23 April 2021

At the Meeting of the Attorneys-General, on 31 March 2021, a decision was made to engage in discussions regarding raising the minimum age of criminal responsibility out-of-session. After almost 4 years deliberating on this issue, and hindering reform that is urgently needed, the Commonwealth Attorney General’s Department has decided that raising the age of criminal responsibility (RTA) is an issue to be determined by respective States and Territories.

The Government’s failure to RTA has been widely criticised as failing to meet its obligations under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), at the State, national and international level. Yet, the Attorneys-General have collectively made the decision to not prioritise progressing RTA as we mark the 30th anniversary of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody (RCIADIC).

VALS highlights that Australian ratification of the CRC and the publication of the final report of RCIADIC were events that occurred within months of each other, 30 years ago. VALS has consistently advocated for the implementation of the recommendations of RCIADIC, as well as the rights accorded to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children under existing international human rights norms.

VALS calls upon the Victorian Government to follow the example set by the ACT Government by immediately committing to raising the age, and clearly stating timelines for establishing the legislative framework underpinning this reform.

Given the profound importance of RTA, particularly in regards to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, VALS reiterates the following:

  1. The age of criminal responsibility should be increased to no less than 14 years of age, with a minimum of 16 years of age for detention in a custodial facility. This is consistent with contemporary international human rights standards.
  2. Focus should be on prevention and early support, as well as rehabilitation, rather than punishment.
  3. Rehabilitative approaches should be culturally appropriate; proactively minimise the risk of further trauma to the child; maintain the integrity of the family unit; and consciously serve to mitigate the risk of future offending.

We encourage everyone to listen to VALS Justice Yarns – RCIADIC 30th Anniversary chat with Aunty Rosemary Roe. Rosemary is the aunt of G.J. Roe who died in custody in 1997, aged 11 years old. The decision to postpone raising the age of criminal responsibility has very real consequences for Aboriginal children and their families.

You can find out more about why the Victorian Government should RTA by visiting VALS’ #14Reasons page.