Tuesday 12 May, 2015

Mr TARZIA (Hartley) (16:25): There is nothing more important than ensuring that our youth have the best opportunities they can in life. Sometimes when things go wrong it is extremely important that, as members of parliament, we give them all the support we can to ensure that systems and processes are in place to make sure that they get the best step-up they can in life. I think it was Aristotle who wrote, 'Good habits formed at youth make all the difference.'

It is definitely accepted that the developmental, emotional, psychological and related issues are certainly very sensitive around that youthful age, and sometimes when things go wrong it is really important that we have allocated and that we continue to allocate the resources needed for youth who are sometimes in trouble to be rehabilitated to ensure that they become good moral citizens, law-abiding citizens and productive citizens.

So, what we need in this area are more resources allocated to this court, not fewer. The Youth Court is a specialist court and, like any specialist court or tribunal, it is that for a reason—because youths are dealt with in a different manner from adults. To bundle it all up into the same area is completely ridiculous.

We should come back to the central ethos when determining what to do in this manner: what is best for the youth? I put to the Attorney, what is best for the youth is a specialist court and more resources not fewer. The government wants to talk about efficiency and what have you, and it is sad to see that it has made a decision in the past to cut funds to the Courts Administration Authority, which has led to the closure of many courts, partial courts and also full courts.

I do not have to harp on about the savage cuts in the north-east that are going to lead to the closure of the Holden Hill Magistrates Court. Unfortunately, the Youth Court seems to be on the chopping board. It presents a strong message: maybe no court is safe. Who knows? It is very disappointing to see that, whilst I applaud that they are committed or they say they are committed to a fairer system, a more effective system, a more efficient system and a more accessible system, it goes without saying that when you are shutting courts you are definitely not giving accessibility, that is for sure.

The Youth Court was established in 1993 by the Youth Court Act and it has jurisdiction, as we have heard, in relation to criminal matters involving young people. This bill focuses on the composition of the Youth Court and removes any requirement for the judge of the Youth Court to be predominantly occupied in the court. I, too, would like to thank those who drafted the bill and also those who have provided feedback on it.

I think the Law Society hit the nail on the head, and I congratulate Rocco Perrotta and his team, when they say:

The Society is not opposed in principle to the removal of full-time judges from the Youth Court provided that the higher court work hitherto reserved for the judge remains with a judge with experience in the Youth Court.

They base that on two principles:

(1) Dealing with youth is an area of speciality…

(2) All major indictable matters should be dealt with by a judge, as they currently are in both the youth and adult jurisdictions.

This is a specialist area of the law, and I think we are definitely taking a step in the wrong direction if we move in the manner in which the Attorney would like.

I appreciate that the government has provided a briefing, and there has been consultation with the Chief Justice, the Chief Judge, the Chief Magistrate, the Law Society, the Bar Association and the ALRM. We have heard that justice Nyland, former Supreme Court judge and current head of the royal commission into child protection systems, recommended that the Youth Court still be led by a District Court judge, and the member for Bragg has extensively listed her past experience in the area, and I think we should certainly give much weight to Margaret Nyland's suggestions.

There is no doubt that retired Judge Peggy Fulton Hora in 2010 also suggested that the most experienced of judges should deal with youth matters. Then we have also heard comments from the member before me that David Edwardson QC also raised concerns similar to those of Ms Nyland; that is, the court should be led by a District Court judge. He actually suggests removing the option in the bill allowing for a Chief Magistrate to be appointed, even though he has the same powers as a District Court judge. Further, he points out that the Chief Magistrate currently declines to hear major indictable offences, such as murder, for adults.

I will support the bill with or without amendment. However, I humbly ask the Attorney to give great credence and thought to what he is doing because it can, potentially, be a dangerous step. Where does it stop? As I said, it comes back to the youth. We have a civil duty here to ensure that when these citizens in our community—our future leaders and our future—run into problems with the law they are addressed with the TLC that they deserve. What we need is more resources in this area, not fewer. With those comments, I commend the bill to the house.