Thursday 15 November 2012

Hansard of the Legislative Council



Mr FINCH (Rosevears) - Madam President, somewhere in our legislative pipeline is the Youth Justice (Miscellaneous Amendments) Bill. This is a timely attempt to address one of Tasmania's worst social problems: the disengagement of young people, particularly young males, from our society and the consequential increased likelihood of them offending and of repeat offending. Put simply, the proposed youth justice legislation gives more weight to the rehabilitation of a young offender with community-based orders likely to become more common and, as a result, fewer young offenders are likely to end up in the Ashley Youth Detention Centre.

Mrs Taylor - Can you make a point of saying that it is not all youth, please?

Mr FINCH - No, I am focusing on youth this morning.

Mrs Taylor - But not all youth are in that category.

Mr FINCH - That is my focus with this speech and my time is running out.

Community service orders will be able to be carried out at any organisation rather than just those that are non-profit, providing potential skills for employment. Judges will be given more discretion in sentencing and will be required to consider the impact a sentence will have on a young person's chance of finding and keeping employment. It seems to me that this proposed legislation goes a long way to addressing the serious problem of young people breaking the law. I look forward to studying it in more detail.

This problem of disengagement; a lack of skills, joblessness and offending starts much earlier - particularly with boys - in the school system and it is there that it must be addressed. Schools need to be aware of alienation at its very beginning. There needs to be continuous follow-up. Some young people are bound to offend when still in secondary school and afterwards. Everything must be done to divert them from ending up in Risdon Prison.

The proposed new youth justice legislation will help. It will include a system known as restorative practices, which is already in place. Tasmania is a leader in the use of restorative practices in youth justice and schools. Restorative practices are used in a range of contexts around the world with teachers, police and social workers trained to apply the concept. An advocate of the initiative, Ivan Webb, a former principal of the Riverside Primary School in my electorate, says restorative practices need to be supported and extended. He says we should seriously consider Tasmania becoming the first restorative state in Australia.

How do restorative practices work? As Ivan Webb explains, traditional responses for an offender include enforced punishment and exclusion, or the behaviour is excused on the basis of an offender's previous history. Alternative restorative practices that apply strong social discipline are possible. The offender is challenged to do the right thing and is also provided with ongoing support. Resolving situations involves the offender, victims and those who care about them - family and friends. Offenders are held responsible for their actions. They are required to repair the harm done if possible, and to learn from what has happened. However, punishment and exclusion may still apply.

As Mr Webb explains it, many people in our community who do harmful things are already isolated, alienated or damaged by abuse or neglect. Traditional punishment and exclusion simply adds to the likelihood of them doing further harm. This alienation was reportedly one of the factors behind the deaths of three young people in a tragic car crash last week. All three teenagers had been in state care. Their deaths led to calls for more campaigns to warn young people about the dangers of drink-driving, speeding and high-risk behaviour. Major Brendan Nottle of the Salvation Army in Melbourne says such campaigns would fall on deaf ears among a group of young children who feel disconnected from the community. Major Nottle's thoughts fit well with the sentiment behind the new youth justice initiative and restorative practices. I believe we are finally about to make progress in tackling one of our biggest social problems.