Qld police union opposes criminal age rise

Nick Gibbs |

Support services for vulnerable kids are non-existent in parts of regional Queensland and police are the only round-the-clock option, a hearing on raising the criminal age of responsibility has been told.

Monday’s parliamentary committee hearing is investigating a Greens’ bill to raise the criminal age from 10, the status quo across the country, to 14.

The lack of support services is one of the few points of agreement between state Greens MP Michael Berkman and Queensland Police Union president Ian Leavers.

“The QPU and all of Queensland’s twelve-and-a-half thousand police are completely against raising the age of criminal responsibility,” Mr Leavers said on Monday.

“Often the only services available in regional and remote Queensland are the police, other agencies are non-existent or are barely there.”

Despite the union’s general opposition to the bill, Mr Berkman said he was in “ferocious agreement” that police cannot be expected to “step into the fray and to offer the whole gamut of support”.

“(The children) have backgrounds of disadvantage and poverty, disengagement from school, diagnosed or undiagnosed cognitive deficits or impairments … police aren’t best positioned to address those needs and to support children,” he said.

Current laws give police a “vehicle” to divert young people from a life of crime, and raising the age would take that option away, Mr Levers said.

“When they’re in detention … they actually have people that care about them,” he said, maintaining that arrests were viewed as a last resort.

“Sadly there is no support for them when they are released.”

However, in the worst case scenario, introducing kids to the criminal justice system at a vulnerable age can “rapidly accelerate the likelihood of them graduating to a lifetime of crime”, child protection body PeakCare Queensland says.

“PeakCare joins the chorus calling for change following 76 submissions lodged with the Committee – 75 support raising the age with the position of the 76th unknown,” its executive director Lindsay Wegener said.

Mr Wegener has previously managed a youth detention centre and served as a director of the state’s youth detention centres.

“Those who have been the victims of offences committed by children expect and deserve much more than a response that simply places children on a conveyor belt into the adult criminal justice system,” he said.

The idea that criminal punishment designed for adults will work on an 11 or 12 year old needs to be questioned, Queensland Family and Child principal commissioner Luke Twyford told the committee on Monday.

Reformers could take a lesson from parents who adjust punishments when their kids act up, Mr Twyford said.

“The good parent will be focusing their actions on changing that young person’s mind, teaching them through the process, but also having a level of compassion that whatever punishment is doled out, is not creating permanent harm.”