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Thursday, 20 May 1993
Page: 962


Senator TATE —My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Justice. I refer to recent reports about Australian tourists travelling overseas where they sexually abuse young children particularly vulnerable because of their poverty. Quite often there is an element of racism involved as well. Can the Minister confirm whether the Australian Bureau of Criminal Intelligence is compiling information on the activity of Australian paedophiles both domestically and overseas? Are any steps being taken either legislatively or administratively to help curtail this terrible practice?


Senator BOLKUS —I thank Senator Tate for his question—and a good one it is too. I do not have direct information from the Bureau of Criminal Intelligence, but I will seek that. I do, however, have information on other aspects of government and our response to the particular issue that Senator Tate raises.

  We do of course take seriously the issue of child sexual exploitation and paedophile activities. Our responses are targeted both on the domestic as well as the international level. For instance, we encourage those countries concerned to deal with the underlying problems causing child prostitution. To this effect, Mr Howe, the Deputy Prime Minister, discussed this issue last year with the Thai Prime Minister.

  Domestically, the Australian Federal Police is presently monitoring the nature and extent of paedophile activity overseas. Liaison officers are working together with local law enforcement agencies and are collecting intelligence on paedophile groups. We must remember that Australia is a party to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. This means that our domestic law and practice have to be and are in fact in accordance with the obligation set out in article 34 of the convention. That article obliges Australia to protect children from sexual exploitation and abuse involving both prostitution and, of course, pornography. We are obliged to respond by taking measures on national, bilateral and multilateral levels.

  There is one aspect of this response that has achieved some publicity in recent days and that is the circumstances in which Australia would assert jurisdiction over conduct by persons outside Australia; persons who are present in the country but who may commit offences outside this country. To date, our jurisdiction extension has only gone as far as matters such as war crimes, hijacking and torture. Then, in those circumstance, we have extended it that far if there has been considerable international support for such extension.

  When one looks at this particular area, there is another complication, that is, that the activities we talk about are not always regarded as criminal activity in the countries in which they occur. We do, of course, support the criminalisation and prosecution of such conduct in those countries.

  The matter has been receiving close attention by the Minister for Justice. As a result of an options paper put to him by the Attorney-General's Department, he has instructed the department to prepare detailed advice on the possibility of developing legislation to create an offence of sexual exploitation of children by Australian citizens overseas, and laws to punish those who organise, advertise or otherwise profit from child sexual exploitation. The department is also looking at law enforcement strategies to improve links with countries where these practices are most prevalent.

  In closing, I also add that the Minister has asked for the matter to be placed on the agenda of the Australasian Police Ministers Council meeting to be held in Christchurch on 28 May, and the issue is also on the agenda for the Standing Committee of Attorneys-General which will meet in Darwin on 24 June.