Standing Committee On Social Issues



About this Item
SpeakersMoppett The Hon Doug; Dyer The Hon Ron; Goldsmith The Hon Dr Marlene
BusinessCommittee, Report

STANDING COMMITTEE ON SOCIAL ISSUES
Report: Juvenile Justice

Debate resumed from 15th October.

The Hon. D. F. MOPPETT [2.40]: On 15th October I was endeavouring to make a number of points, particularly concerning the recommendation in relation to the proposed children's panel contained in the report which is the subject of the take note debate. Although I do not want to delay the House this afternoon, I think it is necessary to recap briefly the point at which I had arrived in my address on the previous day. First, I acknowledged that the majority of the report referred to recommendations on existing procedures relating to juvenile justice. The recommendation regarding the children's panel was of peculiar significance because it introduced a completely new element, both philosophically and administratively, to juvenile justice. The children's
Page 8208
panel is fundamentally different to the community aid panel, which now exists in New South Wales and was obviously the subject of part of the committee's recommendations. But it should be reinforced strongly that it would be a grave misunderstanding to think that the extension of the community aid panel system is an alternative to the children's panel.

On the previous day I said that it is a misunderstanding also that the family group conference, which occurs in New Zealand and which in a way inspired the committee to recommend the children's panel, stems from the mores of the Maori people of New Zealand; is in some way mystically bound up in their cultures and traditions; and may have dubious application in other societies. The family group conference is based on principles common to human nature anywhere in the world; and the children's panel, which the committee recommended, is more akin to a model in Scotland than to being based entirely on the family group conference. The committee was acutely conscious that it ran the risk that compromises had been made in the formulation of the dual recommendation - that is the recommendation that children's panels be set up in various locations and, assuming they proved successful, would be extended later, but that at the same time community aid panels should continue. That duality of recommendation may obscure the fundamental basis of the success of the New Zealand model. Previously I made the point that no matter how cynical anyone may be on the basis of the reports of the New Zealand model, if they went to New Zealand and saw family group conferences in action, and the success they had achieved in two years, they could not help but be struck by their overwhelming success. Issues there are not simply swept under the carpet or taken out of the public gaze; but offenders are effectively rehabilitated.

I had stated some fundamental commonalities between the committee's proposal and the New Zealand family group conference, the most important of which was the inclusion of the victim in the proceedings. Whether present in person - which is generally the case in New Zealand - or represented by a juvenile officer, the victim grants the absolution. The process continues until a satisfactory solution has been formulated and adopted by the victim. It is not dominated, as I said the other day, by bureaucratic rules, a system, or formularised and predictable outcomes - which is a problem that has been identified by far more learned people than me in criticisms levelled at the current court system. I think everyone would agree that there is a need to find a viable diversion from court systems if the ultimate effectiveness of our juvenile justice system is to be improved. As the committee saw in New Zealand, and as it proposes in New South Wales, each outcome is intensely individualistic and personalised and relates directly to the circumstances of the case, the offence, and the offender's capacity to make some reparation for the injury or damage caused to the victim.

That leads me to the final point, which I was not able to make previously but which struck me very forcibly while I was in New Zealand. Officers in New Zealand who work in the field summed up by saying that the family group conference focuses on the deed and not the need. I want to expand on what is behind that cliche, because it is quite obvious that in New South Wales - with the very best intentions in the world, and I say that absolutely sincerely - we went through a decade when it was believed that juvenile crime particularly had a strong correlation with socio-economic problems. Therefore, the belief was that addressing those socio-economic problems and endeavouring to remedy their causes would in some way eliminate the incidence of juvenile crime. The difficulty was the way in which the procedure was undertaken, not necessarily in extended proceedings but nevertheless in complex proceedings unrelated to the normal experience of a child who is confronted with a misdemeanour. New South Wales reached a stage where children were simply brought into the system. They had
Page 8209
attended upon them a social worker who was endeavouring to do something about the circumstances in which they found the child: poverty, a dysfunctional family, a father who through alcohol or whatever abused the child, or whatever the circumstance were. Somehow or other this was seen to attenuate the guilt of the child and ameliorate the offence in the eyes of the public.

The New Zealand model showed very clearly that this did not contribute to better outcomes in the long run. When I spoke previously I used a simple family model that I hoped everyone could understand, and this point could be illustrated in the same way. I do not think it matters whether you are talking about a family living on the fringes of a western town in difficult circumstances or about a family in the eastern suburbs who, through dysfunction of one sort or another, have a child who has suddenly had an adolescent brush with the law. It is inconceivable that in the family circumstance you begin by admonishing the child along the lines of: "I understand. I am a drunk, or I have beaten you up a couple of times. Therefore I forgive you for what you are doing". The child does not understand that approach and does not respond to it. What has occurred over the past 10 years with this very soft and careful handling is that more and more children have progressed further in committing crime, and people with the best intentions in the world have committed them to some sort of care or detention order, as a result of which gradually their criminal proclivity has developed. However, if they were returned to their family circumstances, no matter whether individuals judge those circumstances to be good, bad, indifferent or whatever, most children will cleave to their family and understand that better results can be achieved in the framework of their family than ever would be achieved by a magistrate or someone else talking down to them from the bench.

The Hon. Ann Symonds: Some children have to escape from their families.

The Hon. D. F. MOPPETT: The Hon. Ann Symonds has made a good point. Implicit in her interjection is the assumption that, somehow or other, I am saying that the social welfare issues are of secondary importance, or that the social welfare issues in Australia's model should be ignored. As the Hon. Ann Symonds would know, that is wrong. As I said earlier, the New Zealand model makes provision for a family group conference to focus on the deed and not the need. At the same time, an assessment can be made of how agencies can help a family rehabilitate a child and provide a better environment in which to nurture that child. I fully support the recommendations in the report that suggest that we should establish the cause of a crime and then find ways of dealing with it. Those problems are to be included with other socioeconomic problems that people are facing. These people require sensitive and positive support from Federal and State welfare systems. The criticism implied in the comments made by the Hon. Ann Symonds does not impinge on the signal importance of the family group conference considering these offences when it meets. Family group conferences should concentrate solely on those matters. The Hon. Ann Symonds will remember the very evocative contribution to the committee by a juvenile justice worker of Maori background who acknowledged that she had come from humble circumstances. It was put to her by a member of the committee, "The problem in New Zealand is that you have a very much lower level of social welfare support, so children are driven into crime". Her answer was, "Of 10 people in identical circumstances nine do not commit offences. What is the excuse for the one who does?"

The Hon. Ann Symonds: The honourable member means, "What is the reason?"

Page 8210

The Hon. D. F. MOPPETT: However the honourable member reframes that answer, I do not think the issue is significant. A child who has committed an offence should be confronted and asked to make some sort of reparation. That child should be asked to try to consider mending his or her ways. It is counter-productive to introduce problems which have arisen as a result of circumstances, which need to be addressed, but not at that time. I wish to make a personal observation which is not contained in the report. The more thoroughly the committee researched this issue the more I was intrigued by the appropriate cutoff ages. I made a brief reference in the report to the fact that we have recognised a juvenile justice system since 1850. The treatment of young people - if I can use that broad term - should be separated from the treatment of adult criminals. On a number of occasions the age limit has varied. If the Attorney General, and Minister for Industrial Relations has not been too engrossed in his papers and has been listening to what I have been saying, he might care to consider this matter. The need for a separate juvenile justice system was revealed in all the evidence taken by the committee. In most cases it is an adolescent phenomenon; it certainly has its roots in the development of adolescents. Sadly, in New South Wales, a number of pre-adolescent children are involved. The community is concerned that the police, community services and all other service providers will be powerless to do anything about pre-adolescent children. Those children would benefit greatly by being confronted by the challenges in the New South Wales and New Zealand panels to which I have referred. When we are dealing with pre-adolescent children we have to determine whether they have not already dipped their toes into the murky waters of criminal life. The adolescent group is adequately covered in the report of the committee.

I wish to refer to a problem the committee observed in New Zealand. In New Zealand children who have committed crimes progress, at the age of 18, from the enlightened juvenile justice system to a penal system which is much more centred on retribution. In my view there is a great need to separate young adults from adult criminals as the developmental stages of children are very different. At the age of seven, eight or nine some children are hard, tough little guys. At the age of 18, 19, 20, and even 22 or 23, others require the same sympathetic treatment that is given to adolescents in the juvenile justice system. Even though that system is emerging in our corrective institutions it would be well for us to consider at some time in the future the fact that these young adults require sympathetic and sensitive legislation. As I said earlier, overall this report is significant. Its recommendations could completely change the outlook for a significant number of young people, and certainly their families. This report is of immense importance. The community is eagerly awaiting the consideration of this report and various green papers and white papers. I will be doing whatever I can to acquaint people who may be suffering from prejudice and ignorance with the enlightened recommendations contained in this report. Those honourable members who have not read the report should do so urgently. I hope the New South Wales Government will give it sympathetic and prompt consideration.

The Hon. R. D. DYER [2.57]: As shadow minister responsible for juvenile justice policy I welcome this opportunity to participate in debate on the report of the Standing Committee on Social Issues on juvenile justice. Over the past month or so, on successive Thursdays, I have awaited this opportunity with considerable patience. It is good that I have had to wait all that time because I have had an opportunity to listen to and to read in Hansard the distilled wisdom of the Hon. D. F. Moppett, the Hon. Franca Arena and the Hon. Ann Symonds. Every member of the Standing Committee on Social Issues who has spoken in this debate has done so with great sincerity. They all have a commitment to doing something positive about improving the juvenile justice regime in this State. I take this opportunity to congratulate all committee
Page 8211
members on this report. In particular, I congratulate the Chair, the Hon. Dr Marlene Goldsmith, and my colleague the Deputy-Chair, the Hon. Ann Symonds. Of all the reports that have been presented to the Parliament over the years this report will be one of the most significant. I say that not only because of the nature of the recommendations but also because of the preponderance of views - a meeting of minds - about reforms that ought to take place in the juvenile justice system. I look forward to the Government's publishing of the anticipated green paper detailing what the Government intends to do arising from recommendations made by the Standing Committee on Social Issues. I understand the green paper will issue sooner rather than later and that, following a period of community consultation, a final document, a white paper, will issue and the Government will take positive steps to implement various reforms recommended by the Standing Committee on Social Issues. The Hon. Dr Marlene Goldsmith made three comments when commencing this debate that I believe encapsulate the importance of juvenile justice. In the first passage the honourable member said:
      Juvenile crime is a complex social and economic phenomenon. It has clear links with social disadvantage and deprivation, including unemployment, family breakdown and abuse, drug abuse, homelessness, school alienation and learning difficulties, and low morale and poor self-image.

That clearly is central to a consideration of the question of juvenile justice. The Hon. Dr Marlene Goldsmith stated further:
      Prevention is not only the most cost-effective and logical way to deal with juvenile crime; it is also the most just in a moral sense.

No rational person could disagree with that comment. There is no doubt that the cost in economic terms of juvenile crime throughout the State is substantial. It is not only a matter of cost. More importantly, it is a matter of justice and morality that young people be dealt with in an appropriate way so that to the fullest possible extent juvenile crime is prevented, rather than attempts being made to repair the damage after the event. The Hon. Dr Marlene Goldsmith stated further:
      To put it bluntly, the courts and the legal system have failed our children. For one thing, participation in the court process by young people can lead to them being labelled as criminals, a label that may lead to the young persons perceiving themselves as criminals and becoming repeat offenders as they go on to live up to the label.

That undoubtedly is a very true statement. Nothing could be more tragic than young people, having erred on one occasion and having acquired a label, feeling - perhaps because of the stigmatisation - that they are alienated from the norms of society and going on to commit repeated offences. I agree with the comment of the Hon. D. F. Moppett that young people grow out of crime. Juvenile crime tends in many cases to be an acting-out process and the overwhelming proportion of young people never offend again.

The Hon. D. F. Moppett: A passing phase.

The Hon. R. D. DYER: It is a passing phase and, as they grow older, there is no question that they will live law-abiding lives and not continue their criminal behaviour into adulthood. In responding in the immediate aftermath of the committee's report on behalf of the Opposition I said in a press release issued on 20th May that the report presents a virtually unanswerable case for an upgrading of the police system of cautioning young offenders as a first response to minor offences. The two principal aspects of the report are the recommendations it contains regarding the upgrading of the cautioning system and the recommendations about the children's panel. They seem to be the most essential elements of the report, though a number of other aspects are perhaps
Page 8212
of equal significance, particularly social work activity for the benefit of young people. When young people are cautioned they are not stigmatised as they are if brought before a court, and convicted in many cases. Cautioning is far less costly than court proceedings and, perhaps most importantly, cautioning has a very high success rate. Only 18 per cent of juveniles cautioned by police in 1988 reoffended within a year.

There is great scope in this State for an upgrading of the cautioning system. I welcome the recommendations made by the standing committee in that regard. I note in the context of cautioning that Senior Sergeant Terry O'Connell of the Wagga Wagga police patrol has, with the encouragement and permission of his patrol commander, instituted an upgraded cautioning system within the Wagga Wagga patrol. The Wagga Wagga experiment, modelled as it is largely on the family group conference system in New Zealand mentioned by the Hon. D. F. Moppett, has proved very effective. I cannot pretend that such an isolated example necessarily proves the whole case when there is a more widespread practice in regard to the committee's recommendations concerning the children's panel, which I believe will prove itself on a statewide basis and will lead to substantial reform of the juvenile justice system in this State.

The initiative of Sergeant O'Connell in Wagga Wagga has seven objectives: first, to ensure that the juvenile offender understands the seriousness of his or her offence; second, to minimise the opportunity of the juvenile reoffending; third, to provide the juvenile offender with the opportunity of accepting responsibility for his or her offence; fourth, to ensure that family and significant others are made accountable; fifth, to provide the victim or victims with some input into the cautioning process; sixth, to improve the opportunity for victim restitution or compensation; and, seventh, to provide police with an opportunity of contributing in a significant and satisfying way to the processing of juvenile offenders - an aspect that is probably not often thought of by most people. In many cases the police have a very thankless job. It must be demoralising for them to constantly process young people through the court system and to see in many cases that the children are not improved as a result of that process. Rather, they are stigmatised and will possibly reoffend. That aspect needs to be taken account of, apart from the other six objectives of the upgraded cautioning scheme in Wagga Wagga to which I have referred.

I shall now briefly deal with the family group conference in New Zealand. If ever I have heard a sincere contribution in this House, I believe it was that delivered two weeks ago and continued a short time ago by the Hon. D. F. Moppett. He said he would speak from the heart, and I believe he did precisely that. I agree with what he said when he spoke in glowing terms of the family group conference system in New Zealand. Earlier this year, when I became aware that the report of the Standing Committee on Social Issues was imminent, I took the opportunity to go to New Zealand for a week to speak to experts in Auckland and Wellington about the operation of the Children, Young Persons and their Families, Act 1989 and the family group conference system set up as a result of that legislation passed by the New Zealand Parliament. In Auckland I spoke to Judge Mick Brown, the Principal Youth Court Judge, who was very generous with his time and most enthusiastic about the initiative taken in that country to set up the family group conference. I spoke also to police and social workers in Auckland. In Wellington I spoke to members of Parliament, including the Opposition spokesperson, a former Minister for Social Welfare in New Zealand, the Hon. Dr Michael Cullen, and the present Minister for Social Welfare in the national Government in New Zealand, the Hon. Jenny Shipley.


Page 8213
In New Zealand I found that across the political spectrum there was bipartisan support for the reform that had occurred in the juvenile justice system. Also, there was wide acceptance of the success achieved as a result of the introduction of the family group conference. In Auckland Judge Brown was most enthusiastic about the family group conference. He told me that as an outcome of that system remedies that are often agreed upon include an apology by the child, reparation to the victim, and in some cases a form of punishment such as a curfew. He said that it was an aspect of Maori culture that the degree of forgiveness was regarded as being directly proportional to the degree of remorse shown by the juvenile offender. I do not believe that the family group conference need necessarily be restricted to Maori culture. In that regard I agree with what was said by the Hon. D. F. Moppett about the family group conference system: it can be adapted to other societies. There might be special reasons for its being particularly effective in New Zealand, but it seems to me to make a lot of sense that there should be a shaming process and that the young person should be made to feel personally responsible and accountable for what that young person has done. That is often not the case when young people are processed through our existing court system. They feel alienated and remote from that system; they are overwhelmed and perhaps intimidated by it. That is not intended to be any particular criticism of the court system as such. Many people, juvenile or otherwise, tend to be overwhelmed by the formality of court proceedings.

One is entitled to ask what the young person or society gets out of the court process. In many cases little is gained. By and large it tends to be a damaging process to the individual child and, ultimately, to society when the child reoffends. Judge Brown indicated to me that since the Act to which I referred came into force the crime rate has not gone up; in fact there has been a reduction in that rate. Statistics issued by Mr L. W. Cook, the Deputy Government Statistician with the Department of Statistics in New Zealand, on 4th October, 1991, indicated that 2,587 young offenders appeared before the youth courts in New Zealand in 1990. That was a 71 per cent decline on the number who had appeared before the courts in 1989 - 8,856 - and 78 per cent fewer than the average number for the previous decade. It can be seen from those statistics that, by and large, young offenders have been removed from the court system and are being dealt with in the family group conference system. The police were very supportive of the New Zealand system, subject to some minor criticisms. In addition to the contacts I have mentioned, I had discussions in Wellington with Dr Gabrielle Maxwell, senior researcher in the Office of the Commissioner for Children. She told me that the family group conference system, according to the research they had carried out, had proved to be overwhelmingly successful.

One of the main benefits of the family group conference - apart from the obvious benefit for the child - is that the victim is involved in the process and has the opportunity of discussing the matter, to use a neutral term, with the young offender, to express his or her resentment and hurt. In Dr Maxwell's study it was said that one-third of victims felt worse after the family group conference process, but 39 per cent felt better. In regard to those who felt worse the question must be asked: how satisfied were the victims with their passive role under the old court-based system? If I might answer my own question, I suggest that they were far from being satisfied. Just as the young person tended to feel like an overlooked extra and not directly relevant to the proceedings, the victims often feel that way as well. The other thing I should say about the success of the New Zealand system - and this is a crucial aspect - is that the police have played a vital role. Police involvement will be crucial to the success of whatever reforms the Government chooses to introduce in this State following the report of the select committee. In New Zealand the youth aid section of the New Zealand police was set up in about 1960 - well before the Act to which I referred came into force. That legislation was enacted only in 1989.

Page 8214

The function of the youth aid section was, at its inception, to visit the families of offenders. By about 1984, again five years before the Act became law, approximately 50 per cent of offenders were being dealt with in New Zealand by the police by diversion, the issuing of street warnings and so on. The practice was that such street warnings were recorded by police and if more than one was issued to a particular young offender, that offender's family would receive a visit from the youth aid police. Under the system obtaining now in New Zealand, 75 per cent of non-arrest cases are being dealt with by warning and diversion and only 4 per cent of non-arrest cases go to the youth court by way of summons. I make that reference to the youth aid section because I believe very strongly that whatever might be the best intentions of this Legislature or the Government, the reforms will not work or will not achieve their optimum level of success unless the police are involved, unless they are sympathetic and unless they co-operate in the implementation of these reforms. I emphasise that point because I fear that the system will not work sufficiently well in the absence of that co-operation. I know that there are police such as Sergeant O'Connell who have been forerunners in this area - and he is by no means alone. There will need to be a period of education and selling the new system, if I might use that term, to convince the police that this is the way to go. This will result in the police, and not just the young offender, getting away from the revolving door syndrome of kids being processed through the courts and no good being done to them as a result of that process.

The only other matter about which I wish to speak at any length is the matter of the children's panel and the dissenting opinion of the committee which deals in part with that matter. I believe the establishment of a children's panel is a worthwhile proposal. I wish to associate myself with everything that the Hon. D. F. Moppett and previous speakers in the debate have said about the children's panel. Though the children's panel will not duplicate the family group conference in New Zealand, it could be said to be inspired by it. It is my belief that that is the central aspect of the committee's report which will lead to reform of the juvenile justice system in this State. The last thing I want is to be divisive regarding this matter of juvenile justice because I believe that the success of the new system will be maximised by a bipartisan approach to juvenile justice being adopted by the Government and the Opposition. However, if I understood the Hon. D. F. Moppett correctly, he has some difficulty, as I do - and I do not want to put any words into his mouth - with perhaps the slightly equivocal approach of the report to children's panels juxtaposed with community aid panels. I have read all sections of the report carefully, and in particular that part that deals with community aid panels and the children's panel. I agree with what is said in the dissenting opinion about community aid panels. I cannot understand why the committee chose to persevere with community aid panels. In saying that, I do not rely alone on the dissenting opinion and the arguments that are advanced there. If one refers, as I have done, to the main report of the committee, one sees that substantial reservations are expressed in chapter 4 about community aid panels.

The Hon. Helen Sham-Ho: Because there is no legislative base.

The Hon. R. D. DYER: It is certainly one of the criticisms that there is no legislative base. The committee points out in its report that as at 25th March approximately 55 such panels were operating throughout New South Wales. As the Hon. Helen Sham-Ho has said, they operate without the benefit of any statutory base. At page 131 of its report the committee states:
      . . . the potential arises for the practices of panels to go unchecked and for possible inconsistencies to arise in the outcomes of different panels.

Page 8215

The committee also mentions in its report - and I must emphasise that I am dealing with the report of the whole committee and not the minority report - that it has been given some information suggesting that community aid panels may operate at the expense of cautioning and thereby have what it describes as a net widening effect. The committee also states:
      It has been submitted to the Committee that the type and amount of work that panels may require a young person to perform are akin to a Community Service Order, which is the last penalty on the sentencing options for magistrates before a custodial sentence can be imposed. It has been suggested that this, as such, is an inappropriate outcome for a first and/or minor offender.

Having regard to those criticisms, I am in something of a quandary as to why the committee chose to persevere for the time being at least with a divided system, or perhaps I should say a dual system, of encouraging the continuance of community aid panels and also establishing the new initiative of the children's panels. It is my belief that the committee's investigations and the arguments set out in its report in support of the establishment of children's panels are sufficiently convincing for the committee to have had the courage of its own convictions and to have put children's panels forward as the way in which to reform juvenile justice in this State.

The Hon. Helen Sham-Ho: If we abolish community aid panels, there will be a void in the system immediately.

The Hon. R. D. DYER: It is a mistake to continue with community aid panels on a parallel track with children's panels. At some time in the future it will inevitably be found that children's panels are a superior model. In that event I predict that the community aid panels will wither on the vine.

The Hon. Helen Sham-Ho: The Hon. Ron Dyer is right.

The Hon. R. D. DYER: The Hon. Helen Sham-Ho thinks I am right, and I believe I am. I want to give the Hon. Dr Marlene Goldsmith the opportunity to respond to the debate. I again congratulate the committee. There are many other things I could say about juvenile justice -

The Hon. Dr B. P. V. Pezzutti: Get them off your chest.

The Hon. R. D. DYER: There are other matters the House wishes to discuss and I am conscious of the fact that this committee's report has been debated on three successive sitting Thursdays.

The Hon. Dr B. P. V. Pezzutti: Six long hours of it.

The Hon. R. D. DYER: I am not sure of the number of hours.

Reverend the Hon. F. J. Nile: It cannot have been six hours.

The Hon. R. D. DYER: The Hon. Dr B. P. V. Pezzutti is exaggerating as usual, as is his wont. Whatever the number of hours, they have been well spent because this is one of the most significant committee reports that has ever come before this House. I look forward with keen anticipation to the Government's green paper. I express the hope that it will very closely reflect what the committee has recommended and that the Government will devote the financial and other resources necessary to make the committee's recommendations work in practice.


Page 8216
The Hon. Dr MARLENE GOLDSMITH [3.30], in reply: I thank all committee members and the Hon. R. D. Dyer for the kind words during the debate. It is only as a result of the commitment and willingness of committee members to work towards the best solution - a team solution - that we are able to reach agreement on the contentious and sensitive social issues that we examine. It would be easy for the members of this committee to become nothing more than 10 discordant voices or five antagonistic parties seeking nothing more than political point-scoring. If we were to do that our reports would be treated with little seriousness. The fact that that is not the case and that all of our reports have an excellent track record for implementation is very much due to the support and co-operation of committee members and even - if I may dare to use such a phrase, given the general adversarial ethos of politics - the teamwork. The Hon. D. F. Moppett spoke on this matter during his contribution to the debate. He began by speaking about the importance of compromise on sensitive social issues. With so many committee members from so many different political and personal viewpoints, clearly the willingness to work as a team is necessary in the interests of achieving anything. This is not compromise in any negative sense. It involves a certain amount of trust - a realisation of what is possible and a focus on the needs of the community rather than the adversarial demands of politics.

As I have said previously in this House, it is a joy to work in a committee context with the capacity for achieving such goals as a team, utilising the strengths and abilities of people from a wide range of backgrounds without being constrained by the structural necessity to sit on opposite sides of the Chamber and throw metaphorical rocks at each other. There should be more to politics than that artificial way of dealing with the world. It may be that there is a long way to go before a better system can be discovered - and even a better way for this House to operate - but certainly the committee system is one method by which members can work together as a team. I thank all committee members for their contributions to and participation in that teamwork. I am sure I speak for all members of the committee when I say that it is a very humbling and unifying experience to learn of the human suffering of so many of our children; the injustices some children suffered long before they came into contact with the justice system; and the lack of love and nurture many of them experience.

The committee together looked at those issues, hearing from the children and the people working in the system. Many people shared with us their personal experiences - a profoundly unifying experience for all involved. Our artificial political structures shrink into insignificance in the face of genuine human problems. I am particularly grateful to have had the opportunity to work in that environment in such a context. Particular thanks should be expressed to you, Mr President, for your contribution towards the establishment of the Standing Committee on Social Issues and your input over a long period. Similar thanks should be expressed to the Hon. R. D. Dyer and those involved with the Select Committee on Standing Committees which initially moved to set up the committee system in this House. I am grateful for the hard work that went into that particular process that enabled this system to be set up. The development of the Legislative Council committee system has a history of bipartisanship. Its achievements have demonstrated the worth of that bipartisanship. Perhaps I should not say bipartisanship. In the case of the social issues committee it is multipartisanship.

I wish to speak briefly about some of the contributions of particular members. I refer first to the deputy chair, the Hon. Ann Symonds. No one can doubt her commitment to juvenile justice and to making justice systems more humane for our young people. Yesterday the honourable member was elsewhere delivering an address on this most important subject. Her commitment, which she has held for a long time, was clear
Page 8217
in the course of our inquiry. There is one minor point I would like to clear up. The Hon. Ann Symonds felt there may have been some difficulty in achieving a re-referral of the reference on juvenile justice after the election. The initial reference had lapsed and had to be referred back to the committee. I assure the deputy chair that there was no hesitation on the part of the former Minister for Justice, Mr Terry Griffiths. He was most enthusiastic about improving the juvenile justice system, as can be seen from his initiatives during the time he was responsible for the justice portfolio. I refer in particular to his initiatives in setting up the Juvenile Justice Advisory Council, with important and prominent public representatives in that field to advise him; and having their office situated in his ministerial offices for easy access. The committee was fortunate in having the encouragement and support of the Minister.

It is true, as the Hon. Ann Symonds said, some sections of the report were not sufficiently developed. No member of the committee would deny that. There were a lot of issues the committee would have liked to have pursued in more depth. The difficulty was that taking the time to pursue those issues in more depth meant taking more time before the committee reported to the Minister. The Minister was sensitive to the demands of the parliamentary process and was reluctant to make too many major moves in this area before our committee had reported, for fear of pre-empting the parliamentary process and this report. He wanted to use our report, as he subsequently did, as the basis for the green paper on juvenile justice to be developed by the Juvenile Justice Advisory Council. Part of the terms of reference of the council was to take into account the recommendations of the committee's report. In other words, the reform of the juvenile justice process in New South Wales was dependent upon our reporting. Every member of the committee was aware of that constraint and aware of the necessity to move with some urgency - indeed, with great urgency. We felt that juvenile justice definitely needed fundamental structural reforms and those reforms would have to wait until the committee reported. Consequently, there are areas in the report that are not covered in the depth we would have liked, but being constrained, as we were, to bring in only one report in this area - one large report rather than a series of reports on subsections of the inquiry - we were very much aware of the time constraints - [Time expired.]