Mark Dreyfus, attorneys-general to raise age of criminal responsibility

Home Politics Mark Dreyfus, attorneys-general to raise age of criminal responsibility
Mark Dreyfus, attorneys-general to raise age of criminal responsibility

The age of criminal responsibility will be considered by the country’s attorneys-general when they meet on Friday.

The second attorneys-general meeting of the year, chaired by federal Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus, will also consider whether to release a landmark report advocates say the previous government kept hidden.

There have long been calls for Australia to reform its justice system and raise the age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 14 as recommended by the United Nations.

Last month, the Northern Territory lifted its age of criminal responsibility to 12, while the ACT is in the process of transitioning to 14.

Save the Children’s 54 reasons chief executive Matt Gardiner warned that Australia risked being left behind on youth justice if states and territories didn’t adopt a minimum age of 14.

“The United Nations, legal and medical experts, and children’s advocates all recognise that raising the age to 14 is the absolute minimum we must do to adequately protect children’s rights in Australia’s criminal justice system,” Mr Gardiner said.

“While some states and territories have begun to act, they are not going far enough to address an issue that disproportionately impacts Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children.

“We know what works. The research is clear: it’s trauma-informed treatment and community-based alternatives to criminalisation, not locking up children.”

The national Raise the Age alliance earlier this week called for Mr Dreyfus and his state and territory counterparts to “immediately enact” a secret report’s recommendation to raise the age of criminal responsibility.

According to the alliance, the report was prepared in 2020 but had been kept hidden. Mr Dreyfus told federal parliament last month that he instructed his department to include the release of the report as an item for decision at Friday’s meeting.

Change the Record co-chair Cheryl Axleby said kids deserved to be supported in their homes and communities.

“And with the Aboriginal community-controlled, strengths-based services they need to grow up safe and thrive,” she said.

“Governments must be brave enough to put the interests of Aboriginal people, our children and the safety of the whole community above law-and-order politics and raise the age to at least 14, no exceptions.”

A spokesman for Mr Dreyfus said the government was working closely with stakeholders on the issue.

“The decision by the Northern Territory to raise the age to 12 is evidence of the progress being made,” the spokesman said.

“This Friday’s meeting … will also receive a progress report from the Age of Criminal Responsibility working group.

“This working group is paying particular attention to addressing the overrepresentation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in the criminal justice system.”

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