Youth pass their bill in parliament

This year’s Castlemaine Secondary College youth parliament team Shanti Steventon, Uma Dingeman, Gek Wylde, Alex Marney, Amy Ferguson, and Niamh O’Connor have had their bill passed by the legislative council. 

By Youssef Saudie

Castlemaine students have passed a bill to raise the criminal age responsibility to 14 at the 2019 YMCA Victoria Youth Parliament. 

Castlemaine Secondary College students Shanti Steventon, Alex Marney, Amy Ferguson, Gek Wylde, Niamh O’Connor and Uma Dingemans introduced the Raising the age of Criminal Responsibility Bill last Thursday which was successfully passed in the legislative council. 

“It feels like we have genuinely contributed to social change. I’m proud we have managed to sway enough people for the bill to pass,” Ms Steventon said. 

YMCA Victoria Youth Parliament is a program designed to give young Victorians aged 16-25 a chance to be heard at the highest levels of state government on a wide range of issues relevant to young people’s lives. 

The team said their bill could assist in reducing youth recidivism and was a “more community-minded approach” compared to incarceration for those under 14. 

“Raising the age of criminal responsibility is essential in breaking the cycle of disadvantage,” Ms Steventon said. 

As an alternative intervention, the students have proposed to create a Child Justice Authority Victoria (CJAV) council which would develop a process of assessment of children under the age of 14 who display unlawful behaviour. The CJAV would establish re-engagement programs focused on community integration and initiate ethical and legal frameworks focused on the programs. 

The bill will now be given to the relevant cabinet minister for consideration. In its 33 year history over 30 youth parliament bills have gone onto become Victorian legislation. 

The team believes the Youth Parliament program has given them some “amazing opportunities” and urges other young people from regional areas to advocate for issues that matter to them. 

“Your voices can be heard through doing programs like this or writing and talking to local politicians, striking or protesting, because the way to change the world is people power and everyone’s voice makes a difference,” Ms O’ Connor said.

“Speaking in parliament about such an important issue to us is empowering and made it feel as if we can make a difference and have our voices heard.”

This article originally appeared on Castlemaine Mail, July 12, 2019.

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