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Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service urges greater reforms as Dan Andrews flags raising age of criminal responsibility

Jarred Cross -

Victorian premier Daniel Andrews has flagged an intent not to wait for a nationwide action on raising the age of criminal responsibility, hinting his government will go it alone should the process drag on.

Speaking to reporters on Thursday, Mr Andrews signalled his aim to address youth justice and bring legislation before parliament in the first half of the year.

Currently, children as young as 10 can be held in prison across Australia. Indigenous children are drastically over-represented in the system.

According to the Guardian, an unnamed source from the youth justice sector said raising the age from 10 to 12 or 14 has been discussed within Victorian government.

"We're giving that one more go to try and get a national consensus and if we don't – as we said some time ago – we won't hesitate to do our own thing," Mr Andrews said.

"We'd prefer not to do that, I think a national law would be better, but at some point you have to call time on national processes that just don't deliver.

"I'll leave it to the attorney general to make announcements but clearly, where it is now is not right. It needs to change."

The introduction of legislation is subject to a number of cabinet processes.

Mr Andrews said he also proposes serious offences would remain an exception to any change.

Conversations to raise the age across all states and territories long-running.

Last year a national Council of Attorneys-General report made a "primary recommendation to increase the minimum age of criminal responsibility to 14 years without exceptions."

It followed the NT passing legislation to adopt a minimum age of criminal responsibility to 12, expected to take effect this year, and the ACT making similar commitments incrementally over a number of years.

The Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service welcomed the news from Mr Andrews, saying Victoria needs to lead the way with the caution "it must be done right".

"Raising the age is not just about the children who are being held in prison, but the children who are targeted by police," VALS chief executive Nerita Waight said.

"Every child that comes into contact with police and prison is being harmed.

"Criminalising children traumatises them. Traumatising children does not make communities safer. Making sure children have the security and support they need is what makes communities safer."

Ms Waight said programs currently in place to support young people deserve the funding required to operate properly and have desired impact and the money spent saves governments millions in the long run factoring in police, justice system and jail expenses all entangling vulnerable kids.

She added that recommendations from organisations like VALS must be taken on board, with a reminder to the disadvantaged position carved out around Indigenous people.

"They (the Victorian government) can't waste this opportunity by half doing the job," Ms Waight said.

"Aboriginal people have disproportionately been impacted by the tough on crime politics of the last decade and the government needs to provide greater funding for our people, families and communities so that we can heal the damage that has been done."

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