Crimes Legislation Amendment Bill 2017

I think everyone in this space understands that children are incredibly precious and they have a right to be protected. No child should ever be in a situation where they are sexually assaulted, but we know that is what’s happening.

This Crimes Legislation Amendment (Sexual Crimes Against Children and Community Protection Measures) Bill 2017 adds to the government’s recent legislation relating to child sexual abuse. Carly’s Law passed the parliament in the last session. This is a law that makes it a crime to plan to harm a child who is under 16. It targets online predators, who misrepresent their age with the sole purpose of grooming the child online for sex. These people are pretending to be young children like the children they are grooming online. The first arrest using this law has already been made. The government also recently passed legislation that stops convicted sex offenders from travelling overseas to commit criminal acts against children in those venues. This bill specifically targets some inadequacies in the criminal justice system that result in outcomes that don’t sufficiently punish, deter or rehabilitate offenders. The bill also introduces new offences directed at the use of the internet for the sexual abuse of children.

Today I’d really like to acknowledge the member for Fisher, Andrew Wallace, for his Polished Man campaign. It’s a campaign encouraging men to take a stand and actively commit to ending violence against children by painting one fingernail for the month of October. I looked at the statistics provided at this gathering. They show that more than 120 million girls and 73 million boys have been the victims of sexual violence. I thank Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and the Minister for the Environment and Energy, Josh Frydenberg, for their support of this campaign.

The government has become increasingly concerned about manifestly inadequate sentences for child sex offenders. These sentences do not sufficiently reflect the harm suffered by the victims of child sex abuse or protect the community from the risk of future harm. These sentences also do not fully reflect the fact that these crimes actually increase the demand for child abuse material, particularly online. I read that—and this really concerned me—since 2012, less than two-thirds of Commonwealth child sex offenders have received a term of imprisonment after conviction. This means that 269 child sex offenders, convicted of a Commonwealth crime, were released directly back into the community over the past five years. I find that appalling. Of those who were imprisoned, the most common sentence length was 18 months and the most common non-parole period was six months. I can’t think of anyone in my electorate or any Australian, in fact, who would think that these are adequate sentences for those people who sexually abuse children.

I’m a mum. How would any mother and father feel if the person who was convicted under federal law of sexually abusing their child actually served no time in prison? All of us here know how we would feel if it was our child or our grandchild. I know exactly how I would feel. These are vile, heinous crimes. The trust and the vulnerability of children we see every day. We see it in our own children; we see it in every child. I had a group of wonderful children with special needs who came into this parliament today from Busselton in my electorate. The thought of anybody taking advantage and sexually abusing one of those extremely vulnerable young children, to me, requires the sort of legislation that we’re putting forward here. I don’t want to see any person who sexually abuses a child not suffer the punishment they deserve. I would suggest that there isn’t one member of parliament or one parent or one grandparent who wouldn’t feel the same. It is absolutely disgusting and abhorrent. We see these beautiful kids who trust us as adults—they trust us to look after them. What’s love to a child? Love is security. And that’s what we are here to provide. I see my role in this place as providing as much security as I can through the legislation that we enact, and that’s why I support the measures within this bill.

I agree with the Minister for Justice, our federal laws should punish and deter offenders unequivocally. They should send a very simple message out into the community. None of us here, in any way, believe that a sex offender should not be punished. They should be punished, and we should be deterring potential future offenders. That’s why this bill introduces mandatory sentencing for specified offences—to address the disparity between the seriousness of child sex offending and lenient sentences. It’s critical. The community depends on us to provide the laws to protect the community, as much as is possible, across the board, and no-one more so than our children. That’s what I expect. If I weren’t a member of parliament here, that’s exactly what I would expect of the members in this parliament and the government of the day.

Mandatory minimum sentences will send a very clear message. They will apply to the child sex offences that attract the highest penalties—not just any penalty; the highest penalties—and to reoffenders, as they rightly should. Are those reoffenders of the 269 who weren’t sent to jail and, as a result, they’ve reoffended? What message did they get out of that?

If they are reoffending they clearly have not learnt from their original offence.
I find that it’s applying to the highest penalties. That cannot be understated in this debate. It combats the evolving use of the internet in child sexual abuse. I know firsthand from young people in my electorate that offenders are using the internet to groom young people for sex. As most members here would be aware, I’ve spoken about this frequently and worked actively in this space. I’ve seen this as an opportunity for paedophiles. I’ve delivered hundreds—hundreds—of cybersafety presentations. The minister at the table worked with me, historically in his previous roles, in establishing the Office of the eSafety Commissioner, focusing on children and specifically providing resources in this space.

I have delivered hundreds of cybersafety presentations to young people, parents and community groups. Following one of these presentations the mother of an 11-year-old girl contacted my office and said, ‘My daughter came to your presentation today and she’s come home and she’s had to confess to me that she’s realised after listening to my presentation that she, at 11, was being groomed online for sex.’ It’s made even easier on the internet, because paedophiles are grooming these children to have sex with them, but they’re also encouraging them to meet them in person. It’s extremely disturbing for me, having delivered this to primary school aged children, to find eight children in one class of 11-year-olds who had the courage and the honesty to admit to me that they had been to meet people in person that they first met only online. I’m continuing to do these presentations. What disturbed me even more, which is why I’m strongly supportive of this bill, is that too often it’s usual for me now to come across classes where, when I do my secret survey and I ask them if they would be honest about what’s happening to them online—I ask them if they have ever been to meet in person someone they had first met only online—the hands go up.

Can you imagine how horrified the teachers are? And can you imagine how horrified the parents who have come along to some of my sessions are when I tell them that’s the response I get? It’s not happening to someone else’s children. It’s happening to our children. So, every time I can get to one child it’s a very good day. That’s what we are trying to do here. We’re trying to protect those wonderfully innocent, precious children. I make no excuse for that. I think it’s the best thing this government can be doing and I’m proud of the fact that we take it so seriously.

It concerns me, too, that sentencing for child sex offences needs to be commensurate to the seriousness of the crime, and we are talking about the most serious crimes. We need to make sure that the sentences imposed adequately reflect the seriousness of the offending that’s occurred. That’s important for community trust in us. That’s what the community expects of us here. We pass a lot of laws in this place and there are a lot of laws around this space at the state level as well. But when they involve Commonwealth offences, such as using a carriage service—which, as the minister knows, involves using a phone, an iPad, the internet or any form of service—to abuse, harass and, of course, to sexually abuse, is against the law, as it should be. It is a federal offence. Child sexual offences are also federal offences in this space.

I’m very pleased that we are introducing this legislation—we are ensuring that we are doing everything we can. We are very serious—the government is very serious—about ensuring that child sex offenders are off our streets as soon as possible and for as long as possible, especially those who reoffend. There are a number of measures contained in this bill, and community safety is the primary consideration here. Those listening to this speech may find it surprising that community safety is not already the primary consideration. This bill makes it explicit—it is to ensure the protection of the community. It ensures that once an offender’s parole has been revoked they will serve time in custody. That’s what that mum, that dad, that grandparent, the brothers and sisters and the friends, expect us to do. The families of every child who has been sexually abused expect us to have the laws to not only try to protect that child but also then to punish the person who offends. I’m very pleased that this is the road that we’re taking on this.

Two new measures target especially online sites. If you have a bit of a look around the internet, the amount of pornography available online, and the amount of aggressive physical pornography and some of what’s available on the dark web, is just extraordinary. I am greatly concerned about what our children have access to and what they’re accessing and how young they are when they have access to it. The second measure, criminalising the transmission of communications to groom any person with the aim of procuring a child for sexual activity, is very, very important and a measure I’m strongly supportive of. I’ve just seen too much of it. It wasn’t just an 11-year-old—13- and 14-year-olds were also being groomed online for sex. That came out of a group that I had previously. We need to make sure that there is harsh punishment. We need to send a very clear message to offenders and potential offenders that we as a government and we as a society are not going to stand by and watch more young people being sexually assaulted—our children.