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Wednesday, 19 September 2007
Page: 172

Mr RUDDOCK (Attorney-General) (10:49 AM) —in reply—I thank my colleagues the members for Brisbane, Riverina and now Indi for their support for this measure. The Crimes Legislation Amendment (Child Sex Tourism Offences and Related Measures) Bill 2007 does make important amendments to the law by enhancing the existing child sex tourism regime, including the creation of new child sex tourism offences, particularly extraterritorially. The amendments introduce new overseas child pornography offences and provide a mechanism for forfeiture of child pornography and child abuse material used in the commission of a Commonwealth child sex offence. In relation to the matters raised during the debate, the government welcomes the opposition’s support for the measure. The bill does deserve widespread support. There is no higher priority, of course, than protecting children from predators, particularly serial predators.

Concern was raised that the AFP may not be adequately resourced to investigate child sex tourism offences. Let me put that beyond doubt, if I may. The coalition has massively increased AFP resources, particularly during its recent budget. Over time, it has essentially doubled the AFP resources, which has many challenges, particularly in relation to counterterrorism as well as child sex matters, and it is dealing with new issues in relation to copyright piracy and related questions, for which it has been specifically resourced. Only last month, as part of the Protecting Australian Families Online initiative, we announced a further $43.5 million for the AFP to deal with online child sex exploitation and to establish a special team to deal with those matters—and that funding is for four years. It will allow the employment of an additional 90 new AFP officers in the team by 2009-10. The announcement also included increased funding for prosecutions. It is important to recognise that, if investigations produce evidence that warrants prosecutions and leads to an increase in prosecutions, the DPP be adequately resourced to follow up on these matters. I think this is an illustration, just one of course, of our funding commitment to fighting these very important crimes.

I thank my colleagues the members for Riverina and Indi because in their comments today they highlighted their personal commitment to dealing with this issue, and I thank the member for Riverina for her promotion of the stronger efforts internationally. Her firsthand experience of the nature of the problem, along with the Australian parliamentary delegation that visited South-East Asia, strongly informed the government’s approach in relation to this matter. The central purpose of these laws is to ensure that we have capacity to prosecute in Australia where there are no frameworks to do that in the country where the crime may have been committed. I support my colleague’s efforts to encourage legal practitioners to act pro bono for child victims in poorer countries.

The question of international trafficking and abuse was also raised. The government is dealing with these issues internationally as well as domestically. In 2003, the government provided $20 million to combat people trafficking, including trafficking of children. In 2007, it provided a further $38.3 million to this cause, and this included specific funding to enhance AFP capacity in investigating these matters. I thank my colleagues for their comments and interest in this matter—I think it is important.

By advancing this bill, we are ensuring that Australia has strong and comprehensive laws on sexual offences against children overseas. Enhancements to Australia’s existing child sex tourism offence regime will ensure that our laws comprehensively and effectively target those who travel abroad to engage in child sex tourism. It is something that is totally abhorrent, I think, to any sensible and well-meaning person. Those who organise such activity for others are equally reprehensible in their conduct. New offences relating to child pornography material overseas will prevent Australians who travel to countries lacking effective laws to deal with child pornography from escaping prosecution.

Further, forfeiture orders will provide an important mechanism to prevent child pornography being returned or retained by those who have had it in their possession. The government is committed to the protection of children from the threat of sexual abuse. The bill will complement other current initiatives by the government in relation to the protection of children, including the measures in the Northern Territory, which have been commented on in the debate on other legislation that has been supported, as well as our efforts to protect children online. This is part of a comprehensive approach in dealing with these issues and, I think, confirms our commitment, particularly to children both here and abroad. I commend the bill and thank members for their support for it.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.

Ordered that this bill be reported to the House without amendment.