Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume. 34, Number 14. July 21, 1971
A Bill Intituled
A Bill Intituled
An Act to safeguard the Welfare of Minors
|1.||Short Title—This Act may be cited as the Welfare of Minors Act 1971.|
|2.||Interpretation—In this Act unless the context otherwise requires,—
|3.||Residence of a minor—A minor shall reside with his parents or in a place provided by his parents.|
|4.||Alternative residence of a minor—Notwithstanding the foregoing provision a minor may reside at any other specific place provided that:
|5.||Offences—Every person commits an offence who:
|6.||Penalties—Every person who commits an offence against this Act shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding $500 and to a term of periodic detention not exceeding 3 months.|
|7.||Supplying narcotics to a minor—Any person who commits an offence against the Narcotics Act 1965 by supplying narcotics to a minor shall on conviction receive the maximum penalty provided by that Act.|
There are two major areas in which the bill seeks to safeguard a minor's welfare: those relating to his residence, and his association with users and suppliers of narcotics.
At present, the Guardianship Act (1968) limits the power of the court by providing that only in exceptional circumstances can it direct any person of 16 years of age or over to live with any other person: in practice this has meant that parents have had little power to keep their children at home against their will after this age. If enacted by Parliament, the Welfare of Minors Bill would do disagreeing only on the specifics of whom they should be; no-one appeared concerned that parents would have the right under law to determine their children's residence until 18. No-one appeared to question the right of a government to enact "moral legislation—to engorce a certain (middle-class) set of values.
A private members Bill of this kind is rare. The National Party caucus is thought to have met and decided against supporting the Bill in parliament. Whether, therefore, it was introduced with personal conviction alone or with the approval of members of government, it will fail because it lacks the support of both parties in parliament. Another reason is that it has been superceded by three bills intorduced by the Ministers of Justice and Child Welfare: the Guardianship, Child Welfare and Police Offences Amendment Bills. The combined effect of these three bills is worse that the (so-called) Gill Bill. Using the exagerated drug scare as a pretext, and undoubtedly influenced by the almost total lack of opposition to provisions in the Gill Bill, the legislation seeks quite generally to limit the liberty of young people. The Police Offences Amendment Bill proposes to make it an offence to possess a hypodermic needle without reasonable excuse, the onus of proof for such a defence resting with the accused. If enacted, a person with a hypodermic would be presumed guilty of an offence unless he could prove that the was not. The Guardianship Amendment Bill gives the court power to commit anyone under the age of 20 to live where directed, without restriction. It also widens the powers of the court to deal with acts of contempt (such as might be committed by a person under 20 who refused to live where directed by the court) by adding to its already considerable powers (including the power to imprison) the power to impose sentences of probation for between 1 and 3 years; sentences of 3 months in a detention centre for those 16 and over; sentences of periodic detention for up to 12 months for those 15 and over. The Child Welfare Amendment Bill deems that a "child" is not under proper control if he associates with anyone reputed to sell, supply, deal in, use, or have in his possession any narcotic, or prescription or restricted poison. Were a complaint made under this Bill by a child welfare officer or police constable to the satisfaction of a magistrate or appointed justice in a children's court, an order for the committal of the child to the "care" of an institution or the supervision of a child welfare officer could be made.
This is Police Law: that is, the police have been unable with their present powers to adequately control social trends regarding the use of drugs, and greater freedom among youth. This legislation is the result of pressure on parliament for greater powers by the police themselves which, although vigorously opposed by the Justice Department, has yielded a crop of legislation designed to virtually make a criminal of anyone under 20. What is most disturbing about these bills is that, if passed, they are likely to be acted upon by the police mercilessly. Lately the police have been subject to some degree of public scrutiny with cases of assault against prisoners, fraud, and inhuman treatment of arrested persons. These cases have been presented in isolation: they are in fact a serious reflection on the inability of a group, assuming almost intolerable powers in a "democratic" society, to enforce the value-judgements of a certain class within that society. This failure connot be remedied by creating new offences or giving more power to an already discredited body. What the government must realise is that another way will soon have to be found to "deal" with those who are not prefar more than merely change the present law to cover those up to the age of 18: the Bill provides that it is a criminal offence for a minor to live in any place without the consent of their parents or a magistrate. Not only could a minor be returned to an "approved" residence and custody but by leaving he has committed a criminal act, and, along with anyone who has aided him, becomes liable to arrest, and on conviction to the punishment set out in the Act.
Surprisingly this aspect of the Bill, making a criminal of anyone who may wish to live away from his parents without their consent before he is 18, has almost been ignored. It is in its second intended function, regarding the regulation of those with whom a minor may or may not associate, and the penalty for a supplier of a narcotic to a minor, that the Bill has been subject to scrutiny. It draws a distinction between a person convicted of an offence against the Narcotics Act, and a known user of drugs, although it is an offence for a minor to associate with either kind of person.
Under the Bill any person supplying a narcotic to a minor would be liable to the maximum penalty provided for the offence in the Narcotics Act 1965; a person convicted of giving a joint to a minor would face a term of imprisonment of 14 years. So would a person supplying L.S.D., opium, or heroin. But while most people opposed to the first provision will argue that marihuana is "socially acceptable" and therefore should involve a lesser penalty, if indeed it should involve any penalty at all, few people have spoken against the imposition of such a harsh mandatory sentence with respect to (so-called) hard drugs. Because, it appears, L.S.D. and heroin are not considered socially acceptable in the same sense, and therefore their supply to minors should constitute an offence. What has emerged is the opinion that a penalty which is harsh in respect of marihuana is acceptable in respect of L.S.D opium, heroin, etc.; i.e. that this provision of the bill would be made acceptable if marhuana were removed from the first schedule to the Narcotics Act, or excluded from consideration in this Bill.
At a recent meeting here at Victoria, Gill was reported as saying that when he makes representations to the Social Services Committee on the subject of the Bill which he introduced, he will ask that it be amended so that the offence of association will involve registered users of prescription poisons, and that provision be made to exclude marihuana from the schedule of Narcotics, and thereby remove offences involving that drug from the scope of his Bill.
One outcome of the meeting was the clear indication that many of those present opposed to the Bill considered that amendments of this sort could remove their objections; most only objected to the legislation about marihuana; some considered that the courts should have the right to determine those with whom a minor might associate, pared to hold on to a certain set of moral judgements; that the time when it was possible to regulate the private acts of a population is slowly vanishing; and that the individual is assuming more responsibility for his own actions within society.