Children as young as 10 will continue to be able to be arrested, charged and detained for at least another year as the nation's top law officials put off a decision on raising the age of criminal responsibility.
Activists, lawyers and health professionals urged Australia's attorneys-general to use a law reform meeting to raise the age of criminal responsibility to 14.
But the council of attorneys-general decided on Monday there was still work to do on what would replace the current system should the age be lifted.
That work isn't expected to be finished until next year.
NSW Attorney-General Mark Speakman said when that report did come back it would be "crunch time" for a decision.
"There's an in-principle issue about whether you should raise the age of criminal responsibility at all, but if you do you need to know what is the alternative regime," he told reporters in Sydney after the meeting.
"What are the therapeutic interventions, the behavioural interventions, the social support, the educational interventions that offending children need if they're not going to be dealt with by the criminal justice system?"
He said NSW was yet to be convinced the age should be raised.
"There is understandable community concern when, for example, 13-year-olds in far north Queensland are alleged to have raped a minor, and understandable community concern that kids may feel they can get away with things if there isn't some criminal sanctions attached," he said.
"There is a significant onus on those who want to make the case for change, that's why this further work has to be done."
Amnesty International Australia says nearly 600 children aged between 10 and 13 were put behind bars in one year.
The human rights organisation says two-thirds of imprisoned children are Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander.
Aboriginal legal and health expert group Change the Record argues Indigenous children in some areas are put behind bars at up to 43 times the rate of non-Indigenous children.
The two organisations are among several activist groups, human rights lawyers and health professionals calling for the age of criminal responsibility to be raised.
Most Australians are unaware the age of criminal responsibility is 10, a survey from think-tank the Australia Institute revealed.
The United Nations recommends the minimum criminal age of responsibility be 14, but all Australian states and territories have set it at 10 - one of the lowest in the world.
Australian Associated Press