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Wednesday, 24 July 2019
Page: 822


Mr DUTTON (DicksonMinister for Home Affairs) (10:10): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

The Combatting Child Sexual Exploitation Legislation Amendment Bill 2019 is another example of the steps this government is taking to protect children from all forms of sexual abuse.

It is an unfortunate reality that sexual predators seek to target the most vulnerable members of society. This behaviour is vile, and we must constantly review our laws to ensure they are well suited to targeting any emerging forms of child sexual abuse.

My priority always has been and always will be to protect children against sexual predators.

The bill will increase the protection of children by:

responding to key recommendations from the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, and

addressing operational difficulties the Australian Federal Police, Australian Border Force and Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions are facing in investigating and prosecuting new trends in child abuse.

Failing to report and failing to protect

In December 2017, the royal commission released its final report, which detailed too many instances of people who had been entrusted with looking after Australia's children doing too little to protect those children from unimaginable harm. When vulnerable people were being subjected to sickening abuse, these people knew of the harrowing circumstances and did nothing. Rather than reporting to police and taking protective action, they turned a blind eye or even took actions to conceal the abuse.

In line with the recommendations of the royal commission, this bill will introduce two new offences into the Criminal Code to criminalise Commonwealth officers who exercise care, supervision or authority over children and fail to report child sexual abuse, or negligently fail to reduce or remove the risk of child sexual abuse to those children.

These reforms send a very clear message: the safety of our children should always be put first. The Commonwealth has zero tolerance for child sexual abuse and expects all Commonwealth officers who are charged with caring and supervising children to fulfil their obligations to protect those children.

Child-like sex dolls and child abuse material

The bill strengthens the Commonwealth framework of offences to ensure a comprehensive, technology-neutral and future-focused response to more forms of child abuse material. In particular, the bill will clarify the law to ensure that the abhorrent new trend of child-like sex dolls, used to simulate sexual intercourse with children, is clearly and robustly stamped out in Australia.

The bill will also introduce a new offence for possessing or controlling child abuse material in the form of data stored on a computer or data storage device. Every single time child abuse material is viewed, the child portrayed in that material is revictimised and their trauma compounded. We must strive to ensure our laws protect children from the dangers posed by abusers who operate online.

These offences will ensure that child sexual abuse is appropriately criminalised and penalised at a Commonwealth level and will help to achieve better, more consistent outcomes for Australian survivors.

By introducing these offences into the Criminal Code, the bill will also give Commonwealth prosecutors the tools they need to bring perpetrators to justice for the full range of their online offending.

This can include anything from obtaining child abuse images via the internet to storing those images locally or remotely or sending material on to third parties.

Persistent child sexual abuse overseas

The Commonwealth's zero tolerance to child sexual abuse extends to the actions of Australians whilst they are overseas.

It is common for sexual deviants to travel to foreign jurisdictions where criminal laws and child protection frameworks are weak and opportunities to exploit vulnerable children are abundant.

In response to other recommendations of the royal commission, the bill strengthens the laws in the Criminal Code for persistent child sexual abuse committed overseas by removing difficulties associated with prosecuting repeated instances of abuse.

The royal commission highlighted that it is often the worst forms of offending—the repeated, regular and ongoing sexual abuse of children—that are the most difficult to prove. That is because child victims of this kind of sustained abuse commonly have difficulties distinguishing between particular occasions of abuse.

The amendments address these difficulties by reducing the number of occasions required to prove the offence. This helps to ensure perpetrators of persistent sexual abuse against vulnerable children overseas are not evading justice.

Defence for overseas child sex offences and forced marriage

In another effort to hold Australian predators more accountable for sexual crimes against children overseas, the bill restricts the ability of offenders to escape culpability by claiming they were legally married to the child. Closing this loophole is crucial, as some countries permit girls as young as 10 years to marry.

The bill will also strengthen the existing forced marriage offences to ensure they explicitly capture all marriages involving children under 16 years. Child marriage is a pernicious practice that seriously harms the development and wellbeing of victims, with disproportionate impacts on girls and young women. Children trapped in early marriages are often subject to physical and mental abuse, rape and forced pregnancy. The bill sends a clear message that this morally reprehensible practice will not be tolerated.

Expanding the meaning of child abuse material

The bill will also update the terminology used for child sexual abuse offences in Commonwealth legislation to more accurately reflect the gravity of these crimes, the harm that is inflicted on victims and survivors, and shifts in national and international best practice.

Conclusion

I urge all colleagues to support the passage of this critical legislation. Together we can demonstrate we are committed to ensuring children can grow up free from the evil of sexual abuse.

Debate adjourned.