Allan government fulfils long-awaited promise on Youth Justice Bill 

After years of consultation and negotiations with the legal sector and key stakeholders, the Allan Labor Government today introduced a Youth Justice Bill to Victorian Parliament. VALS welcomes the introduction of the Bill as it fulfils Labor’s promise to better protect our children and young people.  

After a number of failed promises and senseless delays to introducing the Bill, we commend the Government for finally showing leadership and progressing critical reforms on Youth Justice rather than pandering to the dangerous agenda of conservative newspapers.  

The introduced Bill includes several reforms that we should be proud of. This includes raising the age of criminal responsibility to 12, and provisions around sentencing, cautions and diversions. These inclusions will have a positive impact on diverting young people away from the criminal legal system – a system that, as widely acknowledged through Victoria’s truth-telling process, continues to harm and traumatise our people.  

Despite these positive steps towards justice, there is more that the Labor Government could do to ensure our children and young people have the best possible chance at a safe and healthy life. About half of the Aboriginal children in youth prisons have been denied bail after being charged with petty offending and being subject to the same bail tests as adults. VALS remains steadfast in our position that child bail reform should be included in this Bill. In line with our Blueprint for Bail Reform (Poccum’s Law), there should be a presumption of bail for all children and young people. This will prevent further criminalisation of our kids. 

We strongly oppose the inclusion of any new police powers that allow them to engage with children aged 10 and 11 in a way that replicates criminalisation. Responses to concerning behaviours from this cohort must be self-determined and centred in addressing their wellbeing. 

We will continue to advocate that the age of criminal responsibility should be raised to 14 without exceptions, with no new police powers. The government will only commit to raising the age to 14 once an alternative service model has been established, but ACCOs and the Aboriginal community have been delivering effective models for a long time. We are ready to work with the Government to codify them, and make self-determined, trauma-informed models available to all children and young people. 

We are disappointed by the Bill’s inclusion of an electronic monitoring trial on children. We know that electronic monitoring doesn’t work and is a waste of public money. It will not address the underlying issues that lead to offending behaviour. We have continually warned the Government that these provisions will only cause further problems, and that criminalising young people is not the solution.  

Instead, the Government must invest in prevention, early intervention and diversion programs including VALS’ Balit Ngulu Practice, our specialist youth program dedicated to providing legal assistance and representations to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people. If Balit Ngulu’s expansion was funded we would be able to assist many more young people, in a trauma-informed, holistic approach.  

Premier Allan announced her commitment to Treaty and justice in her evidence to the Yoorrook Justice Commission last month, this Bill is a step towards that, but there is so much more work to do. Our young people deserve access to a self-determined and culturally safe legal system. A system that holds young people accountable, but also provides wrap-around, trauma-informed supports that connects them with their community and culture so they grow up strong in their identity.  

Our people, including our children and young people, thrive when we are resourced to be able to self-determine our own futures. We look forward to working with the Allan government, alongside other key stakeholders including the Aboriginal Justice Caucus, in establishing the Aboriginal Youth Justice body.  

Quotes Attributable to Nerita Waight, CEO of the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service: 

“We are proud to have amplified our clients’ voices to inform some of the key reform areas in this historic Bill. Our communities cried out for change, and whilst we didn’t get all we have advocated for, this is a significant step towards achieving a just and fair system for our children and young people.” 

“VALS has achieved some remarkable outcomes in this Bill. With the support of our allies in the sector, including the Aboriginal Justice Caucus, we have been able to advocate for a higher minimum age of criminal responsibility and safer sentencing provisions. This will no doubt have an enormous positive impact on keeping our children and young people out of prison.” 

“VALS’ Balit Ngulu Practice has been working tirelessly to keep our children and young people away from the criminal legal system and re-engage them with supports that will set them up for the best possible life. This is movement towards a legal system that prioritises early intervention, diversion and rehabilitation, and we hoped that the Youth Justice Bill would help us get there. But trialling electronic ankle bracelets on children is a step in the complete wrong direction.” 

“Children do not thrive in prison. We encourage all members of the Victorian Parliament to carefully consider this. Consider the future of our children and young people, and what it really means to set them up not only to be safe, but to do the best that they possibly can in life.” 


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