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Tuesday, 26 February 2013
Page: 925

Senator XENOPHON (South Australia) (16:21): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.

Senator XENOPHON: I table an explanatory memorandum and I seek leave to have my second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speech read as follows—

I wish there wasn't a reason for this bill to exist.

But, tragically, there is. Her name is Carly.

When Carly was fourteen, she started chatting online to a 20 year old man named Brandon Kane. He was her ideal boyfriend, and she fell in love with him as their online relationship grew closer.

But what Carly didn't know, what she couldn't have known, was that 'Brandon' was actually a 47 year old predator, Gary Francis Newman, who had over 200 fake identities.

When Carly turned 15, she invited Brandon to her birthday party. He told her he would be overseas and that he couldn't make it, so his adopted father Shane would go in his place. Carly had already been chatting to Shane online, and she convinced her mother that it would be okay for him to come along to her party.

Newman, in his role as Shane, turned up. Carly's mother, horrified that her daughter had become close to a stranger so much older than she was, warned him to stay away from her daughter.

But Newman convinced Carly she would get to meet her beloved Brandon in person. He eventually lured her into a meeting, on 19 February 2007 at Horseshoe Bay in South Australia. There, he brutally assaulted her and left her to die.

It took police eleven days to track Newman down. When they found him, he was logged on to his computer as Brandon Kane, chatting to a fourteen year old girl in Western Australia. Police also found a stash of child pornography on his computer, and discovered he had already pursued many other young girls overseas.

Newman was found guilty of Carly's murder, and is now serving a life sentence, with 29 years non-parole.

The aim of this bill is to make it an offence for a person over 18 years of age to lie about their age in online communications to a person under 18 for the purposes of facilitating a physical meeting.

This bill also makes it an offence for an adult to misrepresent their age in online communications with a minor with the intent of committing another offence.

These two items close an important loophole in the law. There is no reason for an adult to knowingly misrepresent their age to someone they believe is under eighteen, particularly if they believe doing so will make it easier to meet or commit another offence.

The bill also contains specific provisions to clarify how this offence can be prosecuted and defended.

I previously attempted to address this serious issue in 2010 with the earlier version of this bill. I acknowledge the concerns raised in relation to that bill, and I have modified this version to ensure there are no unintended consequences of enforcing this law. Instead, this bill creates offences specifically aimed at the circumstances—an adult lying to a minor about their age to facilitate a meeting or to make themselves seem 'more approachable'—that need to be addressed.

The internet is impossible to pin down, constantly evolving and growing. The pace of technological growth means children are almost always much more comfortable with online communication than their parents: what we still see as new and different is as essential to them as breathing.

New forms of communication mean we need new laws to protect our children. In cyberspace, we can't stand by their side as they explore the world. We can't always set rules and curfews, because our kids can be sitting safe in their rooms even while they're in danger.

This bill is an attempt to address some of the techniques used by online predators, so that we can put an additional safeguard in place for our children.

Sonya Ryan, Carly's mother, has been pushing for these changes in the law since her daughter's death. Sonya, who was nominated as South Australia's Australian of the Year this year, has dedicated her life to raising awareness of online dangers among young people.

If her actions stop just one young person from becoming a victim, then it's worth it.

And that is something we should take to heart when considering this bill.

Senator XENOPHON: I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.