20th March 2024 12:33pm
Victorian Legislative Council, Melbourne

David ETTERSHANK (Western Metropolitan) (12:33): (474)

My question is to the Attorney-General. Last year you removed the provisions relating to children from the Bail Amendment Act 2023.

You committed to the development of separate reforms to keep children out of custody while: “… providing an approach to bail that recognises the unique vulnerabilities and complex disadvantages that children … can face.”

However, this morning we heard that the government has dumped these reforms.

There will be no presumption of bail for children, and instead there will be a trial of electronic monitoring for children on bail. So my question is: what information has led to the government so dramatically reversing its position on this reform?

Jaclyn SYMES (Northern Victoria – Attorney-General, Minister for Emergency Services) (12:34): 

I thank Mr Ettershank for his question. There are a few issues I have with the way you framed your question.

Announcements in relation to electronic monitoring today for bail compliance are not instead of other reforms in the bail space.

You will appreciate that last year we spent a significant amount of time debating the bail reforms, and indeed we did last week because members of the chamber wanted to revisit the will of the house in relation to reforms that are designed to ensure that vulnerable nonviolent alleged offenders are not inappropriately remanded and that we can focus our bail tests on those who pose an unnecessary or unacceptable risk to the community.

When it comes to children, we have very low rates of children in remand and custody, and we have had the Minister for Corrections take us through that on several occasions.

I have spoken in depth with justice partners about practical implementation issues of child bail models. The most substantive proposed change, presumption of bail, so assessing whether a child is an unacceptable risk or not, is what is already occurring.

I think you and I had an exchange – I know some members of the Greens, Ms Copsey in particular – about what is happening in practice. The reality is that when bail decision makers, particularly in the courts, are having conversations with Victoria Police and lawyers that represent children, the vast majority if not all of those young people are meeting the test of exceptional circumstances.

What the conversation comes back down to is whether they are an unacceptable risk or not. That is what is happening in practice. It is our proposal that that is an appropriate setting because that is what is happening. It is the risk to community that is being assessed by the bail decision makers, and that is where the settings will remain.

There is a youth justice bill coming to the Parliament. It has been under development for some time; that will be mid-year. That will contain the consideration of electronic monitoring for bail compliance. It will raise the age. It will have a number of other programs and legislation that are all about embedding our approach to youth justice, which is driven by diverting as many children away from the justice system as possible.

But when it comes to bail considerations, as I have described what is happening in practice, that will be unchanged in the youth justice bill. Whilst we introduce electronic monitoring, it can be informed by that evidence and continued conversations with those with experience in the system. (Time expired)

David ETTERSHANK (Western Metropolitan) (12:37): 

I thank the Attorney for her response. You have also announced the trial of electronic monitoring for children on bail. This policy failed to make it through Parliament in 2018. It is opposed by the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service and, as of a few minutes ago, Save the Children.

It deprives liberty and does not reduce offending. In defending this government’s previous position against this monitoring in 2024, Deputy Premier Carroll noted existing powers to track young offenders and the powers of the youth parole board.

Attorney, you have said that you do not want to create a debate ‘about a youth crime crisis that doesn’t exist’. Attorney, will you explain how this announcement will not exactly encourage such a debate about a youth crime crisis, stigmatise offenders and lead to worse outcomes?

Jaclyn SYMES (Northern Victoria – Attorney-General, Minister for Emergency Services) (12:38): 

That is a rather complex question for a 1-minute response, given I did not manage to finish my answer to your substantive, so I am more than happy to continue this conversation. You are confusing a few different policies.

This is in relation to bail compliance. This is not in relation to parole, which is what you have referred to. This is a trial that will be supported by some, not by everyone, and frankly that is where you find yourself in the portfolio of a justice minister.

It is about balance. What I would draw your attention to is of course we have considered issues such as stigma and such as a badge of honour. We have considered these issues.

We have considered the fact that there will be a cohort of children that it will be inappropriate to have electronic monitoring on because of traumatic backgrounds. There is a remedial aspect to monitoring children on bail.

If kids on bail are complying with their conditions – if they are staying home, if they are engaging in education, if they are looking for employment opportunities – they are less likely to go and reoffend and end up having their bail revoked and end up in prison. You talk about depriving liberty. This is about ensuring that we can keep them out of jail.


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