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NSW police minister defends new bail laws in Labor members revolt

Dechlan Brennan -

NSW Police Minister Yasmin Catley has defended the government’s decision to enact controversial bail laws, challenging critics to travel to the regional towns impacted by youth crime. 

The laws will make it harder for offenders aged 14 to 18 already on bail for certain crimes to get bail gain if they recommit. The government has responded to youth crime in regional areas of NSW, including Moree, by bringing in the new laws, as well as a funding package of over $26 million to “address crime, support young people and improve community safety".

The laws have drawn widespread criticism from Indigenous and legal groups, with the Aboriginal Legal Service (ALS) previously labelling it a “line in the sand” moment. 

They have also attracted the significant ire of Labor figures, with members of the Minister’s own Labor left faction, as well as the Australian Services Union and the Aboriginal Legal Service of NSW/ACT, to gather in Sydney on Thursday to urge the government to repeal changes to the Bail Act that have already passed parliament. 

It was reported last week Labor Inner West mayor Darcy Byrne will bring a motion to repeal the laws at the upcoming Labor conference and to instead fund a “sophisticated, evidence-based package of juvenile justice programs".

“Many party members remember how the Carr government’s tough-on-crime agenda led to more incarceration and recidivism and are worried that history is repeating itself,” Mr Byrne said, as reported by the Sydney Morning Herald. 

ALS NSW/ACT chief executive Karly Warner said the legislation would be a “disaster for regional NSW and for the Labor Party".

“Time will show that these laws will increase crime and make communities more dangerous,” she said. 

ALS NSW/ACT said more than half of the 4393 children sent to prison in 2023 were Indigenous.

"If jailing kids worked, we would have seen it by now," the legal organisation said in a statement on Tuesday. 

On Thursday, Minister Catley, who will not be going to the meeting in Redfern on Thursday evening, told 2GB’s Ben Fordham the Labor Party was a “broad church,” but said the new laws were about doing the “right thing” for regional communities.

“What some people observing this stuff from the city don't understand is that repeated bail without backup, with no intervention whatsoever, is just a road to ruin,” the Minister said. 

“You know, a kid committing serious crimes and just getting bailed 10, 20, 30 times offers that kid nothing but a sure path to adult prison. And it's just throwing that teen back out into the streets to fend for themselves and inevitably repeat the same self-destructive behaviours.

“What the government has announced are measures where a magistrate to consider the likelihood of recidivist offending when making these decisions. It’s on that basis that we made that hard decision.”

Minister Catley said she was “happy to look anyone in my party in the eye” and tell them to go to regional areas such as Moree, Bourke, or Wilcannia and “tell these kids who are on their 20th bail how they’re going to keep them out of jail".

Advocates have argued recidivism is only exacerbated by early access to the carceral and criminal justice system, making the community less safe in the long-term. 

Ms Warner, who is also the chair of the national peak body for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services (NATSILS) said last week: “Policies that result in children being locked up and make problems worse are not solutions – they are dangerous and will result in further tragedy for communities and children.”

There are fears NSW will go the same way as Queensland, which last year saw the government attempt to quell accusations of being soft on youth crime by overriding the state’s Human Rights Act which made breaching bail an offence for children

The aftermath has seen an explosion of children being incarcerated – the majority of whom Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander. There have also been claims by advocacy groups of children pleading guilty to crimes they didn’t commit - therefore endangering their future prospects - in order to avoid spending time behind bars. 

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