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Thursday, June 24, 2021

Community sector pushing new government to raise the age

The ACT’s service delivery, human rights, legal and representative sectors have welcomed the Territory’s new parliamentary agreement which includes a commitment to raise the criminal age of responsibility.

The commitment was outlined in the 10th Legislative Assembly Parliamentary and Governing Agreement released on Monday, with the ACT’s new Attorney-General and ACT Greens leader, Shane Rattenbury, stating his dedication to the cause. 

“I am very honoured to take on the role of Attorney-General, it’s a significant role in the government and is one that will allow me to continue with the justice reinvestment agenda,” he said.

“Obviously, raising the age of criminal responsibility was discussed last term and we will continue with that reform as well.

“Many of these issues cut across more than one minister so while ministers will have the lead, some things like the criminal age of responsibility … we will need to build a system that makes sure there are also supports and social services to make that change possible.”

The matter previously went before the Council of Attorneys-General (CAG) but was postponed with former ACT Attorney-General Gordon Ramsay stating the ACT Government would “advocate for a nationally consistent position”.

The ACT did show a 26.7% decrease in detention rates for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people between 2017 and 2019, however, they are still imprisoned at eight times the rate of their non-Indigenous peers.

Organisations within the community sector, such as the Gugan Gulwan Youth Aboriginal Corporation, have been advocating for the change, with CEO Kim Davison welcoming the new parliamentary agreement.

“We will wait to see the final text of the legislation to change these damaging laws, but this is a promising step in the right direction,” she said.

“The medical evidence says the age of criminal responsibility must be raised to at least 14 years old, so we will be looking at any legislation carefully to make sure it keeps all kids under 14 out of the dangerous quicksand of the criminal justice system.” 

The ACT Council of Social Services has also been a strong voice for the ‘Raise the Age’ campaign, calling on the ACT Government to move ahead of other Australian jurisdictions on the matter.

“The ACT Government’s commitment to raising the age is an important step to fully realising the ACT as a human rights jurisdiction,” CEO Emma Campbell said.  

“We regret that the CAG process is lagging behind, but we hope that this decision will show other states and territories the importance of going it alone to keep children out of prison.”

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