A 10-year-old cannot drive, drink or even hold a Facebook account – but they can go to jail for a crime.
Two crossbench MPs want to change that by lifting the age of criminal responsibility.
Centre Alliance’s Rebekha Sharkie has put legislation to parliament to lift the age from 10 to 14, backed by independent Zali Steggall.
“We do not let 10-year-olds drive cars, drink alcohol, have Facebook accounts or indeed vote,” Ms Sharkie told parliament on Monday.
“We impose these limits because we as a society decided that young children are not capable of making rational decisions.
“And yet as the law currently stands we can hold a 10-year-old criminally responsible for their actions.”
That law isn’t consistent with medical and social science evidence about children’s mental capacity to understand what they are doing is a crime, she said.
It also put Australia out of step with many other nations, with the international average age of criminal responsibility set at 14.
A coalition of indigenous and human rights organisations has been calling for the change, and presented Ms Sharkie with a 30,000-strong petition backing her bill.
Amnesty International indigenous rights advocate Joel Clark said research showed children who went to jail before they turned 14 were three times more likely to offend as an adult.
“We must stop these kids entering and getting caught in the quicksand of the justice system,” he said.
The Law Council of Australia also backed the move, saying if all jurisdictions followed suit it would vastly improve the lot of some of the nation’s most vulnerable children, especially indigenous young people.
The Morrison government says the nation’s attorneys-general are considering raising the age and an associated legal principle that recognises the capacity to understand the difference between right and wrong is still evolving in children at that age.
They are due to report in November and Commonwealth Attorney-General Christian Porter will consider the move after that.