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Call to raise the age after NSW Attorney General says he could "do it tomorrow"

Giovanni Torre -

The New South Wales Attorney General is under renewed pressure to raise the age of criminal responsibility to 14 - in keeping with international best practice - after admitting at Budget Estimates that he could implement the reform "tomorrow" but won't.

On Wednesday NSW Greens justice spokesperson Sue Higginson said the AG, Michael Daley, had made the comment under questioning.

"Kids need care, they need opportunities, not prison sentences. It's an open secret that locking 10 year olds up just doesn't work. Country mayors are begging for more support for diversionary measures. Families and communities are crying out for the creation of safe environments where kids can get fed and receive career help, education and services to ensure they don't end up in these situations to begin with," she said.

Across the country Indigenous children are drastically overrepresented in the juvenile justice system and particularly in detention, with many held on remand (either having not yet faced trial or received a sentence).

"Putting kids in custody ruins lives and tears families apart," Ms Higginson said.

"Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander kids are massively overrepresented in the justice system and if the Government takes seriously its commitment to Closing the Gap, raising the age of criminal responsibility is a straightforward first step - so straightforward, the Attorney General points out, he could do it tomorrow."

The Members of NSW's Legislative Council said "the call from the community is unanimous, the call from the experts is unanimous" for the reform.

"The Northern Territory has raised the age to 12. Victoria has committed to raising the age to 14. The ACT will raise the age to 14 next year. Tasmania has committed to raising the age to 16. The NSW Attorney General cannot so much as give us a timeline for this decision - other than to say he won't be doing it tomorrow," she said.

"Kids who are incarcerated have an 81 per cent chance of reoffending. By locking them up we are pushing them into a life of crime. The entire corrections system is failing and the Attorney General has admitted as much... yet he boasts that we will continue to lock children up because we do not have the services to meaningfully support them."

Ms Higginson described the continued incarceration of children under 14 as "an appalling and total social failure".

"It is destroying the lives of our most vulnerable," she said.

Mr Daley's comment on Wednesday morning follows statements from NSW Minister for Youth Justice Jihad Dib and Minister for Families and Communities, Kate Washington, who in Budget Estimates both expressed frustration at a lack of progress being made to keep young people out of the justice system, especially Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children, but also both said the age of criminal responsibility is a matter for the Attorney General.

"We have young people really at risk of having a life that doesn't reach its full potential, because we just spend a little bit too long thinking about what we're going to do," Mr Dib said.

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