Western Australian Labor passed a motion to raise the age of criminal responsibility in the state over the weekend.

Passed during Saturday’s state party conference, the motion was brought forward originally by Federal Labor MP Sue Lines.

It would see the age of criminal responsibility lifted from the current age of 10-years to 14-years.

Social Reinvestment WA (SRWA) has congratulated the party.

“We’re glad to see that WA Labor are taking some of that evidence on board and have made this really important statement that now is the time to raise the age of criminal responsibility,” said SRWA co-chair and chief executive of Wungening Aboriginal Corporation Daniel Morrison.

Morrison said that the current age of 10-years is “simply too young”.

“Governments should not pick and choose if and when they will use an evidence base when it comes to legislation that disproportionately impacts Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children here in WA.”

SRWA Manager Sophie Stewart said that the decision was a “step in the right direction” towards raising the age in WA and bringing the state “in line with the rest of the world”.

“It makes sense that the next step towards making our justice system fairer for children here in WA would be a commitment towards raising the age of criminal responsibility in line with recommendations from the Australian Medical Association and the United Nations Human Rights Council.”

Stewart noted that the party had dedicated continual funding to successful early intervention and prevention programs, like Halls Creek’s Olabud Doogethu justice reinvestment site, in the state budget.

National youth service, Youth Law Australia (YLA) have also congratulated the party on the motion and has called on the Premier to promptly “bring forward the legislation”.

“Criminalising or jailing children doesn’t work. It doesn’t rehabilitate them, it harms them. And it doesn’t make the community safer, it makes it less safe,” said YLA Director Matthew Keeley.

Keeley notes that it’s because “children’s contact with the criminal justice system is criminogenicit contributes to the rate of future criminal offences rather than, as should be expected, the very opposite”.

“Across the board we need responses that are non-criminalising, non-labelling – that are focused on the best interests of the child and that bring together local NGOs and Federal and state agencies wherever the child and his or her family are.”

Keeley acknowledges the intergenerational impact of addressing the “fundamental needs” of young people as opposed to criminalisation including their right to be with family.

“We know that in so many cases family reunification is rendered impossible by a child being placed in detention hundreds of miles from their family and community,” he explained.

“So, responses to children with offending behaviour that address their needs instead of placing them in detention can have real benefits for removed children and for preventing removal in the first place.”

WA Greens support calls for the legislation to be brought forward.

“This is a significant human rights issue; and it is pleasing to see WA Labor listening to the 70 organisations who have been calling for this change but we now need to see that policy translated from the Party to the Parliament,” said WA Greens Senator Dorinda Cox.

According to Cox, “social reinvestment in the community is the solution to youth justice”.

“The system now is not a restorative justice process, that is not driven by trauma informed practice, or the social issues that is driving justice.

“We need alternatives to prison, detention is not the only solution. From a system level we need a legislative policy reform, and we need to be innovative in the way we work with First Nations communities and the capacity they have to work with young people.”

In a statement a spokesperson for the WA Attorney General John Quigley said that the WA Government are already diverting “young people away from the criminal justice system where reasonable”.

They also noted that there are ongoing discussions about raising the age “among the nation’s Attorneys-General”.

“Any changes would require resources and careful consideration to ensure that the small number of children who exhibit serious offending at a young age can be properly managed outside the criminal justice system,” they said.

By Rachael Knowles