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Tasmanian Amnesty Southern Group - Petition

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Thursday, 10 November 2022

Tags: Children and Young People, Justice

Dr WOODRUFF (Franklin) - Mr Deputy Speaker, it was a beautiful sunny day outside and a group of feisty people on the lawns rallied to raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility. I want to thank Amnesty International for their efforts around Australia, in Tasmania, and overseas, in making detention systems and justice systems work for the people who are in them and to prevent the harm and damage that is done when children are locked up.

Children in Tasmania can be criminalised in the justice system from the age of 10. From the age of 10, 11, 12, 13 and 14. These are children in fourth grade, fifth grade, sixth grade and year 7.

They are truly children whose brains and emotions are fast developing. They are driven by hormones. They are rapidly changing and highly impressionable. Their desire to fit into the social group is overwhelming. They are desperate to be part of a group and very vulnerable in that context, especially children who have families that are not there to support them - too often families that are abusive or neglectful and have no capacity to support a child who is fickle and wilful and impulsive in their behaviour who are themselves suffering from trauma. They are the children who too often end up being picked up and charged by the police and detained in Ashley Youth Detention Centre. These are children who should not be in detention. They should not be in a court. They should not be in a paddy wagon or a police cell and they should not have to sit down and try and explain in a rational adult way why they did what they did when they are more than incapable themselves of understanding exactly what is happening for them from one moment to the next.

We have to change our response to working with children who are traumatised or who have been abandoned or badly misused by their family. Instead of having a justice approach we need to have a therapeutic child-centred, child-protective approach. We do not need a jail or a court, we need a loving family or a loving step-in family.

This is an old campaign. For years, people have been presenting the evidence, which is now overwhelming and widely supported by groups representing the medical, mental health, child welfare and legal professions as well as the human rights bodies, such as Amnesty International and the international UN organisations that represent the Convention for the Rights of a Child and representing the best interests of children all around the world.

What we need is to end the idea that putting young children into the youth justice system will mean that they will do anything other than end up in a life where they are likely to reoffend. That is what we understand and know happens too often. When young children enter into those institutions they become institutionalised. They are vulnerable to being criminalised.

The member for Clark, Ella Haddad, has sought the leave of the House to table the petition that was presented to the rally and presented to the representatives of the Greens and the Labor Party and to independent MLC, member for Nelson, Meg Webb. I was very pleased on behalf of the Greens to receive the names and the signatures of 4318 Tasmanians who have signed the petition to raise the age of criminal responsibility for children to at least 14 years old.

We want to hear now from Ms Archer. I believe she has will in this space to do what is right for children but she is being inconsistent. She is maintaining that Tasmania, on the one hand, needs to not go ahead of other states. But she is also quite clear that she knows as the Attorney-General and the first law maker that Tasmania can make any law it sees fit for our jurisdiction so that is what we are calling on her to do. The Greens have always stood up for the rights of children and their safety.

We recognise in a week where there was an apology from the Premier and the Leader of the Greens and the Leader of the Opposition on behalf of the parliament and previous governments and the current Government, an apology to people who were abused as children in state institutions.

This is the week where it is also appropriate to hear of the harms that are done to children in our institutions now: children who are locked up, locked down, we know, in recent times, for 23 out of 24 hours a day, children under 14 kept in cells by themselves. This is causing harm. And we want to not have to be in a situation where in 10 years’ time, we will have another apology from the parliament - an apology to the children of Ashley, because they are already deserving of our apology, and we want to call an end to that today, and raise the minimum age to 14 as soon as possible.