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Wednesday, 25 October 2017
Page: 11935


Mr BRENDAN O'CONNOR (Gorton) (12:46): I rise to speak on behalf of federal Labor to support the amendments and raise concerns that we have with the construction of the Criminal Code Amendment (Firearms Trafficking) Bill 2017. As a former minister for justice and home affairs, I take child sex offences very seriously. Indeed, in one of my first acts as minister, I introduced legislation to ensure that we had sufficient sanctions against the grooming and procuring of children online. That legislation was enacted in 2009. I also enacted legislation that went to ensuring we screen people who work with children in the Commonwealth jurisdiction. Up until then, there were screening provisions in state legislation, but the previous conservative federal government had done nothing to ensure that screening arrangements for adults working with children were also required within the Commonwealth jurisdiction. I'm honoured to have enacted that legislation; it was really a response to deficiencies in the law not recognising that the internet was being used increasingly to seek to groom and procure children. The former Labor government is very proud of those initiatives. As I have said, it was in a sense a belated act by this country; it should have happened earlier.

When, as minister, I enacted legislation on working with children and to bring in serious sanctions against those who choose to groom and procure children online, I did not seek to politicise that matter. Indeed, we understand that everyone in this place supports every effort by law enforcement agencies and the courts to deal with child sex abuse and child sex offences. That's why we have been concerned with the language of the minister and the government in asserting otherwise. When I was enacting such legislation, which is certainly similar in its subject matter—very serious legislation—we sought the support of the opposition at the time and didn't seek to politicise that. That's why we have some concerns in relation to the provision that we contest—namely, mandatory sentencing.

It's not just that we have a concern in principle with mandatory sentencing; it is known that it is sometimes more difficult to prosecute more serious crimes when, indeed, such penalties, which do not provide discretion for the courts, are put in place. So, from our point of view, we do this with a view to ensuring that we jail for those most egregious and disgusting offences that are conducted by adults against children, and we want the government to desist from continuing to assert that in any way we're soft on crime in this area.