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Tuesday, 20 June 2017
Page: 4395

Senator KAKOSCHKE-MOORE (South Australia) (18:16): I rise to speak on the Passports Legislation Amendment (Overseas Travel by Child Sex Offenders) Bill 2017. The Nick Xenophon Team supports this bill, which responds to increasing community concern about Australian convicted child sex offenders travelling overseas to sexually abuse vulnerable children in countries where the law enforcement framework is weaker and the activities of offenders are not monitored. That community concern is justified. We must never be complacent where the innocence, safety and exploitation of children are at stake. I acknowledge Senator Derryn Hinch's contribution to the genesis of this bill, and his strong advocacy for the measures contained in it.

This bill will amend the Australian Passports Act and the Foreign Passports (Law Enforcement and Security) Act 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 required to cancel an Australian passport, or demand the surrender of a foreign travel document, where an Australian citizen is on a state or territory child sex offender register with reporting obligations. The decision to refuse to issue or the decision to cancel a passport will be mandatory and not subject to administrative review following a request by the competent authority—namely, a state or territory court, sex offender registry or police.

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 crucial and complementary to the passport measures. The new offence ensures that child sex offenders can be prosecuted, should they try to evade the passport measures.

The bill also amends the Foreign Passports (Law Enforcement and Security) Act by inserting new law enforcement grounds for a competent authority to request the minister to order the surrender of a foreign travel document because the person is an Australian citizen. This is intended to prevent Australian dual nationals from travelling overseas on foreign passports to sexually exploit or sexually abuse vulnerable children in overseas countries.

There are about 20,000 registered sex offenders in Australia who, having served their sentence, are subject to supervision and reporting obligations because they remain a risk to the community and innocent children. Approximately 2,500 child sex offenders are added to the list each year. The passport measures introduced under this bill will apply to the existing cohort of registered child sex offenders with reporting obligations, and they will also apply to future child sex offenders registered annually. The Nick Xenophon Team remains satisfied that, if there are compelling reasons such as bereavement, offenders with reporting obligations will be able to obtain permission from authorities to travel overseas.

The Nick Xenophon Team will always fight to protect vulnerable children who are the victims of terrible abuse. Convicted child sex offenders must be stopped from fuelling the child sex trafficking trade, which flourishes overseas. The statistics are alarming, with more than 770 Australian registered child sex offenders travelling overseas in 2016. Alarmingly, a third of them violated an obligation to notify police of their intention to travel. Under existing laws, a failure to report intended overseas travel or to comply with other obligations can result in up to two years imprisonment. However, the penalties handed down by the courts are generally warnings or small fines which provide little incentive to comply. This is completely unacceptable and clearly ineffective. 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. This bill will address current deficiencies and will prevent Australian registered child sex offenders with reporting obligations with the measures I have outlined. Once their reporting obligations have concluded, offenders will be able to apply for a passport in the usual way. While the Nick Xenophon Team supports the bill, we are concerned about the unintended consequences of the measures fuelling cybersex trafficking, which is why I will be moving amendments to the Criminal Code to tighten existing sections of the code to prevent these unintended consequences emerging. I will move those amendments during the committee stage.