The ACT’s youth, health, legal and community sector have criticised the Australian Attorneys-General “lack of leadership,” after the group failed to raise the criminal age of responsibility yesterday.
Organisations across those sectors are now calling on the ACT Government to take charge and change the Territory law to raise the age from 10 to 14 years.
The matter went before a meeting of the Council of Attorneys-General yesterday, where it was ruled there was more work to be done and postponed until further notice.
Aboriginal Legal Service NSW/ACT CEO, Karly Warner, said the ruling at yesterday’s meeting should not discourage the ACT Government from taking the decision into its own hands.
“We’re disappointed by the lack of action at yesterday’s meeting of Attorneys-General, but that shouldn’t stop the ACT Government from leading on this issue,” she said.
“Every child deserves to be healthy and to reach their potential. With just the flick of a pen, the ACT Government could stop forcing kids into the quicksand of the criminal justice system and ensure kids thrive in community and culture.”
Eighteen local organisations had previously published an open letter to the Territory’s political figures on Thursday 23 July, calling for a change in laws.
However, ACT Attorney-General Gordon Ramsay said while the ACT Government was committed to the cause, they would continue pushing for “national consistency”.
“I understand the detrimental effect that facing the courts and spending time in detention can have on children,” he said.
“As such, the ACT Government is committed to progressing this important issue as a uniform change across Australia through the Council of Attorneys-General.
“We will continue to advocate for a nationally consistent position that reflects the values of our community, that is evidence based and which promotes the resilience of our children.”
Despite the ACT showing a 26.7% decrease in detention rates for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people between 2017 and 2019, they are still imprisoned at eight times the rate of their non-Indigenous peers.
Gugan Gulwan Youth Aboriginal Corporation has also stated its support to raise the age.
“Criminalising any child, but especially those under the age of 14, has lifelong harmful consequences that not only introduces young people into a system which does not address any form of healing, but it also is not set up to work therapeutically nor in trauma informed ways,” the statement said.
“This can result in detrimental long-term negative effects expanding over a lifetime.”
The cause also has the backing of the Australian Medical Association and the ACT Law Society.
The Council of Attorneys-General meeting was the first for 2020 and the Council will generally meet up to twice per year.