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Tuesday, 14 February 2017
Page: 779

Child Sexual Abuse

Senator HINCH (Victoria) (14:37): My question is to the Attorney-General. Throughout my radio and television career, my motto was and my question was: who's looking after the children? What is the government doing about fixing a child protection system that is so broken that in the past week state and federal police have been searching for a child protection worker who is wanted for possessing child pornography?

Senator BRANDIS (QueenslandAttorney-General, Vice-President of the Executive Council and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:37): Thank you, Senator Hinch. I acknowledge that throughout your career as a broadcaster this was an issue in which you took a great deal of interest. It was very much in the public interest that you should have done so. I am delighted that you have, as one ought to have expected, carried that interest into the Senate.

Senator Hinch, the Australian government, working collaboratively with state and territory governments, is very, very concerned about this issue and has a number of different initiatives and programs which it supervises or in which it participates. There is, for example, as you would be aware, I am sure, Senator Hinch, the National Child Offender Register. That is a register of all offenders who have been convicted of offences against children—not only sexual offences, I might say, but a large proportion of them, sadly, are sexual offences. That is a database that is accessible to the relevant authorities, in particular the state and territory police and the Australian Federal Police, across Australia. The database is accessible, it is updated, it is contemporised so that wherever a child sex offender, or an offender against children in any respect, is in Australia that data is immediately accessible to the local police. That is just one initiative that the Australian government participates in.

Secondly—and, as you know, this been much in the news lately—the Australian government funds the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. In fact, it was Mr Tony Abbott, when he was the Leader of the Opposition, who initially called for the creation of that royal commission. We are delighted that the then Prime Minister Julia Gillard agreed to the view of Mr Abbott that that royal commission should be established. We have, as you know, heard a great, great— (Time expired)

The PRESIDENT: Senator Hinch, a supplementary question.

Senator HINCH (Victoria) (14:39): Attorney-General, after what you have just told me, would you now support the setting up of a national child protection agency?

Senator BRANDIS (QueenslandAttorney-General, Vice-President of the Executive Council and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:40): Senator Hinch, the functions of child protection are administered primarily by state governments through both various departments of state departments or territory departments—children services or family services, however so called, in the various states and territories—and also, where crime is involved, of course by the state and territory police. What matters from the Commonwealth government's point of view—the central government's point of view—is that we facilitate the maximum degree of coordination and exchange of information between those departments and agencies as we do on a wide variety of fronts. The state governments are closer to the problem. This is, in our view, a problem best dealt with at the state level with support from Canberra rather than being a problem best dealt with centrally from Canberra.

Senator Hinch, in the moments left to me— (Time expired)

The PRESIDENT: Senator Hinch, a final supplementary question.

Senator HINCH (Victoria) (14:41): Attorney-General, why wouldn't you then go to COAG and support the creation of a national public register of convicted sex offenders?

Senator BRANDIS (QueenslandAttorney-General, Vice-President of the Executive Council and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:41): Senator Hinch, this is a debate that has been going for some time. The register, as you know, is not a public register. The decision that it should not be a public register is a decision that has been made, among other things, on the advice of the police. One does want to ensure that the register, which exists as a tool and as an asset available to all the state and territory police, is used for the proper purposes—that is, for policing purposes. It is for prevention purposes; it is for investigatory purposes. But the concern that has been expressed to governments, Commonwealth and state, by the police and others is that were there to be a public register it might be abused and it might be used by vigilantes, who have no role in the criminal justice system.

So what we want to do is prevent child abuse, arrest the people responsible for it and bring them to justice. That is the facility that I apply to the register. (Time expired)