, who can tell us very clearly how to get the best out of our kids. Maybe we just have not taken that into account yet and that is why we have not got to the point of raising the age way above 10.

But then I think we have had children for a long time. Before we had all of that research, we all knew children. We all know children. We all know that a child who is 10 is of course not taking responsibility for property offences and things like that. The idea of assigning criminal responsibility to a child who is 10 or 12 or even 14 years old—especially knowing that kids develop at different rates over time—to me is quite absurd, as is that we are still in this situation and that, when we are talking about lifting the age, we are getting so much resistance. So I think we have to look deeper at why that is.

I do not think you have to look much further than the characteristics of the children we are talking about here. These are not my kids. On the whole, these are children who have faced incredible disadvantage in their lives. These are the forgotten children in our society. These are the kids who have come from families with domestic violence and kids who have been assaulted. I think about 65 per cent of the children who are currently in our jails and under the age of 16 are First Nations children. I apologise for not getting the percentage exactly right. But when you look at what they like to call the social determinants of imprisonment at a young age or of being arrested and hauled before the courts, we are talking about children that are the forgotten children, but they are children with untreated physical and mental health issues. They are children who have not been given the nurturing that my children have been given. For whatever reason, they have slipped through the gaps. They have not been looked after by society. Society has, as the Hon. Tara Moriarty said, failed them.

Our response should not be to continue to fail them by holding them to an adult standard and by putting them in places where we know—we have the evidence—that disadvantage continues. We take disadvantaged children, we haul them before the courts, we punish them and then we know that those children will go on to continue in a life of disadvantage. The bill would break the cycle of disadvantage and put the onus back on government to put in place the supports those children need so that we do not need to haul them before the courts in order to get that better behaviour out of them.

This is not hard; everyone else is doing it. The rest of the world is moving that way. Here in New South Wales we are stuck for no apparent reason. Both sides of the Chamber have told us how we are all failing children, and this is terrible and we need these system reforms. Of course we do. Everyone knows what we need to do. But part of that picture is not locking kids up and holding them responsible for things they are doing when they are kids. So I wholeheartedly support the bill. It is one of those things where I know we will get there. We will raise the age. It is very disappointing to hear both sides of the Chamber not get there yet, but we will get there eventually.


The full transcript and debate can be found in Hansard, here.

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