Labor mayor and Indigenous groups to challenge NSW bail laws for children at party conference

<span>Inner West mayor Darcy Byrne says he is working with the state’s Aboriginal legal service and other groups in opposition to the ‘draconian’ bail laws for children.</span><span>Photograph: Jessica Hromas/The Guardian</span>
Inner West mayor Darcy Byrne says he is working with the state’s Aboriginal legal service and other groups in opposition to the ‘draconian’ bail laws for children.Photograph: Jessica Hromas/The Guardian

The New South Wales government will face a challenge from within Labor party ranks to new laws making it harder for teenagers to get bail, with the Inner West mayor, Darcy Byrne, and Indigenous groups advocating their repeal.

Byrne planned to move a motion at the July party conference to repeal the laws that he said were “aimed at locking up more children”, while also working with the NSW Aboriginal Legal Service (ALS) and other groups “in opposition to the draconian laws”.

The laws passed last week make it harder for teenagers to get bail and criminalise “posting and boasting” about criminal offences on social media. The government also introduced a $26.2m package of initiatives to address youth crime in regional NSW.

Related: Youth offenders will find it harder to get bail under sweeping new NSW laws

The changes were criticised as “kneejerk law and order responses” that would see more children jailed and push the state further from its Closing the Gap targets. They passed without amendment despite opposition from many on the crossbench.

The chief executive of the ALS, Karly Warner, said it was “heartening to see that there are forces within NSW Labor that understand what a bad idea this policy is”.

She said it was a “shocking step backward” on Closing the Gap and for safety in regional communities and children, and the ALS would work to ensure the scheme was overturned and replaced with evidenced-based initiatives.

“It’s also a bad political call from the premier who has shown he’s listening to media fear campaigns more than communities,” she said.

Byrne, who spoke out against the laws when they were first floated, said they were unjust and had been “rammed through” parliament.

“I will be tabling an urgency motion at the upcoming NSW Labor conference for these laws, aimed at locking up more children, to be immediately repealed and a sophisticated, evidence-based package of juvenile justice programs to be funded and implemented instead,” he said.

“There’s been a real outpouring of emotion from Labor party members and social justice advocates who are shocked and saddened that the NSW government is willing to incarcerate even more Aboriginal kids.”

He said Labor members who “believe in overcoming Indigenous injustice have no choice but to bring this fight on to the conference floor”.

Before the laws were passed, the attorney general, Michael Daley, said he was concerned the tougher bail laws would result in more young people being locked up but the government had no choice.

“If there was another option available to us today, to keep these children safe, we’d take it. But there isn’t,” he said.

The Bail Act was then amended to include an extra test for 14- to 18-year-olds charged with committing certain serious break-and-enter or motor vehicle theft offences while on bail for the same offences and seeking further bail.

The changes mean police, magistrates and judges need a “high degree of confidence” that a young person would not commit a further serious indictable offence if they were granted bail again. The laws will be reviewed after 12 months.

The premier, Chris Minns, said the reforms were a “critical intervention” and there were already serious cases of life-threatening crimes being committed by young people.