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INSIDE STORY: Will tougher new bail laws for teenagers make Orange a safer place to live, or just create more hardened criminals?

March 25, 2024

By Peter Holmes

At times, Orange has a problem with motor vehicle theft (followed by arson), break and enters, and bored, wayward and/or damaged youth. It’s not unusual for the same crime to involve all three.

It ebbs and flows with the seasons. When warm weather and school holidays coincide, crime can spike. 

In February 2023 we reported that a two-week “crime wave”, including home break-ins and stolen cars being burnt-out, occurred after one young person was released from custody.

Chief inspector Peter Atkins told Orange City Council’s Community Safety and Crime Prevention committee at the time that there were six burnt-out vehicles and 31 home break-ins in Orange in October 2022. He said the subsequent arrest of that person was likely the reason behind crime rates immediately dropping in November 2022.

In July 2023 The Orange News Examiner reported that Orange police believed 14 juveniles, including two repeat offenders, had caused 50 percent of the crime in the area in the three months from March to May 2023.

Chief inspector David Maher’s report to an Orange council committee at the time said the offences included aggravated break and enter and vehicle theft, stealing and malicious damage, and traffic, domestic violence and street-related offences.

We published a story last week about Orange’s crime rates per capita being higher than Bathurst in almost all categories. 

Orange is a place to which people from further west in the state migrate. Temporarily. Permanently. On and off. Come and go.

It is a hub for medical services - including mental health, cardiology, drug rehab - and a place where magistrates from other locales may send kids to live with relatives.  

It is fair to assume that the NSW government’s new bail laws will see more of our young people locked up in coming months and years.

For some, this news will be sweet relief. They believe if you keep locking children up they will eventually get the message and become law-abiding citizens who contribute to society. And if they don’t they will stay locked up.

Others argue that while this might satisfy a lust for revenge, it will ultimately cause more damage than it alleviates, as children aged 14 to 17 enter the juvenile justice system.

The changes to the Bail Act mean there is now an extra test for 14-to-17-year-olds charged with committing serious break and enter and motor vehicle theft offences while on bail for the same offences.

For a young person to be granted bail in these circumstances, judges, magistrates and police will need a “high degree of confidence” that the young person would not commit a serious indictable offence while on bail. You can assume that not many police would be willing to give that assurance. What of the beaks? 

Bathurst based NSW upper house MP Sam Farraway told The Orange News Examiner that while the Liberals and Nationals backed Labor’s new bail laws, they weren’t tough enough.

“We welcome the government doing anything on regional crime, if that includes the Crime and Bail Act and those amendments, that is something we didn’t oppose, but we tried to move a lot of amendments and the government would have a bar of it.”

Those amendments included broadening the number of specific crimes to be included, and requiring crime stats to be compiled relating specifially to the demographics involved.

Farraway said the new laws had “a few loopholes”.

“It is a step forward, but it’s very watered down on bits and pieces around 10 to 14-year-olds. They’re the ones that we need to get in there and they need to know the consequences.” 

He backed the Regional Crime Inquiry, but said “it’s also been watered down”.

Lower house MPs for Orange, Phil Donato, and Bathurst, Paul Toole, will sit on the inquiry, but Farraway said an upper house inquiry would have had more teeth.

Asked if the new bail laws would strike a balance between the community feeling safer, and young people being given the best chance to rehabilitate, Farraway said: “Yes and no. You’re not going to get one single element that’s going to fix regional crime. I think the community needs to have their say, they need to be able to get their experiences and their criticisms off their chest.”

Independent MP for Orange, Phil Donato, described the new bail laws as “about right”. He pointed out that there “has always been judicial discretion” in terms of refusing bail, but said one inexperienced magistrate in a town further west had been too lenient, and “the whole thing got out of control”.

He said that if police did not have a “high degree of confidence” that the child would not commit the same level of serious crime if bailed, they would request bail be refused. The matter could then go to a judge or a magistrate, who would have to have that same degree of confidence.

Donato said “no society wants to lock up its children” but that the public had a right to feel safe. He referred to people in Orange who had been the victims of home invasions. The Orange News Examiner has spoken to numerous people who have been robbed while they were at home.

He said it’s likely that those who will have bail refused will be young offenders for whom diversionary programs and other community outreach have not been successful.

He conceded that there was a risk that refusing bail more often might mean young people “get used to incarceration and learn things from other crooks in the institution, but it’s rarely going to be some 15-year-old who’s never been in trouble with the police before”. 

“They will be people who’ve been through the cautions, through the conferences [with victims], through the diversionary programs,” said Donato. 

“Sometimes those things just don’t work. They usually have a lengthy criminal history, and these are serious crimes that are being committed, with sentences up to 14 years.”

On March 17, 2024, the Aboriginal Legal Service released an open letter to the Minns government. 

It had been signed by 61 groups, including the NSW Aboriginal Land Council, the Justice Reform Initiative, Redfern Legal Centre, Australian Lawyers for Human Rights, First Peoples Disability Network, AbSec - NSW Child, Family and Community Peak Aboriginal Corporation, Central Tablelands and Blue Mountains Community Legal Centre, North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency, Sydney Institute of Criminology, Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth, and Save the Children.

“Throwing more children in jail will make crime worse in regional communities, not better,” they said. “Throwing more children in jail will lead to horrific outcomes for communities, families and those children, compounding abuse and trauma. Throwing more children in jail will cause unspeakable damage to Closing The Gap and efforts to create a better future for Aboriginal children in NSW.”


It said the “new policy to increase youth incarceration … ignores decades of evidence on how to reduce youth crime, prioritises punishment over investment in the proven prevention strategies that you promised to implement, will cause crime to get worse …”


“This is a devastating betrayal of Aboriginal children and other vulnerable groups across NSW,” it said. “This is a devastating betrayal of regional communities who want prevention measures not stunts.”

The signatories asked the Minns Labor government to “urgently replace your punishment measures with prevention measures: Resources allocated for local communities to support after-school, evening and weekend activities that engage at-risk young people; intensive and targeted programs and responses for at-risk children with appropriate referral services; formal community partnerships between police and Aboriginal controlled services”.

The following day, the Aboriginal Legal Service issued a second open letter. This one had been signed by more than 500 people - lawyers, researchers, academics, psychologists, ministers and community groups. It was a last-ditch - and futile - plea.   

“We support the premier’s goal to improve community safety and wellbeing and strengthen early intervention initiatives,” it read.

Copyright: Orange News Examiner.

“The proposed laws however will have the opposite effect. The evidence tells us that such laws do not make communities safer and in fact exacerbate the social drivers of young people’s contact with the justice system.

“Overwhelming evidence by youth detention management, children’s commissioners, outside experts and young people pointed to the fact that youth detention does not work, and in fact aggravates the traumas and behavioural issues that young people experience.”


It stated that it cost, on average, $2,759.13 per day to house a young person in detention.

“ … these laws … will make it harder for children between the ages of 14-17 to be released on bail for certain break and enter and car theft offences. The government acknowledges the result will be that more children are imprisoned on remand. More punitive bail laws and new offences will not achieve our common goal: safer communities.” 

The ALS statement said that NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research (BOCSAR) data showed that the majority of young people in custody in NSW were already there on remand, which meant they were detained after bail was refused by either police or the courts.

Juvenile detention in NSW. Supplied.

The ALS said “a high proportion of those are Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander children and young people”, which was “a massive indictment on the system as it is currently operating, with those statistics set to worsen with the proposed bail changes”.

It said that at the end of December 2023 there were 174 young people incarcerated in NSW. Nearly three quarters (74.1 percent) were on remand. Of the total youth custody population, 61.5 percent were Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander young people.

“The average age of young people on remand after bail was refused by police was 14 years old, and 100 percent of those were Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander young people,” the ALS said.

“The average age of remanded young people refused bail by the courts was 16.2 years of age. And 65.1 percent of the 129 young people on remand in custody in NSW were Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander.” 



The ALS said many children in youth detention had disabilities “with high and complex needs that can only be addressed in the community”.

“This includes individualised and wrap-around services and responses that involve family, school, community, cultural and my therapeutic supports. These must be supported and led by Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations.”

Alongside the stricter new bail laws, the Minns government finally backed a regional crime inquiry, and announced a trial in Moree aimed at strengthening early intervention and prevention programs for young people.

According to Moree Plains Shire Council, the state will invest $13.4 million “to address crime, support young people and improve community safety”.Initiatives will include additional judicial resources and a new $8.75 million bail accommodation and support service in Moree for young people.

“This will provide police and courts with more options to put a young person on bail with higher confidence that they will not reoffend,” council said. Also, young Aboriginal people would be linked to Indigenous organisations, elders, cultural and family supports from their own communities with “skilled, qualified, trained and consistent staff on site 24/7 providing child-safe care”.

The trial would see “continuing NSW Police Force operations in the Moree area to meet community needs. This includes continuing to surge operational resources”.

MP Sam Farraway backed the trial in Moree, but had some concerns. He said the government had given itself up to six months to work out the “action plan” for Moree, but that the new bail laws had a sunset clause of 12 months, meaning there may not be time to fully implement and appraise the success of new programs being used in concert with tougher bail laws. 

“Six months!” he said. “They should be able to work out an action plan in six weeks.”

He said that trials should be held concurrently in numerous locations across western NSW so that a wider range of potential solutions could be found.

Farraway said that he “fought hard for the Parental Responsibility Act” to remain in place in Orange [the only place in NSW with such provisions], which allows police to return young people roaming the streets home, rather than taking them to Orange Police Station, however he noted Orange’s high crime rate compared to Bathurst and said “we need to know if it’s actually working” by reviewing data.

Sam Farraway.

He said “youth crime in NSW is out of control” and that it was up to politicians to listen to community members about their experiences, and to their suggestions for improving the situation, before enacting “a balanced approach” to law enforcement.

“But there are too many horror stories,” he said.

During the debate last week Dubbo MP Dugald Saunders told the parliament that “gone are the days when you could leave a window open for some fresh air at night. Now the house needs to be tightly sealed and secured, while you wait to see who will be targeted next on your street or in your neighbourhood”.

He added: “If you live in a regional area, chances are that you have been impacted by crime or that you know someone who has. That is terrifying. As a regional MP, I am very close to this issue, and I take it very seriously. It is happening in my backyard and the backyards of several of my colleagues, and there is no doubt in any of our minds that things are getting worse.”

Saunders delivered some statistics: “In 2023, rates of violent offences such as assault were 57 percent higher in the bush than in the city, and violent incidents at schools in regional New South Wales increased to their highest level in five years.

“Non‑domestic assaults in regional towns across the state grew by 14 percent from 2019‑23. Sexual assault across the regions is up 47 per cent from 2019, and domestic violence incidents increased by 24 per cent.

“An obvious question is why are these crimes not included in the bill? In the past two years, domestic violence assaults went up 7.6 per cent and sexual assaults went up 11.3 per cent in the bush, yet there are no protections for women in the proposed changes.”

As Saunders himself made clear, these issues haven’t sprung up overnight. They’ve been years in the making - years in which the Coalition was in power. 

It begged the question: Why didn’t the Nationals and the Liberals establish an inquiry into regional crime in 2020? Or 2021? Or 2022?

The Orange News Examiner put this to Farraway.

“In fairness, we’ve been out of government for 12 months, and regional crime was nowhere near the level it is now,” he said.

“I’ve never said it’s the government’s fault, it’s crept up, and it’s really been out of control in the last 12 months. The government should’ve acknowledged this and accepted the need for an inquiry.”

Donato told The Orange News Examiner that a lot of the young people in trouble came from towns where there wasn’t much to do. 

How we covered a previous crime story.

“And a lot come from homes that are dysfunctional with drug, alcohol and domestic violence issues, and when you’ve got that happening at home you don’t want to be there, so you go hang out with mates. Then they get up to mischief with peer pressure.”

But, he said, “people don’t want their house broken into while they’re asleep in bed at night. People work bloody hard for things - a car, a house - and they’ve had a gutful of having their property damaged and stolen and ripped off”.

A senior officer at Orange police station said they were unable to comment, and directed us to NSW Police Media. Comment was also sought from the Children’s Legal Service.


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