The Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service says the state government has betrayed Indigenous children after backflipping on reforms to youth bail laws.

Last year, the Victorian Government promised to remove the reverse onus provisions for children in the Bail Act, but yesterday scrapped that plan and announced a trial of ankle bracelets for children charged with serious offences instead.

Reverse onus provisions force an individual to prove why they should be on bail, rather than the prosecutor, and police, having to prove why they should be deprived of their liberty.

The state Attorney-General, Jaclyn Symes, announced that the electronic monitoring trial will be introduced as part of the 2024 Youth Justice Bill mid-year, and will include up to 50 young people aged between 15 and 17.

The move has been criticised by a number of human rights and social justice organisations, including the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service, who for the last five years have been consulting on the state’s Bail Amendment Bill and the upcoming Youth Justice Bill.

VALS CEO Nerita Weight says at no time did the Victorian Government let them know that they were considering implementing these Big Brother tactics and breaking multiple promise to Aboriginal communities.

“Jacinta Allan is developing a terrible track record as Premier already when it comes to law reform. At every turn, she has picked the meanest and most punitive policy – whether its punitive parole laws or electronic monitoring, the Premier seems intent on making Victoria a penal colony once again.”

The Yorta Yorta and Narrandjeri woman called electronic monitoring a failed idea that only the most desperate politicians cling to when they are too scared to make the right decision.

“This Government has even tried electronic monitoring for children in the past and ditched the idea pretty quickly after getting a few media headlines.”

“This decision will impact on the great work Aboriginal Communities have been doing to stem the tide of over-policing and over-incarceration of their youth. This is a betrayal of the promises they have made under the Aboriginal Justice Agreement and the National Agreement for Closing the Gap. It is a senseless decision.”

VALS CEO Principal Managing Lawyer of the Wirraway – Police and Prison Accountability Practice, Sarah Schwartz, called the changes punitive which will only lead to more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander kids in custody.

“It’s really, it’s beyond belief that the Premier would make these changes and turn her back on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children who are already over and incarcerated and disproportionately put in custody.”

Ms Schwartz called on the Victorian Government to reverse these punitive changes and amend the bail laws for young people.

“They need to follow what VALS has proposed in Poccum’s Law, which has recommendations for the Victorian Government to amend the Bail Laws after Veronica Nelson passed away in custody.

“It details when they should be allowing kids to be out on bail and how they can better serve children in the Aboriginal community, we know that communities aren’t made safe just by locking up kids, there needs to be a model for Aboriginal kids that sees them in communities, with loved ones, and supported in community.”

Poccum was the nickname Veronica received from her family; as a child they took Veronica out to see a possum in the tree, and she would pronounce possum as ‘poccum’.

Poccum’s Law recommends:

  1. Removing the presumption against bail.
  2. Granting access to bail unless the prosecution shows that there is a specific and immediate risk to the safety of another person; a serious risk of interfering with a witness; or a demonstrable risk that the person will flee the jurisdiction.
  3. Explicitly requiring that a person must not be remanded for an offence that is unlikely to result in a sentence of imprisonment.
  4. Removing all bail offences (committing an indictable offence while on bail, breaching bail conditions and failure to answer bail).
Image above: VALS Principal Managing Lawyer. Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service.