Posted on 28. Nov, 2011 in Speeches

Mr LIM (Clayton) — It is a great pleasure to join the debate on the Children, Youth and Families Amendment (Security of Youth Justice Facilities) Bill 2011. My contribution will take a different angle, because we have heard so much about the different aspects of how this bill has come about as a result of the Comrie review and the Ombudsman’s report and so on. I was surprised by the member for Pascoe Vale, who did not mention, when she spoke about how our juvenile justice system is a shining example worldwide and is recognised as such and respected internationally, that it was under her watch that some of those positive visionary things happened. I feel that in a place like the Parliament we act in an adversarial way towards each other. We are too negative, and we rarely pay respect or due regard to the good work our members have done.
In my early years here in this chamber I was perturbed every year when I read the annual reports of the youth parole board. I hope that by bringing this to the attention of the minister at the table, the Minister for Local Government, or the Minister for Community Services, who is not in the chamber at the moment, the message will get through that we should continue with our tradition of caring. We know that we have to be very firm and forceful with young offenders, but we have to be fair as well.
I recall the early settlement of the Indochinese community in Victoria. We have all heard about the young Vietnamese, Cambodians and Chinese from the three countries in Indochina who came here as unattached youngsters; they would tag onto a family, but they were not true members of the family. Those families had no tradition as such of settling in a third country. The youngsters were let loose, and they could not cope with their new environment. They formed gangs, became involved in drugs and became violent. As a result they were locked up.
Every year for three or four years in a row the youth parole board consistently mentioned in its reports that the number of young offenders from this community was growing out of proportion to the population of Victoria as a whole and that the juvenile justice system had to handle and meet the challenge of this growing number of young offenders. Ironically we are now seeing the same thing happening with the Sudanese and other new African communities. If members look at the last two reports of the youth parole board, they will see exactly the same story.
What the former Minister for Community Services, the member for Pascoe Vale, did all those years ago is figure out that unless the system was culturally specific and culturally relevant, these people were going to come out and reoffend, because nobody was catering for them inside or outside the system. I thought the approach of lock them up and throw the key away or the gung ho style of taking no prisoners displayed by members on the other side of the chamber, if my reading of their contributions was not wrong, was very disturbing. After all, these are young people.
In the early years I felt that we should send them back; they should not be here. But after 20 years they are now contributing members of the community. They are decent people; they are fathers, responsible husbands and all that, and it is really encouraging. This is because the former Minister for Community Services, the member for Pascoe Vale, had the decency and the vision to use scholarship within the Indochinese community so that their own people could be trained and go into the system to look after the young offenders. They went in to care for the young offenders and respond to their needs and to train them while they were inside or when they came out by providing them with special traineeships et cetera, so that they could become useful, contributing members of the community.
I think that we tend to forget a little thing like that or overlook it. But our system is a shining example; we are leading the world. We should keep this tradition, and we should be proud and walk tall in the knowledge that the Victorian juvenile justice system is second to none.
The bill deals mainly with security arrangements to make sure that young offenders never escape again. It introduces mechanisms to check for and confiscate articles and so forth. You can do all of these things, but unless you have a human touch and facilitate these young people — help, guide and nurture them — they will come out and reoffend rather than contribute to the community. No matter how much legislation we put through, no matter how many mechanisms we put in place and talk about, unless we deal with young offenders as human beings we are going to fail them and fail ourselves.


Comments are closed.