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Police, Fire and Emergency Management – Responses to Youth Crime

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Thursday, 8 June 2023

Tags: Police, Youth Justice, State Budget

Dr WOODRUFF - Minister, since your Government came to office -

Ms HADDAD - I only asked two questions, Chair.

Dr WOODRUFF - the proportion of youth offenders who have been subject to non-court actions has dropped from 54 per cent to 43 per cent -

Ms HADDAD - It's meant to be three.

CHAIR - You are part of the Labor Party.

Dr WOODRUFF - and for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people, it's dropped even further from 41 per cent to 22 per cent. These are people who get non-court actions. Your Government's already increased court actions for young people and recidivism has been increasing across this period. Isn't it the case that the punitive tough-on-crime approaches that you're taking and the statements by Commander Elmer, which is that there was a stern guarantee that youth offenders will be charged and put before the courts flies in the face of what we know to be effective in reducing crime? Can you explain the failure to turn that trajectory around? Isn't it because you are uninvesting in youth workers who can do the therapeutic intervention that we need?

Mr ELLIS - I will address a few of the matters that you raise there. There is very strong support from our Government for the work the Commander Elmer and Tasmania Police are doing in the Youth Crime Task Force. There is very strong support among the Tasmanian community - small business owners in the Hobart CBD, shoppers and people going about their daily business. They want to see safe streets. That's really important.

In terms of the broad trends, we've reduced crime in Tasmania by 50 per cent since 20 years ago. That is an enormous reduction. It coincided with record investment from this Government. We have a record number of police on the beat in Tasmania and we are growing that number even further, with a cohort of 101 going through the Tasmania Police Academy at the moment. Our strong investment in being tough on crime is driving lower crime rates.

We've seen a small spike coming out of COVID-19 in the big picture. It's important that we're getting on top of that. We've seen in other jurisdictions in Australia - Queensland and the Northern Territory, in particular - effectively a breakdown of law and order in some places. We do not want to be in that situation here in Tasmania. That's why we continue to invest in police and to get on top of this trend.

There are a range of things driving youth offending around the country at the moment. New trends too. Coming out of COVID-19 and lock-down has been difficult for young people. There are also concerning trends around social media being used by young people to glorify criminal and anti social behaviour in our communities.

Tasmania Police has an important role to play in a law enforcement response but also working with our young people as we go through the process.

Dr WOODRUFF - Your Government's final draft Youth Justice Blueprint, which minister Jaensch produced, says:

By using every opportunity to divert children and young people away from the system, we can prevent offending behaviour from becoming entrenched and a young person entering into a career of offending.

It also says:

Diversion away from the youth justice system is a key principle of the United Nation Convention of the Rights of the Child and the standard minimum rules for administration of juvenile justice.

Minister, the diversion of youth from the justice system is just one of the objectives of your minister's blueprint. Just what you said, and what you are actively trying to do, undermines the work of Mr Jaensch in trying to keep children from a path of crime and provide them with an opportunity.

You're punishing them instead of working with them to divert them away from courts. Isn't this about an ideological disagreement which is clearly out of favour with the majority of the community?

Mr ELLIS - As I mentioned, Dr Woodruff, I completely reject the assertion. We are talking specifically here and we provided information about recidivist offenders. I might pass to the commissioner.

Dr WOODRUFF - They've been increasing under your Government.

Ms ADAMS - It is a real challenge, Dr Woodruff, in terms of receiving feedback from business owners and those who are in our CBDs and in our malls. The Wellington Walk, for example, speaking to members of the community who come to that area, and many of them are receiving treatment in hospital, wanting to sit down and have a coffee, but feeling scared because of the behaviour of young people in that area.

Dr WOODRUFF - I agree they need to be protected but you are in a difficult situation, commissioner, because you are basically being required to implement a tough on crime approach rather than the therapeutic justice approach, which we know would pay dividends for the community in the future.

Ms ADAMS - My approach is to make sure that we keep Tasmanians safe. As I said previously, we do not want to see young people in the criminal justice system at all. We would love to see every one of them diverted from the courts. But we need the young people to admit their offence before they can become eligible for that diversion. Unfortunately, what we are seeing at the moment is young people working together in gangs and that is certainly not the behaviour we have seen. It is our obligation to ensure that people can walk around their communities and enjoy their lifestyles without that fear of being harmed, and that is the real challenge we've got. It's time for a community conversation in relation to this issue of youth crime.

Dr WOODRUFF - Wouldn't it help if you had support with a whole lot of youth workers who are working with this small group of children. We are talking 40, as we have just heard before. Wouldn't that help you to have that approach, with the police who are out there in the community?

Ms ADAMS - There are lots of things we want to consider in terms of being able to address this issue. I have been a police officer for 37 years and youth crime will ebb and flow. There will be times when it is causing concern in the community. This is one of those occasions.

I had discussions with the secretary of the Department for Education, Children and Young People about working together in looking for opportunities to further strengthen and look for diversionary approaches. As I have said, there is not one police officer that wants to be involved in dealing with young people. We want to divert them from the criminal justice system. But for them to be eligible, they need to acknowledge the crime. At the moment, this is an issue that falls at the feet of each police officer that gets called to help a member of the community, and we will always put the safety of our community first.

Mr ELLIS - We have a couple of answers to some questions we asked for a bit more time on. We have the LGA data on fuel reduction.

CHAIR - That can probably be tabled, thanks, minister, I have more questions here that I want to ask myself.

Mr ELLIS - Yes, that is fine, we are happy to table that information.