March 22nd 2003

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY: The future ... after Iraq

CANBERRA OBSERVED: After Iraq: the challenge facing John Howard

MEDICINE: Leading specialists reject destructive embryo research

BIOETHICS: Embryo research and state laws

STRAWS IN THE WIND: Bazaar politics/Sponsors/Beautiful People socialism

COMMENT: The real culprits in the internet porn scandal

FAMILY: Youth legal guide alarms families

MEDIA: Accord strikes a chord / 'Australian' shake-up a matter of opinion

NATIONAL AFFAIRS: Deregulation and water could be a tragedy for National Party

LETTERS: Foreign debt (letter)

LETTERS: The vision thing (letter)

How Australian support is rebuilding East Timor

WATER: Towards healthier river systems: a flawed process

NUCLEAR WEAPONS: The future of non-proliferation treaties

BOOKS: Life, Liberty and the Defence of Dignity, by Leon Kass

BOOKS: Australia And Israel: An Ambiguous Relationship, by Chanan Reich

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Youth legal guide alarms families

by Bill Muehlenberg

News Weekly, March 22, 2003
A new taxpayer-funded booklet put by the Victorian Government for young people has attracted widespread criticism. The 62-page booklet, entitled Am I Old Enough?, is meant to be a guidebook on the law for Victorian young people. Over 225,000 copies of the booklet were sent to 546 Victorian secondary schools.

Produced by Victoria Legal Aid, the booklet is designed to help young Victorians understand their legal rights. The booklet, in its 14th edition, was produced through funding by the Attorney-General of Victoria, who put $100,000 of taxpayers' funds into it.

Now there is nothing is wrong with informing young people about legal issues that affect them. But the way this booklet is presented makes it more than mere information.

It has a decided adversarial flavour about it. That is, it really seems to frame the issues in an "us versus them" approach: the "us" being the young people, and the "them" being everybody else. It appears to be young people against authorities, against police, and against parents.


In effect, it treats young people as criminal suspects. For example, it tells young people when stopped by police that they need only give their name and address. It tells young people that if "you decide to make no comment to the police, stick with it for every question".

The booklet also gives this advice: "The police must tell you why they want your name and address. If they do not give you a reason, you should ask for it". This adversarial approach is seen throughout this booklet.


It is as if a policeman has no right to go after suspected lawbreakers, and that every police inquiry is an invasion of someone's rights.

Presumably if police officers pull people over, they have good reasons for doing so.

The surprising thing of course is that this booklet is produced with the assistance of the Attorney-General's department. It should be more supportive of the police instead of appearing so antagonistic. What kind of attitudes does this booklet inculcate in young people?

Other examples include a section on weapons. It tells children that they can carry certain weapons, "like a sword, a large crossbow or imitation firearm if you use it safely and if you can prove you have a lawful excuse to use it"!

Thanks a lot. The police will be happy to know the next time they confront a gang of machete-wielding young thugs, that they will have long ago thought up good excuses to avoid arrest. "We were just on the way to our Machete Appreciation Society AGM, officer."

The drug advice gets even worse: "A charge of possession can only be proved if you knew the drug was there". Thanks guys. That is certainly invaluable information for young drug users to have: "Drugs? What drugs?"

Or consider this helpful advice: "Using syringes or traces of drugs can be used as evidence of using drugs of dependence. Always flush syringes with water after using". It's getting easier by the minute to be an illegal drug user with this booklet.


Whose side is this booklet on? Why is a government publication in effect telling people how they can take illegal drugs, break the law and avoid detection? The is most irresponsible.

Children are also told that if they want an abortion they do not have to tell their parents, nor is there any age limit for it or for contraceptives. How ironic that at schools parents need to be notified before any drug like panadol can be administered by school staff to students, but it seems no parental knowledge is necessary if little Suzie wants contraceptives or seeks an abortion.

Critics might counter that this booklet is just telling young people what the law already says. But it just seems incongruous that the government should be so intent on telling 12-year-olds about their contraception and abortion rights, and so happy to do it under their parent's noses.

How many parents are aware of this booklet? How many were told about it? Why were parents not first given a chance to vet it, before it was distributed to every Victorian secondary student?

I imagine the producers of this booklet knew quite well that parents would not be overly impressed with it.

  • Bill Muehlenberg

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