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Thursday, 19 October 2017
Page: 8095


Senator FIFIELD (VictoriaManager of Government Business in the Senate, Minister for Communications and Minister for the Arts) (16:00): 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—

The bill provides a broad package of measures which strengthen the laws that safeguard children in Australia from sexual abuse.

The Crimes Legislation Amendment (Sexual Crimes against Children and Community Protection Measures) Bill 2017 complements recently legislated measures that stop convicted child sex offenders from travelling overseas to commit criminal acts against children.

The bill addresses all aspects of child sex offending. It targets inadequacies in the criminal justice system that result in outcomes that do not sufficiently punish, deter and rehabilitate offenders. It also introduces new offences directed at the use of the internet for the sexual abuse of children.

Strengthening the criminal framework throughout the offence cycle

The Government is increasingly concerned about the manifestly inadequate sentences which do not sufficiently reflect the harm suffered by victims of child sex abuse or protect the community from the risk of future harm. Such sentences do not recognise that these crimes increase the demand for child abuse material.

Since 2012, less than two thirds of Commonwealth child sex offenders have received a term of imprisonment on conviction. This is a staggering 269 child sex offenders convicted of a Commonwealth crime released directly back into the community over the past five years. Of those who were imprisoned, the most common sentence length was 18 months and the most common non-parole period was 6 months. That is clearly too short.

Mandatory Minimum Sentencing

This bill introduces mandatory sentencing for specified offences to address the disparity between the seriousness of child sex offending and the lenient sentences handed down by the courts. Mandatory minimum sentences will apply to the child sex offences that attract the highest penalties and to re-offenders previously convicted of a separate child sex offences.

The introduction of mandatory sentencing complements a new presumption in favour of cumulative sentences for multiple child sex offences. This will ensure that the sentences imposed adequately reflect the seriousness of the offending.

Ensuring adequate sentencing

To strengthen the sentencing regime even further, the bill increases penalties for particular child sex offences:

1. introduces a presumption of actual imprisonment to reduce the imposition of wholly suspended sentences for child sex offenders

2. ensures that all sex offenders, upon release from custody, are adequately supervised and subject to appropriate rehabilitative conditions

3. overhauls the sentencing factors for all federal offenders

4. prevents courts from discounting sentences on the basis of good character, where this is used to facilitate the crime, and

5. emphasises the importance of access to rehabilitation and treatment when sentencing child sex offenders

Bail

The bill inserts a presumption against bail for offenders who commit serious child sex offences.

The presumption recognises that such offenders pose an unacceptable risk to the community and to their victims.

Post release options

This bill introduces a requirement for the courts to set treatment and supervision conditions for all child sex offenders upon sentencing to prevent such offenders from being released without supervision and appropriate treatment conditions.

This bill also introduces community safety as a primary consideration when deciding whether a federal offender's parole should be revoked, to ensure the protection of the community.

The bill will also ensure that once an offender's parole has been revoked they will serve a period of time in custody.

Criminalising emerging forms of child sexual abuse

The bill also introduces two new measures to target emerging forms of sexual offending.

The first measure criminalises the provision of services like websites that provide access to child abuse material online. These services facilitate and encourage offending by a large, sometimes global audience and promote the production of new child abuse material.

The second measure criminalises the transmission of communications to 'groom' any person, such as parents or carers, with the aim of procuring a child for sexual activity.

Protecting vulnerable persons

The Government remains committed to strengthening the protections afforded to child and other vulnerable witnesses giving evidence in Commonwealth criminal proceedings. This bill improves justice outcomes by limiting the re-traumatisation of vulnerable witnesses by removing barriers to the admission of pre-recorded video evidence and ensuring that they are not subject to cross-examination at committal and other preliminary hearings, thus allowing them to put their best evidence forward at trial.

Aggravating factors for child sex offences

The Government is deeply disturbed by the emerging trend where offenders inflict severe violence on children alongside sexual abuse. To ensure that this conduct is appropriately punished, the bill will criminalise activities that aggravate particular types of sexual offending such as subjecting a child to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and causing the death of the child.

This bill also introduces new aggravating factors that a court must take into account when sentencing an offender for a relevant offence. These would apply if the victim was under the age of 10 at the time of the offending and if multiple people were involved in the offending.

These measures send a clear message - this Government will not tolerate such appalling acts committed against children.

Conclusion

This bill contains the most comprehensive and significant Commonwealth Child Sex Offender reforms since the introduction of the Criminal Code in 1995.

The bill is consistent with a number of recommendations made by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in its recently released Criminal Justice report.

This bill signifies this Government's commitment to addressing child sex offences that occur both domestically and overseas and ensuring that the Australian community is protected from heinous crimes.

These new measures send a strong message to child sex offenders that such abhorrent crimes will not be tolerated.

Ordered that further consideration of the second reading of this bill be adjourned to the first sitting day of the next period of sittings, in accordance with standing order 111.