Victories should be celebrated even when they are not complete.
Amnesty Southern Group celebrated the successful passage of Nelson independent MLC Meg Webb's motion to raise the age of criminal responsibility in Tasmania from 10 to 14 years in the Tasmanian Legislative Council.
All the independents supported it, Labor supported it, but Liberal Montgomery MLC Leonie Hiscutt announced that "the government will not be supporting this motion" and all Liberals voted against it.
The Legislative Council is a house of review and any motion first introduced and passed there gives strong encouragement to the government, but it is not binding.
The House of Assembly may introduce a bill to become legislation if voted on by both Houses of Parliament.
Amnesty Southern has worked very hard for over a year, raising awareness in the Tasmanian community and lobbying politicians to help bring this motion to the Legislative Council. In addition to Amnesty, many other organisations also worked consistently towards that goal. So it is deeply disappointing that the government has decided to develop a proposal to raise the age to only 12, despite overwhelming evidence from medical, law, Indigenous and human rights organisations that doing so will be ineffective and is a betrayal of these children.
A political decision, no doubt, catering to advocates of "law and order" and attempting to delay the introduction of a bill in Parliament to raise the MACR to 14.
The focus must now move to the Lower House; a more difficult task since the Liberal Party has a one-seat majority there.
Politicians of vision are rare. Most make a move when their constituents encourage or demand them to do so and it won't be any different with this Liberal government.
The government has announced the closure of the notorious Ashley Detention Centre to be replaced by two smaller institutions; one near Hobart and another near Launceston. We are told it is already undertaking a number of reforms and government initiatives for Tasmania's children and young people. It must be lauded for that.
The government's new strategy, released in August this year, It takes a Tasmanian Village, announced an investment of $100 million across the next four years on an action plan to deliver Tasmania's first comprehensive, long-term, whole of government child and youth well-being strategy.
Premier Peter Gutwein, has declared: "All Tasmanian children and young people deserve the opportunity to grow up in safe, nurturing and supportive environments. Opportunity begins before you are born and experts tell us that the first 1000 days are critical in determining future health and well-being outcomes". But we know this is not so for many children. Parents may abuse drugs or alcohol. Some of these kids may have been born with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder. Others may spend their first years living in poverty and/or experience family violence; while still others may grow up in more affluent, but dysfunctional, families.
Many have complex underlying problems and have suffered trauma few of us can truly relate to and their behaviour needs to be addressed outside the criminal justice system. The majority of crimes they commit are petty theft, burglary and property related.
It is not a question of them offending and getting away with it but of receiving the appropriate response to their transgressions: Prevention, early intervention, diversionary programs and rehabilitation that may, when appropriate, also include victims of crime and support them in their healing.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, given the historical and ongoing traumas, dispossession, marginalisation and discrimination endured for generations, are over-represented in the youth justice system. Culturally safe programs which support them and their families must be developed and led by Indigenous leaders.
In other words a therapeutic response, not a criminal one. Raising the age of criminal responsibility to 14 will allow these children, whose brains are still developing, who lack reasoning capacity and impulse control, to be given a chance to grow up, mature and be rehabilitated in our society.
If law and order and punishment remain at the core of our response, it is impossible to establish the trust needed with children, their families and their communities.
They are children first and foremost and we should help them become better young people and adults, to participate in and contribute to our society rather than becoming prison inmates with all the associated costs.
The government needs first to commit to raising the age. It will take time for the legislation to be fully drafted and amended if necessary, but like the ACT we will be able to move forward with it.
It is an abdication of our responsibilities as human beings and as a society, to arrest, remand in custody and mandate a child, aged 10 or a few years older, to face the frightening apparatus of the courts and judges and then legally put that child in prison. It will be up to us to usher in that change. We can write to politicians, phone their offices, send letters to newspapers, discuss this on community FB pages, start a conversation at home, with friends, in schools, places of worship or in the workplace. Frederick Douglass said "It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men".
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