Child Protection (Child Sex Offender Register) Bill - First reading

Speeches
Wednesday, September 16, 2015

STUART SMITH: The Child Protection (Child Sex Offender Register) Bill—it is really all in the name, and particularly in the first two words. It is about child protection.

I have heard a few of the speakers throughout the night lament that it is not a silver bullet, but, unfortunately, there is no silver bullet with offending of any kind and particularly with a complex offending like child sex offending. There are many reasons why people offend and it is a very difficult issue to deal with.

Over several years the Government agencies have been increasingly aware of a lack of coordinated information about known child sex offenders in the community. It is interesting, today, that the Productivity Commission has just published a report on social services, and one of the major findings in that report is that it identified that siloing of information amongst Government departments and agencies is a major problem. I think that this bill seeks, in some way, to go towards fixing that particular problem in this area.

Ever since the Privacy Act came in we seem to have got ourselves so fearful. We are tangled up in red tape around privacy that good sense has gone out the window. When one Government department holds information, that is really the key to unlocking some potential actions that can save issues in other areas. We are sitting on that information and not sharing it. This bill is absolutely about unlocking that and cutting through the red tape to allow the sensible management of people in this area.

In recent years, Government agencies’ attempts to institute new initiatives to combat the risks posed by known child sex offenders have highlighted the lack of a source of coordinated information—the lack of an agreed risk-assessment process and an agreed management framework for a coordinated preventative action. Those are a lot of words, but basically what that is saying is that we have some information, we are not able to do anything about it, those offenders are sitting out there in the public domain, and we really should take a sensible approach to deal with that.

If you have a register with private information about those offenders, then you have to balance risk and manage it. There is, of course, a right that the offenders have to privacy, but there is also the right of people to live their lives without fear of being offended against in such a way. People in families, as we know, can get really fearful and sometimes overly so about these sorts of people coming out in the community. Having the measures that are taken in this bill, which I will talk about in a moment, will go a long way towards managing this in a sensible manner and balancing those risks, as I mentioned earlier. So the bill is about managing risk.

But the issue is that in 2012-13 there were 505 offenders convicted of just over 1,800 sex offences against young children, and that was up 20 percent on the previous year. In 2014 it was 451 offences—a number of ACC sensitive claims, particularly for people subject to sexual abuse. Each year around 200 sex offenders are released back into the community. Last year it was 294, and on top of that around 115 sex offenders start a community-based sentence each year.

Most of those have no ongoing contact with the justice sector or agencies after they are released. That is where this bill steps in, and we will be able to have confidence that those people are in contact with the relevant authorities.

All of those statistics that I just rattled off represent only the tip of the iceberg. People have come out tonight with statistics about how many other people might be out there as offenders who have never come before the justice sector. Well, we simply do not know how many people there are or what percentage there is, but we do know that it is a very small percentage who are convicted and who come to the attention of the authorities. But, at least, we can manage only what we can manage. We have to start somewhere and I believe that this is a very good place to start.

One of the things that I touched on earlier is that some of those people who had been subject to the abuse go on to become abusers themselves. So breaking the cycle where possible is very important, in my view.

We need an overarching framework to coordinate preventative action to support offenders, and that will be a part of this. That has probably not been touched on that well, but offenders themselves, when they get out into society, often slip back into their bad ways because they are not supported. If they are not supported, they can slip back out of their low-risk lifestyles that they are able to live in and back into their old ways. We need to support them to ensure that that does not occur. It will help Government agencies to carry out their duties to protect children and society effectively.

At the moment, they are really trying to fight with both hands tied behind their backs, and we are actually untying those knots and letting them get on with what they do well. It will increase support, as I said, for the offenders, but it will also discourage reoffending by giving those offenders confidence that they are living in a society they are supported in.

So the offenders will be required to update their information annually or within 72 hours from when their personal information held on a register changes. That information includes their aliases, fingerprints, photo, which has to be updated every year, current address, workplace, employer, car registration, IP address—and, of course, that is very important because often these people are very active on the internet, if they end up in that area, so we need to ensure we know that—and passport details.

 

As I said, they will have to update their fingerprints and their photos with the Police every year, and this ensures that the Police are actually working with relevant information. There is little point in having a register if the register is out of date, and it would simply serve no purpose at all to have this register if we did not know where the people were living at any given point in time.

I think, to cut to the chase, I guess, this register is necessary, it will limit accessibility of the register, and I think we have heard a few people talk tonight about ensuring that. It is only one small step from the register to making it fully public. We do not want vigilante activity; we want this information to be protected. There are, indeed, sanctions in the bill for anyone who releases information to unauthorised people, and that is actually subject to a prison term of up to 6 months for an individual or a fine of $25,000 for a body corporate.

So I think those things are managed and are covered as best they can be. As I said, it is about managing risk, and I think the bill treads that good balance and gets it in as best as we can expect. It is a great pleasure to commend the bill to the House. Thank you.