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Tuesday, 20 June 2017
Page: 4316


Senator CORMANN (Western AustraliaMinister for Finance and Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate) (13:41): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speech read as follows—

On 30 May, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Minister for Justice announced that the Government would introduce tough new laws to combat the sexual exploitation of vulnerable children overseas by Australian child sex offenders.

Today I am pleased to introduce the Passports Legislation Amendment (Overseas Travel by Child Sex Offenders) Bill 2017 to do just this.

This Bill responds to community concern about Australian child sex offenders travelling overseas to sexually abuse vulnerable children in countries where the law enforcement framework is weaker and their activities are not monitored.

This concern is justified - in 2016 more than 770 Australian registered child sex offenders travelled overseas. Half of whom were registered by State and Territory Police as being medium to high risk offenders. And a third violated an obligation to notify police of their intended travel.

These offenders have a high propensity to re-offend in countries where they are not monitored and where child sexual exploitation is rampant. Registered child sex offenders are subject to reporting obligations in Australia specifically because of their ongoing risk to children.

Existing measures are clearly ineffective.

This Bill will address current deficiencies and will prevent Australian registered child sex offenders with reporting obligations from travelling overseas by:

(1) denying offenders a passport; and

(2) by making it an offence for offenders to travel overseas without permission from authorities.

The passport measures introduced under this bill will apply to the approximately 20,000 registered child sex offenders with reporting obligations in Australia. It will also apply to future child sex offenders registered annually.

Once an offender's reporting obligations have ended they will be able to apply for a passport. If there are good reasons to justify overseas travel an offender can seek permission from the authorities for such travel.

These laws will make Australia a world leader in protecting vulnerable children from child sex tourism.

Passport measures

The Bill will amend the Australian Passports Act 2005 and the Foreign Passports (Law Enforcement and Security) Act 2005 so that upon request by a 'competent authority' as defined in the Passports Act the Minister for Foreign Affairs will be required to: refuse to issue or cancel an Australian passport or demand the surrender of a foreign travel document when an Australian citizen is on a State or Territory child sex offender register with reporting obligations.

The decision to refuse to issue or to cancel a passport will be mandatory and not reviewable following a competent authority request - this is appropriate as the competent authority has the expertise and full details of the circumstances of the offender to make such decisions.

A new offence

This Bill will also amend the Criminal Code Act 1995 to make it a Commonwealth offence for a registered child sex offender with reporting obligations to travel, or attempt to travel, overseas without permission from a relevant authority.

The new offence is an important complement to the passport measures. The new offence ensures that child sex offenders can be prosecuted should they try to evade the passport measures. It will have a particular role to play in helping to prevent Australian dual nationals from travelling illegally on foreign passports.

Other measures to deal with child sex offenders

This bill is just one of the measures that the Government is progressing to address the serious community concerns regarding child sex offenders.

The Government is also developing a package of legislative reforms to the Criminal Code 1995 and the Crimes Act 1914 to criminalise emerging forms of child sexual exploitation and strengthen the sentencing and management of Commonwealth child sexual offenders.

This will strengthen the laws we have to protect children in Australia.

I expect that this will be brought forward in the Spring sitting.

Conclusion

This Bill reflects the seriousness with which this Government is addressing child sex tourism.

These tough new measures send a strong message to child sex offenders that they cannot use overseas travel to sexually exploit and abuse children. Such abhorrent crimes will not be tolerated.