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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1999 Week 8 Hansard (25 August) . . Page.. 2365 ..

MR STANHOPE (continuing):

This Bill does not promote breastfeeding - that is the task which the Nursing Mothers Association does well - but the Bill will prevent discrimination against what can be seen as a preventive health policy that will result in reduced health care costs in the long term. In addition, breastfeeding is friendly and poses no cost to the environment in terms of production and is to be encouraged. Mr Speaker, I commend the Bill to the house.

Debate (on motion by Mr Humphries ) adjourned.


MR STANHOPE (Leader of the Opposition) (11.59): Mr Speaker, I present the Children's Services Amendment Bill (No. 2) 1999, together with its explanatory memorandum.

Title read by Clerk.

MR STANHOPE: Mr Speaker, I move:

That this Bill be agreed to in principle.

This Bill changes the age of criminal responsibility in the ACT from eight to 10 years of age. Apart from Tasmania, the ACT is the last jurisdiction in Australia to do this. In Australia's first report under article 44(1)(a) of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child in December 1995, it was stated that a model criminal code would be developed for application in all jurisdictions. Under the model code, the age of criminal responsibility was to be standardised at 10 years or more. The new age in relation to Federal offences came into effect on 16 September 1995. In New South Wales, Queensland, Victoria, Western Australia, South Australia and the Northern Territory, the age of criminal responsibility is set at 10 years.

The Government has not brought forward a Bill to change this age limit within the past 31/2 years. I note that even in the Children and Young People Bill 1999 introduced on 1 July the issue has not been addressed. The Minister has in fact said that he hopes to be in a position to be able to announce the measures for consultation with the community on wider reforms within the next 12 months. While the Minister is taking 12 months to prepare announcements for measures for consultation, we have acted to ensure that eight- and nine-year-old children are not forced into the criminal justice system.

Such young children deserve better than to be branded as somehow criminal. Whatever their age, the notion is that the best interests of children and young people should be the paramount consideration for all decision-makers, including parents. It cannot be in the best interests of eight- and nine-year-olds to be placed before the court. Such young children are more properly disciplined within the context of appropriate parenting or, if for some reason the parents are incapable of doing that, under the jurisdiction of welfare officers rather than the criminal justice system.

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