Question without notice
My question is for the Premier.
In the two years that I have been in this place I have spoken on a number of occasions about the hard work of the Neighbourhood Schools project and the Lighthouse project in working with children and youth in the Shepparton district.
The parole board noted in its latest report that of the 176 young people on sentence or remand in October 2015, 63 per cent were victims of abuse, trauma or neglect, 62 per cent had previously been suspended or expelled from school and 45 per cent had been previously involved with child protection. Welfare workers can often identify the youths who will be going into our youth detention centres. Building more prisons and reforming the bail laws are necessary in the short term, but everything points to early intervention as the way to emptying these detention centres. What is the government doing to ensure that early intervention programs are being introduced to stop the next cycle of young detainees?
Mr Andrews, Premier
I thank the member for Shepparton for her substantial question in relation to these matters. Before I go through a number of different things that the government is doing, I want to make the very clear point that I in no way excuse the behaviour of any young offender, but I do think it is very important that we try and explain that behaviour and put in place all practical programs and supports we can to end that treadmill approach, if you like, where people graduate from being juvenile offenders to adult offenders. That is no good for victims of crime, it is no good for safety and it is certainly no good for Victorian taxpayers. It represents in an enormous impost on our budget, the opportunity cost of which is investing in schools and hospitals.
Having said that, though, the point that the member for Shepparton makes is, I think, a very good one, and we do need to do more around early intervention and supporting those children and those young people who are clearly at risk of becoming youth offenders. To that end the government is providing additional money in terms of playgroups, so right from the very beginning in that early intervention cycle — $4 million each year to enable supported playgroups so that every young person is getting that support from the earliest stage. There is additional support for three-year-old kinder and its expansion, support not just for programs but for new buildings because we know how important that is, particularly for vulnerable kids from families that are less than stable — families that are over-represented in the child protection system and that are, tragically, over-represented in terms of the family violence statistics that we see each and every day.
That brings me to our record investment in the prevention of family violence. We know only too well and too painfully that so many of these young offenders and so many others who come to our attention for all the wrong reasons are coming from homes where family violence has become all too prevalent. In some respects, on the point that Neil Comrie made yesterday about the inability to provide rehabilitation in anything other than a secure location, the same point can be made — it is very difficult to provide the foundations for a responsible adult life, a productive adult life, if you are living in fear, if you are living in danger or if you are living in one of these families that clearly need more of our support.
I can go on of course. There is the $43.8 million doctors in schools program, the Navigator program in our schools — some $8.6 million — and various other investments at the centre of the education state and our equity funding. There is a very long list of things that we are doing now. But look, I am the first to say we can do more and we can do better, and that is exactly what we will do for these families and for the potential victims of anyone who makes that bad call, who goes the wrong way, who becomes an antisocial person or who becomes a threat and a risk to the safety of the community. All of us need to do more. All of us need to do better, and that is exactly what our government is committed to doing.
In her report the Ombudsman, in February 2017, notes that of the 190 young people detained in youth justice facilities, 91 are on remand and 99 have been sentenced. This seriously begs the question about delays in our court system and why it is taking so long for those young people to come before the courts. What is your government doing to speed up the process for young people who are on remand, many of whom are not actually sentenced to prison?
Again, on an equally substantial supplementary question, I can advise the member that additional resources were provided to establish a Children’s Court remand court last year, and we have seen an almost immediate increase in the number of matters that are being heard. Some 161 cases were heard in the last month of last year. That is a significant increase, a very substantial increase, on what we had and what we have seen as a historical average in terms of remand matters.
The $32 million youth justice package that we provided in December last year really is what is needed. If more is needed beyond that in terms of court resources or court practices, all of these matters, I think, or some of them certainly, will be picked up by former Director of Public Prosecutions Coghlan, and they remain under active consideration by the government. If there is more we can do to get the justice system moving faster and therefore provide greater protection to the community, member for Shepparton, be in no doubt we will do that work.