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Second Reading: Crimes Legislation Amendment (Sexual Crimes Against Children and Community Protection Measures) Bill 2019, Senate, 15 June 2020

It’s my great pleasure to rise and speak on the Crimes Legislation Amendment (Sexual Crimes Against Children and Community Protection Measures) Bill 2019. The Morrison government is resolute in its commitment to protect children from sexual abuse. For too long, people who sexually abuse children have been receiving grossly inadequate sentences. It is completely unacceptable that, in 2018-19, 39 per cent of convicted Commonwealth child sex offenders did not spend a single day in prison. Last year, the Australian Federal Police received almost 18,000 reports of child exploitation involving Australian children or Australian child sex offenders. This number is abhorrent. It is almost double that of the previous year. This is an alarming trend that the Morrison government is committed to reversing. It is time to send a clear message to perpetrators that their behaviour will not be tolerated. That is why we are introducing the Crimes Legislation Amendment (Sexual Crimes Against Children and Community Protection Measures) Bill 2019.

What does this bill do? The bill strengthens Commonwealth laws in order to provide greater protection to the community through deterring and punishing child sex offenders.

The bill does four broad things to achieve this. It introduces new offences related to grooming activities and websites and online platforms designed to host child abuse material. It introduces new aggravated offences for the most horrific types of child abuse engaged in while someone is outside Australia, including where the child is subjected to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. The bill implements a range of presumptions against bail and presumptions for imprisonment—very important provisions—meaning it will be more likely that child sex offenders will go to prison, they will stay there longer and it will be harder for them to get bail. Also, very importantly, the bill introduces mandatory minimum sentences for the most serious child sex offences and those who are repeat offenders to address the completely unacceptable situation where, as I’ve mentioned and as we’ve heard in this debate, 39 per cent of convicted offenders last year didn’t spend a single day in jail.

The bill also implements recommendations from the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse to protect vulnerable witnesses by allowing them to automatically give evidence via a videorecorded interview and also prohibits cross-examination at committal hearings. This bill complements a broad range of reforms already introduced by the coalition. These include tough new measures to stop child sex offenders from travelling overseas to abuse children; Carly’s Law, which targets online predators who use the internet to prepare or plan to sexually abuse children; and the Combatting Child Sexual Exploitation Legislation Amendment Bill 2019, which implements a range of recommendations from the royal commission and improves the Commonwealth framework for offences relating to child abuse material, forced marriage and other matters such as the failure to protect children from abuse.

Where is the opposition on these matters? We know that Labor refused to support this bill when it was before the parliament in 2016. We know that Labor does not have the will to tackle these abhorrent crimes. We know that Labor is divided and not focused on passing these changes to protect children from predators. As we’ve just heard from Senator Hughes, and I will reiterate this, on 3 September 2019, the member for Grayndler, the Leader of the Opposition, Mr Albanese, said that people who engage in vile acts against children should have the book thrown at them. In the same breath, he argued about these amendments:

Sometimes what it can lead to is less convictions rather than more … Because judges or juries will make the view that because it’s mandatory sentencing, all of the circumstances can’t be factored in.

This argument is nonsensical. It is completely at odds with community expectations that it is not okay for 39 per cent of child sex offenders convicted federally in the last financial year who did not spend a single day in jail. The community expects better than that, and that’s why we are determined to implement this bill.

We know that the Greens and parts of the Labor Party don’t support mandatory sentencing on principle, which of course is a principle they only employ some of the time, given their support for mandatory minimum sentences for people-smuggling offences in 2010. Does that mean Labor doesn’t think that child sex offences are as serious as people-smuggling offences? In the inquiry into the Combatting Child Sexual Exploitation Legislation Amendment Bill 2019, Labor senators commented:

The problems created by removing judicial discretion in sentencing are well attested. As the Law Council of Australia stated in its Discussion Paper on Mandatory Sentencing (May 2014) there is very little evidence that mandatory sentencing increases public safety. On the contrary, the evidence is that it may have the opposite effect. Mandatory sentencing increases the incentive for defendants to fight charges and may increase the risk of recidivism.

That is completely not supported by the facts—facts like this: when the Western Australian state liberal government introduced mandatory sentencing provisions for assaults against police and other officers, there was a 28 per cent drop in assaults against police in just a 12-month period. I have to say this does not reflect at all well on the Law Council of Australia either.

Mr Albanese has a chance to right the wrongs of the Shorten Labor opposition and support these important changes. He needs to stand up to people in the Labor Party like Senator Carr, who oppose mandatory sentencing of child abusers because of some ridiculous ideological opposition. Mr Albanese needs to stand up for Australian families and support this critical legislation to protect our community from the evils of child sexual abuse. As I say, mandatory sentencing is a very important part of this bill. We will not tolerate the current record that we are seeing in relation to the number of convicted offenders who do not end up in jail. It is an abhorrent proposition, and the Morrison government is determined to remedy that.

The safety of children online is a key concern for this government and a key concern for the community. It is vital that we keep our children safe from sexual predators. Unwanted contact from strangers is one of the dangers children face when they are using the internet and social media, and I know that this is a particular concern for every parent, including me, given the fact that the internet has become a part of children’s everyday lives in so many respects. As I say, for me as a parent, it causes me enormous worry, as I know it does with every parent. It’s worth reiterating the eSafety Commissioner’s top tips for parents in protecting their kids online. They include:

  • using parental controls in apps and devices to monitor and limit what your child does online
  • setting time limits for using devices during non-school hours
  • keeping your kids in open areas of the home when using their devices— so that they can be properly monitored—
  • turning on or reviewing privacy settings to restrict who contacts your child in apps and games—

and in other ways in which third parties can access your children via the internet; and, of course, keeping engaged through watching what your children are doing and being very involved in your child’s or children’s online activities.

Importantly, the government—through the Minister for Communications, Cyber Safety and the Arts, Paul Fletcher—is committed to introducing a new online safety act, having been through an extensive period of consultation. The Morrison government takes child sexual exploitation extremely seriously, and we are determined to tackle it comprehensively. Our children deserve that protection, and I commend this bill to the Senate.

15 June 2020

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