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Wednesday, 13 November 2002
Page: 6228

Senator RIDGEWAY (2:51 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Justice and Customs, Senator Ellison. Minister, my question relates to the ongoing and very serious problem of Australians engaging in child sex tourism, particularly in Asia. Whilst I am aware that the Australian Federal Police are stationing specialised staff in a number of countries and trying harder to enforce Australian legislation that criminalises child sex tourism, does the government agree that more preventative training and educative measures need to be taken in Australia to prevent child sex tourism rather than focusing on the prosecution end? Is the government prepared to provide ongoing support to organisations like ChildWise, which has been proactively working in this area for over 10 years and running very effective awareness-raising programs like Travel With Care?

Senator ELLISON (Minister for Justice and Customs) —One thing I am pleased to say is that we had a successful prosecution—the first of its kind in relation to child sex tourism—just recently. Of course, this is an initiative that the government has had in place now for some time. It was in 1994 that child sex tourism offences came into place, and the law contains penalties of up to 17 years imprisonment for Australians involved in sex offences against children overseas. We do believe that the penalty aspect is very important. We do believe that one of the best ways of prevention is the deterrence factor. In relation to education, we believe there should be an aspect of education for prevention—there is no question about that.

On the question of direct assistance, Australia has provided direct assistance to Asian countries in training police to investigate sexual offences against children and has signed a number of MOUs. These agreements build upon cooperation between the countries and allow for an exchange of information relating to child sexual abuse. That may assist in identifying groups and also individuals involved in the sexual exploitation of children. We also recently introduced protection for child complainants and child witnesses in proceedings for child sex tourism and other child sex offences. Certainly, in relation to educating people, we make it very public that we are cracking down on people who engage in child sex tourism. I believe the recent successful prosecution is one of the best forms of notice you can have in the community that if you engage in this sort of conduct you will be prosecuted and convicted.

Senator RIDGEWAY —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I thank the minister for his answer. Minister, I am aware that there has been an additional conviction; however, there have been only 16 prosecutions of Australians engaging in child sex tourism, yet we all know this is the tip of the iceberg. It is estimated that there are around 20,000 children in Cambodia alone being abused. Isn't it commonsense that we do need to take a two-pronged approach on the issue to deter Australians from taking these kinds of holidays in the first instance? Surely you would agree that no amount of police enforcement will make a serious dent in the problem? In addition, whilst the government has been doing things with the Cambodian government, what further efforts will it take and why is there still a reluctance to mount further cases against those suspected of paedophilia in Cambodia?

Senator ELLISON (Minister for Justice and Customs) —In relation to the number of charges under the Crimes Act for these offences, as at 27 August this year there were 14 persons charged. I will not comment on those matters as they are ongoing. But can I say that, certainly, the education of the public is an aspect we looked at in the crime prevention strategy we funded in the past—a program in relation to the education of the public about child sex tourism. We still believe deterrence is the best way to approach this.