The Victorian Greens have introduced a new Bill in a bid to lift the minimum age of criminal responsibility.

Introduced to Victorian Parliament on Thursday, the Bill’s passing would see Victoria become the second jurisdiction in Australia to agree to raise the age from 10 to 14-years-old — in line with international standards.

Greens Senator Lidia Thorpe said criminalising children creates a vicious cycle of disadvantage and only deepens racial injustice in Australia.  

“Our babies deserve a childhood. We need to treat children as children, not as criminals,” she said.

 “It doesn’t need to be like this. If we’re serious about establishing a Treaty in Victoria and other states, then you can’t keep locking up our children and call this good faith.”  

Last year the ACT Legislative Assembly voted to raise the age prior to its October election, with the government at the time preparing the preliminary legislative and policy work for the incoming government.

According to research commissioned by Amnesty International Australia, most Australians support raising the age of criminal responsibility from 10 to at least 14.   

An attitude echoed internationally; Australia has repeatedly received criticism for refusing to raise the age of criminal responsibility.

During the recent United Nations Universal Periodic Review of Human Rights, 31 countries including Canada, France and Norway recommended that Australia address its treatment of Indigenous people and raise the age.  

While the Northern Territory Government has raised the age from 10 to 12 in response to the Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory, the change still falls short of international human rights standards.  

In 2019, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child recommended 14-years as the minimum age.

Amnesty International Australia Indigenous Rights Lead Nolan Hunter said the tough-on-crime rhetoric is a false economy. He noted that all the evidence shows incarcerating children is not the answer.

“Children who are locked up are three times more likely to re-offend. And there is a large and ever-growing body of evidence to show that diversion programs are much more effective in tackling youth crime,” he said.

“We need to have the courage to make long-lasting systemic change, rather than knee jerk announcements which react to the angry mob, but do nothing to address the actual underlying issues.”

“Piling on our most vulnerable children doesn’t address the root causes of offending. You can lock as many kids up as you like, the cycle will only continue. When we improve the situation of vulnerable kids, we improve our society as a whole.”

Greens spokesperson for health and justice Dr Tim Read said criminalising children and locking them up had a long-term impact on their development.   

“The medical evidence is clear, children’s brains are still developing at this age, allowing us to direct kids away from crime, for everyone’s benefit,” Dr Read said.

“Our Bill would stop pushing kids as young as 10 through the school-to-prison pipeline, ensuring they receive treatment and support instead.”  

By Darby Ingram