Wednesday, 11 September 2019
Combatting Child Sexual Exploitation Legislation Amendment Bill 2019; Second Reading
I rise to indicate Labor's support for the Combatting Child Sexual Exploitation Legislation Amendment Bill. I'm sure I speak for all in this place when I say that child sexual exploitation is absolutely abhorrent. Children are the most vulnerable members of our community and they deserve our protection and support. Labor is committed to protecting Australian children and has no tolerance for such heinous crimes.
The bill before the House is an omnibus criminal justice bill targeted at child sexual exploitation. Labor strongly supports the objectives of this bill, which implements several recommendations of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, including by creating an offence of failure to protect a child at risk of a child sexual abuse offence, creating an offence of failure to report a child sexual abuse offence and strengthening overseas persistent child sexual abuse laws.
Recommendation 33 of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse's criminal justice report stated that jurisdictions should introduce a criminal offence for failing to report child sexual abuse. To that end, the bill proposes a new offence for circumstances where a Commonwealth officer, who exercises care or supervision over children, knows of information that would lead a reasonable person to believe or suspect that another person has or will engage in conduct in relation to a child that constitutes a child sexual abuse offence and fails to disclose that information as soon as practicable to state police or the Australian Federal Police. Recommendation 36 in the royal commission's criminal justice report stated:
State and territory governments should introduce legislation to create a criminal offence of failure to protect a child within a relevant institution from a substantial risk of sexual abuse by an adult associated with the institution—
The bill thus proposes a new offence in the Criminal Code for a Commonwealth officer who negligently fails to reduce or remove the risk of a child under their care, supervision or authority being sexually abused if it is part of their actual or effective responsibilities as a Commonwealth officer to reduce or remove that risk.
The other measures contained in the bill form a suite of child protection measures which would criminalise the possession or control of child pornography material or child abuse material in the form of data that has been obtained or accessed using a carriage service; prevents certain dealings with childlike sex dolls and criminalise the possession of childlike sex dolls; improve the definition of forced marriage; and narrow the defence for overseas child sex offences based on a valid and genuine marriage between a defendant and a child.
I'm aware that some stakeholders raise concerns with aspects of the bill before the House. The Law Council expressed concern with regard to the application of the absolute liability for committing the offences created by the bill. As Labor's additional comments to the Senate inquiry noted, we accept the response of the Department of Home affairs and the Attorney-General's Department that application of absolute liability is 'appropriate to ensure compliance with the reporting regime'. In those same additional comments, Labor also indicated that it accepts the response of the two departments to a concern raised by the Law Council and by the Senate Scrutiny of Bills Committee regarding the bill's provision that an individual is not excused from failing to disclose information relating to child sexual abuse on grounds of possible self-incrimination.
Labor will watch the government's next steps closely, to ensure the bill is implemented as intended. Nonetheless, as I said at the start of my remarks, Labor supports this bill, and we strongly support its objective of protecting children from despicable acts of sexual exploitation.
In the recent and understandable political clamour regarding the financial services royal commission and the current aged-care and disability care royal commissions, it would be easy to lose focus on some of the urgent and critical recommendations outstanding from the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. I'm pleased to say that this government has not lost that focus. I acknowledge the committed work of the Minister for Home Affairs in ensuring that our coalition government continues to deliver on this most serious of matters.
I'm pleased to say that most of the measures in this bill are unlikely to be controversial. I think all of us are deeply disturbed and concerned about the growing trend of sex dolls designed to look like children, while the possession of child pornography, whatever its intended use, surely has no place in Australia. The possession of such materials, including such dolls, is a significant indirect encouragement to in person offending against a child and an affront to Australian values. This bill to prohibit them is timely and important.
Just as important are the new offences relating to a failure to report in schedule 1. Thirty-two and a half per cent of child sexual abuse survivors heard by the royal commission said that their abuse took place in a government run institution. Eight per cent of all survivors were in youth detention and 31 per cent were in schools. These kinds of institutions are a particular risk. The royal commission found:
… children are more likely to be abused in institutional contexts where the community has an unquestioning respect for the authority of an institution.
Though that cannot always be said of our political system, our schools and correctional services have enjoyed the public's respect. We must do all we can to reduce the risk of offending in these kinds of institutions. The majority of government institutions where abuse took place were operated by state and territory governments. However, not all of them were. For example, more than 100 survivors were abused in the armed services, and of course there were many offences which occurred within religious institutions.
Only a quarter of survivors heard by the royal commission disclosed their abuse at the time it occurred. One of the most important reasons for that non-disclosure was the fact that they did not expect to be believed. Twenty-six per cent of survivors who did choose to disclose as children retained that expectation. We must do all we can to give children confidence that if they report sexual offences not only will they be believed, but their complaints will be acted upon.
As the royal commission found, in the absence of legal obligations many institutions and staff did not report abuse outside their institution. Schedule 1 will ensure that Commonwealth officers will face criminal sanctions if they fail to report such abuse. It will fulfil the intent of recommendations 33 and 36 of the royal commission's criminal justice report, and it will give greater confidence to those who wish to disclose.
I want to speak in particular about the provisions in schedules 5 and 6. Our relationships with other cultures and other nations rightly recognise that they have their own practices, their own norms and their own unique heritage. We celebrate that diversity. We seek to learn from one another and to work together on our shared interests and values. However, there are some practices that are fundamentally abhorrent and unacceptable, regardless of their historical standing in another culture. One such practice is forced underage marriages. Globally, around one in every seven girls aged 15 to 19 are married. In sub-Saharan Africa, for example, four in 10 girls are married before the age of 18 and one in eight are married before they are 15. Not only can a girl under 16 not give her fully informed consent to a marriage, in violation of her accepted human rights, but it can have lasting impacts on intergenerational health and life prospects. Early marriage is associated with early child-bearing, which carries health risks for the mother and child, prevents women from accessing an education and increases the likelihood of intergenerational poverty and disadvantage.
Though forced marriages are more prevalent overseas, unfortunately we know that they do involve many young Australians. Between the forced marriages ban in Australia in 2013 and the inaugural My Blue Sky conference on the topic last year more than 230 cases had been referred to the Australian Federal Police; however, there had been no prosecutions. At the My Blue Sky conference the AFP's Commander Lesa Gale described the significant barriers to prosecution of forced marriage, including the difficulty of obtaining evidence from other countries and the reluctance of victims, especially young victims, to give evidence against family members.
As Australians, we believe that no-one under the age of 16 can consent to sexual activity, or by extension to marriage. As such it should be clear to us that any marriage undertaken by anyone under the age of 16 is, by that definition, a forced one. Schedule 5 of this bill helps us to meet that community expectation, as well as overcome some of the challenges in securing prosecutions by using that self-evident definition in the act. Under Schedule 5 of the bill we would no longer require as much evidence from overseas, nor the active co-operation of vulnerable and intimidated children. The simple fact of age, when established, will be sufficient for prosecution.
Forced marriages are a particular concern in the context of travel for child sexual exploitation. As many as two million children are exploited in the commercial sex trade around the world, according to UNICEF. This is a particular problem in South-East Asia. An estimated 40,000 to 70,000 children in Indonesia are victims of sexual exploitation, and an estimated 100,000 children are trafficked every year. In total, more than half of all human trafficking and slavery victims in the world are located in the Asia-Pacific. Many of these are coerced into a forced or underage marriage. In 2016-17 more than 50 per cent of referrals received by the AFP on human trafficking were specifically with regard to those who are at risk of being moved abroad to take part in a forced marriage. It is big business. The trafficking industry, driven in part by forced marriages, generates $12 billion annually, according to the International Labour Organization. Unfortunately there are many in our own country who would seek to take advantage of this trade.
There are estimated to be more than 20,000 registered child sex offenders in Australia, with around another 2,500 added every year. No doubt there are many more who commit child sex offences who are yet to be prosecuted. All too many, unfortunately, seek to travel to countries with weaker legal frameworks and enforcement to offend. Almost 800 Australian registered child sex offenders travelled overseas in 2016 alone. Let me say that again: almost 800 Australian registered child sex offenders travelled overseas in 2016 alone. Half of these were medium- to high-risk offenders. This government legislated last year to allow the cancellation of passports for many of these higher risk offenders. However, as I mentioned, not all who would attempt to sexually exploit a child are registered sex offenders.
I met not long ago with a charity in my electorate, Destiny Rescue. Locally, they are based in Warana, but they operate in Thailand, Cambodia, Philippines, India and the Dominican Republic to rescue, rehabilitate and protect trafficked children. Working closely with the AFP, their international network of 400 active volunteers helped them successfully rescue over 3,000 trafficked children in 2018 alone. In Australia, Destiny Rescue is currently focusing on preventative education, because it continues to be the case that many of the men caught engaging in child sexual abuse offshore are Australian. Founder Tony Kirwan reports that he continues to see a large proportion of Australian men among those who visit South-East Asia's centres of child sexual exploitation. Currently, a number of those who travel for these purposes seek to bypass existing Australian laws against the child sexual exploitation overseas by entering into a forced marriage with a child. Schedule 6 of this bill will prevent such a marriage being used as a defence against Australian laws and will further deter offenders from travel for this very purpose.
The need for a provision like this is significant. An International Labor Organization study in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, in 2011 interviewed 175 child sex workers. The ILO found children as young as 10 involved in commercial sex work. These children drank alcohol and many had been raped or physically abused. Some were HIV-positive and many had gone through pregnancies and abortions. In some countries, these 10-year-old children are legally permitted to marry, which currently affords Australians who would exploit them a possible legal defence.
Schedules 5 and 6 of this bill are very welcome and they are only the latest in a series of actions undertaken by the coalition government to deal with forced marriage and child sexual exploitation. Back in October 2016, the government announced the formation of a joint working group of Australian police and justice officials to combat child sex offenders and protect children in Australia and overseas. In November of the same year, at the eighth National Roundtable on Human Trafficking, we agreed to produce awareness-raising materials and establish feasibility studies for a code of conduct and public reporting of exploitation in supply chains. We've also announced the Bali Process Government and Business Forum to bring together the 48 Bali Process countries to create policies to tackle human trafficking and slavery.
In Australia we legislated Carly's law, the Criminal Code Amendment (Protecting Minors Online) Bill, which criminalises acts done online to prepare or plan to harm or engage in sexual activity with a child, while last year, among other measures, we passed the Passports Legislation Amendment (Overseas Travel by Child Sex Offenders) Bill. This allowed the government to deny registered sex offenders a passport, to prevent travel for exploitation, and formed the toughest regime against travel of this kind anywhere in the world.
Domestically, the government fights forced marriages through a service called My Blue Sky, a website, helpline and legal advice service developed in partnership with Anti-Slavery Australia. I should note that if anyone following this debate is in a forced marriage or is concerned about being coerced in the future, or they know of someone or believe someone to be in that situation, they can visit www.mybluesky.org.au or telephone (02)95148115.
There are few, if any, crimes that appal Australians as much as child sexual exploitation and abuse. The measures contained in this bill are practical, I hope uncontroversial, and, I believe, much needed to protect children both in our own country and overseas. I thank the Minister for Home Affairs for his continued dedication to this important battle. I commend the bill to the House.
I rise to speak on the Combatting Child Sexual Exploitation Legislation Amendment Bill 2019 and say upfront that Labor strongly supports the objectives of this bill. This bill implements several recommendations of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, a royal commission that I'm particularly proud that Prime Minister Gillard initiated and that has done so much to shine a spotlight on horrific child abuse, historical and more recent. I say that as someone who is married to Lea, who basically has worked for 30 years in child protection, initially for 25 years or so as a child protection worker, a social worker, and then later as a lawyer for knowmore, the community legal service giving advice to the people who made submissions to the royal commission and, now, looking after those in the Redress Scheme. At home I've always been very aware of how crucial it is that Australia does all it can, that our states and territories do all they can, to combat child sexual exploitation.
This bill aims to protect children from sexual exploitation by strengthening the Commonwealth framework of offences relating to child abuse material, overseas child sexual abuse, forced marriage, failure to report child sexual abuse and failure to protect children from such abuse. The bill builds on the reforms and policies implemented under previous Labor and coalition governments.
I'm very proud, as I said, to have been a member of the parliament in November 2012 when Prime Minister Gillard announced that she would recommend to the Governor-General that a royal commission be established to inquire into institutional responses to child sexual abuse. Former Prime Minister Gillard is actually in the building tonight—although on the other side of the building, where the red carpet is—and it's great to see that much of the legislative work she created via the royal commission is living on. Following that recommendation, Her Excellency Quentin Bryce, the then Governor-General, announced in January 2013 the six commissioners who would undertake the onerous task of conducting the inquiry. The inquiry was led by Justice Peter McClellan AM, who did incredible work. I'd also like to mention someone who I recommended—that is, former Queensland Police Commissioner Bob Atkinson. He got five minutes of retirement and then went onto the task of being one of the commissioners. Surely, Bob Atkinson is one of Queensland's finest for his work as a police officer on the Morcombe case, then as a police commissioner and then for his work on this royal commission. The workload on this commission was phenomenal. But I don't thank just Bob; I thank all the commissioners and their staff for the incredible work they did over five years.
Just to make it clear, this work will leave scars. This work will leave a lasting imprint on the lives of all the commissioners and their staff. There was very, very disturbing evidence. Some of the de-identified stories I heard at home from my wife made me realise how incredibly tough the work of that royal commission was.
The royal commission received 42,041 phone calls. It received 25,964 letters and emails. The commissioners held 8,013 private sessions, and they made 2,575 referrals to authorities, including the police. This was not a royal commission that did not achieve outcomes—2,500 referrals to authorities! The royal commission handed down its final report in December 2017, and the commissioners made a total of 409 recommendations. This legislation before the House implements just a few of those recommendations.
Recommendation 33 from the royal commission recommends that jurisdictions should introduce a criminal offence for failing to report child sexual abuse. This bill implements that recommendation by creating a new Commonwealth criminal offence for circumstances where a Commonwealth officer who exercises care or supervision over children knows of information that would lead a reasonable person to believe or suspect that another person has or will engage in conduct in relation to a child that constitutes a child sexual abuse offence and fails to disclose that information as soon as practicable to state police or the Australian Federal Police. So, it puts that positive onus on people to step up rather than wilfully close their eyes.
Recommendation 36 from the royal commission recommends that state and territory governments introduce legislation to create a criminal offence for the failure to protect a child within an institution from a substantial risk of sexual abuse by an adult associated with the institution. If you remember the evidence, we heard from all sorts of institutions—sporting clubs, boarding schools, swim schools. Obviously this bill can't implement that exact recommendation, but it does take the substance of that recommendation and creates a new Commonwealth criminal offence for a Commonwealth officer who negligently fails to reduce or remove the risk of a child under their care, supervision or authority being sexually abused if it is part of their actual or effective responsibilities as a Commonwealth officer to reduce or remove that risk.
This bill also strengthens the laws for overseas persistent child sexual abuse. Currently a conviction for criminal persistent sexual abuse of a child overseas requires proof of at least three underlying occasions. The bill will require the minimum number of underlining occasions of abuse that have to be proved to be two. The bill will also criminalise the possession of a child-like sex doll, making such a doll child abuse material for the purposes of the Criminal Code and Customs Act. And a new offence will be created for the possession or control of child abuse material in the form of data held on a computer or contained in a data storage device that was obtained or accessed by a carriage service, thus bringing the Commonwealth in.
More particularly when you consider we're a multicultural community with people coming from all around the globe, the definition of forced marriage will be expanded. The current definition of forced marriage relies on the absence of consent. Prosecuting forced marriage involving children has been inherently difficult as the victims have on their own evidence demonstrated that they have understood the nature and effect of the marriage ceremony. The bill will expand the definition of forced marriage to include all marriages involving children under 16 years of age.
The bill also addresses the abhorrent practice of Australian offenders travelling overseas to abuse and exploit children. These vile individuals target countries that have weak or weaker child protection frameworks and where the offending is less likely to attract attention. This bill will amend the defence contained in the Criminal Code so that the existence of a marriage between the offender and a child will not constitute a defence if the child is under the age of 16.
This is not the first time this legislation or legislation very similar to this was introduced into parliament. A similar bill was introduced into the 45th Parliament but did not actually make its way to the Senate. The bill lapsed at the dissolution of the 45th Parliament, unfortunately. The previous bill was referred to the Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs, and actual concerns were raised about that bill that focused on the mandatory sentencing part of that bill. Importantly, the mandatory sentencing provisions have been removed and are not included in the bill currently before the House. Obviously, the concerns about mandatory sentencing are that, because of the severity of a crime being inflicted on a person, you might not end up with a conviction before the court, as all the evidence shows.
It should be noted that some stakeholders did raise serious concerns with aspects of the bill. I particularly point out that the Law Council expressed concern with regard to the application of absolute liability for committing certain offences created by the bill, and Labor's additional comments to the Senate inquiry accept the response of the Department of Home Affairs and the Attorney-General's Department that the application of absolute liability in these very limited circumstances is appropriate to ensure compliance with the reporting regime established by this legislation. However, I point out that the Labor senators also make clear that the operation of those provisions should be closely monitored following the enactment of this bill. The senators also accepted that it is appropriate for an individual not to be excused from failing to disclose information relating to child sexual abuse, on the ground that doing so might incriminate the individual. Such an abrogation of the privilege against self-incrimination, which has been around for 500 years or so, is not something that should be done lightly. But in the report the Labor senators ultimately accepted that in these very limited circumstances it was necessary to do so to ensure that the reporting requirements introduced by this bill are effective and the operation of those previsions would be closely monitored to see how they play out, because it is a drastic change.
Obviously, we do so because all 227 senators and MPs in this place would agree that child sexual exploitation is abhorrent. Children are the most precious and vulnerable members of our community. They deserve our protection and support. Labor is committed to protecting Australian children, and there is nothing more sickening than child sexual exploitation. As I mentioned at the start, I'm married to someone who has spent their whole life fighting that, so I've heard about it so often. Labor has no tolerance for these crimes, and any claims otherwise are completely misleading. I do remember a former Western Australian MP suggesting that. Thankfully, he is no longer in this parliament, but I will never forgive him for suggesting so at that despatch box. Thankfully, he is not here now, because it really stuck in my craw, considering the amount of my life that I've devoted to combating that.
As I said, Labor strongly supports the objectives of this bill, which implements several recommendations of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse—a royal commission that the Labor Party initiated—and builds on these reforms and policies implemented under Labor governments and then the coalition. Labor will watch the government's next steps closely to ensure that the bill is implemented as intended and that all of those royal commission recommendations, as much as possible, are rolled out. But, fundamentally, Labor supports the measures in the bill and will support it, and I commend it to the House.
There is very little that sickens me more than the prospect of child sexual abuse, it must be said. It is one of the most heinous crimes and it is right that we should move to harden up the stance of the laws in Australia against people who would even contemplate such behaviour. We have had the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse and, quite rightly, that royal commission has handed down a list of recommendations, many of which are being addressed in this legislation. One would hope that the spotlight being shone on institutional abuse has led to a great decline in it. Of course, we have fewer children in institutions in any case in this day and age. But it would seem to me that, while we may be improving in that area, in the general public, in non-institutionalised areas, the incidence of child sexual abuse and other abuses seems to be on the rise. So, while we might be saying we are cleaning up one part of our society, it feels as though we're losing ground on another and we need to send a strong message from this place that it will not be tolerated.
Before I get onto the legislation, it does make me reflect on the modern environment and the proliferation of pornography generally—even soft pornography. If you turn on the television on a Saturday morning, you will see music video clips which are sexually explicit and are clearly aimed at children. I mean, is it any surprise that they grow up into adults who are less than savoury with poor judgement in these areas? I'm not a psychologist. I'm not a scientist who can prove the link, but it seems to me, as someone who sees themselves as a middle Australian, it is hard to deny that that type of thing should be influencing people. Some violent video games are so horrific, so life-like now. Where do the lines stop blurring for some people?
I think with this legislation we're doing the right thing, but in time this parliament is going to have to bring itself to address some of these other issues. Children are being exposed, as I said, at younger and younger ages to more explicit material. We defend the rights of adults to behave in any manner they wish so long as it doesn't impact on other individuals, and that's a good enough position to take. But if behaviour behind closed doors is actually influencing their behaviour beyond the closed doors—and who's to say it's not—then perhaps we need to intervene in that area as well. I will sound like some 19th-century censorship agent here, but we just cannot turn a blind eye to what is happening around us and sort of deny cause and effect. I just put those remarks in there because I think that is something that we are going to have to consider.
To come to the legislation: one of the things it will do is make it an offence to turn a blind eye, to walk past the crime. As we know, many people in public positions, particularly in schools, have had mandatory reporting for some time, quite rightly. Well, this legislation puts mandatory reporting on everybody's back. If you're aware of a child being abused and you do not act on it, if you don't notify police, if you don't move to do something to intervene—don't put your own life in jeopardy—or make it known then you'll be committing an offence, I think, quite rightly. I'll only be able to paraphrase it but, whoever it was who said the crime we walk by is the one we tolerate, the one we endorse, was completely right. It strengthens laws, quite rightly again, against Australians sexually abusing children overseas. This is really difficult to police. When you think about it, what a low, miserable act it is, to go somewhere where people are poor and take advantage of their children, abuse them and leave them in a pile of rubble in a distant country. It's simply not good enough.
This bill also seeks to change the language, the way that we refer to these events. Possessing child pornography will disappear as an offence. It will be known as child abuse material. We'll call it for what it is. Hopefully, that will continue to raise the public ire and public intolerance of this type of behaviour. The bill will alter the language around forced marriage. It tightens the definition and also attempts to reach overseas, so that Australians that may be involved in forced marriages offshore will be committing offences as well. It's worth reading one of the subsections that apply here. A marriage is forced if it's entered into without full and free consent 'because of the use of coercion, threat or deception' or 'because the victim was incapable of understanding the nature and effect of the marriage ceremony'—and the explanatory memorandum says in brackets 'for reasons such as age and mental capacity'. Subsection 270.7A(4) provides that a person under 16 years of age is presumed, unless the contrary is proven, to be incapable of understanding the nature and effect of the marriage ceremony.
I commend that language. I commend the process behind that bill. Last year there were 18,000 reports of child exploitation in Australia. It really makes one blanch, doesn't it:18,000 reports last year. As the Prime Minister has noted, 28 per cent of child sex offenders convicted federally did not spend a day in jail. I wonder whether we're already committing an offence under this act by turning a blind eye and walking past the offence. I don't think that's good enough. I don't think any caring parent thinks it's good enough. I certainly don't want people who would commit those kinds of acts living next door to my children or grandchildren. I'm sure no other caring parent does. So we ramp up the penalties, we ramp up the language, we attempt to influence public opinion and to come out more strongly in defence of those that are most defenceless in our society.
We will make the possession of childlike sex dolls a criminal offence. I note that there has been some debate in the newspapers about therapeutic sex dolls and whatever. Maybe, but I struggle to be convinced. I don't know what makes a huge difference between a childlike one and an adultlike one. I don't like either of them, quite frankly, but we are moving in this area, as we should. This bill also will criminalise online dealings in child abuse material; that is, the transmission, distribution, accessing or soliciting of material. Once again, so it should.
This bill seeks to implement many of the recommendations of the royal commission. As I said, while not every member of parliament may speak on it, I think there would be 151 members of this House that certainly support the views that are put forward in this bill, and I would assume there will be 76 senators in the other place. We should all abhor child sexual abuse. I strongly commend this bill to the House. We should work together to try to stamp out this abomination.
I rise to speak on the Combatting Child Sexual Exploitation Legislation Amendment Bill 2019. I'd like to echo many of the comments made by the member for Grey. Everything he said I agree with, which is not something that happens with every member in this House. Everything he said is absolutely correct. I commend the government's work on this bill.
This bill implements a number of recommendations from the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. All of the proposed measures are aimed at protecting children and punishing individuals who fail to protect a child at risk of sexual abuse. Any abuse of children, irrespective of whether the offending occurs in an institution or on an online platform, is abhorrent. It is sickening. But one aspect of this offending that I found particularly troubling and disturbing is the use of childlike sex dolls. Childlike sex dolls are an increasingly emerging form of child exploitation material that must clearly be criminalised to prevent children from being abused as the dolls normalise abusive behaviour towards children, encourage the sexualisation of children and increase the likelihood that a paedophile will engage in sexual activity with or towards children. It is important that all states and territories, not just the Commonwealth, move quickly to ban the use of these repulsive objects, which are three-dimensional—they are lifelike; they resemble children—and are intended to be used for the simulation of sexual intercourse. It's disturbing that there is a market for such an object. It's equally disturbing that there are manufacturers willing to create this product.
My SA-BEST colleagues in the South Australian parliament have already introduced the Criminal Law Consolidation (Child-Like Sex Dolls Prohibition) Amendment Bill 2019 into the South Australian Legislative Council. The bill, modelled on the Commonwealth legislation that we are debating in the chamber this evening, proposes amendments to the Criminal Law Consolidation Act to include childlike sex dolls within the definition of child exploitation material. While it could be argued that childlike sex dolls could already fall within the existing definition, this remains untested in South Australia. In addition, the SA-BEST bill makes it an offence to produce or disseminate childlike sex dolls, with a penalty of 10 years imprisonment applying to the offence. The bill also makes it an offence to possess a childlike sex doll. A person guilty of such an offence will face 10 years imprisonment.
The bill passed the South Australian Legislative Council earlier this evening, and I understand it passed with the support of the government and the opposition—and I'm very pleased to see bipartisan support for this bill that is before us tonight. I would like to take the opportunity to thank the Hon. Connie Bonaros MLC and her team for their efforts in strengthening the protections for children in South Australia. Centre Alliance stands alongside SA-BEST, resolute in our commitment to prevent the exploitation of children. This bill and the bill before the South Australian parliament fall within that commitment.
I am the parent of three beautiful, wonderful children, one of whom is now an adult. Children are so incredibly vulnerable, and when a child is abused their childhood is gone. I am very pleased that, in this place today, we are taking some very positive steps that go some way to addressing some of the wrongs done to children, and to right some of those wrongs. I commend this bill to the House.
I rise in wholehearted support for the Combatting Child Sexual Exploitation Legislation Amendment Bill 2019, and I would like to endorse the comments of previous speakers. Unfortunately, child abuse is a scourge on society. In my adult life I have been involved in this area, particularly in the last seven or eight years, because of my involvement, in the Port Macquarie region, with the wonderful Bravehearts organisation—which is dedicated to educating, empowering and protecting our most vulnerable, our children—and because of my work in the portfolio of children and families. I've been involved with rolling out the Redress Scheme in the children and families portfolio. The overwhelming impression is that this scourge is far more common than most people realise, and these omnibus bill recommendations and changes to the law will strengthen the framework within which the Australian Commonwealth addresses child sexual abuse both here and overseas.
Many of the recommendations in the royal commission have already come into force. The redress scheme is now up and running. But this bill also implements and creates new offences—an offence of either failing to protect a child at risk of a child sexual abuse event and an offence if you fail to report. As the member before me, the member for Mayo, said, the failure to report to the authorities knowledge of a child sexual offence makes you as guilty as the person who's doing it, because you're tolerating it by not reporting it. It also strengthens the legislation and offences about overseas persistent child sexual abuse, because the persistent cases of child sexual abuse, particularly by people in positions of authority, are often the hardest to prove. So we've got changes in there to make it easier for the victim and make the likelihood of a prosecution greater. There are a range of measures to expand what is illegal in child exploitation both here in Australia and overseas. It also, as I said, enhances the protection outcomes and makes prosecutions a lot easier.
It also addresses some glaring gaps, criminalising the control and possession of child pornography material or child abuse material that's come over a carriage service. As you know, Deputy Speaker, online abuse is much more common than we realise. These changes are addressing that by making it a criminal offence to transmit, receive or store such digital evidence of child abuse. The bill also addresses and prevents certain dealings with childlike sex dolls and criminalises the possession of childlike sex dolls. It struck me as another shocking reality that people get these pornographic dolls as a means of normalising and encouraging child sexual abuse.
The other issue that this bill is addressing is forced marriage, which happens both here in Australia and overseas. The bill introduces a new criminal code for Commonwealth officers if they are in a position of power and they fail to report or prevent a child sexual abuse event occurring, particularly if it is part of their actual or effective responsibilities.
The other thing is possession or control of child pornography material. The bill introduces tests that make it a lot easier to prosecute. As I mentioned, in cases of persistent child sexual abuse the authorities have found, particularly with young, vulnerable people who have been abused over and over again, that it all blurs in the mind of a young person. In these provisions we have changed the requirement so that they need only to prove that the abuse happened twice rather than thrice. Before that, it was even harder.
Going to the issue of forced marriages, there are many valiant legal organisations trying to prevent forced marriages both here in Australia and in Asia and other overseas destinations. A lot of people use forced marriages as an excuse for committing child sexual abuse, but these amendments cause it to be an offence to enter into a forced marriage or be party to a forced marriage. A marriage is defined as being forced if it's entered into without full and free consent because of the use of coercion, threat or deception, or if the victim has an incapacity to understand the nature and effect of the marriage ceremony, for reasons such as age. The age under which that knowledge and understanding is presumed is 16. A person under the age of 16 is presumed to be incapable of understanding the nature and effect of the marriage ceremony. As I mentioned, the legislation also expands the rebuttable presumption and expands the definition of forced marriage to explicitly include all marriages involving children under 16.
This change to the law will make it a lot easier for the poor child victim. It reduces the need to call evidence from the vulnerable child victim, and it simplifies the prosecutorial burden. All of this is really important. I have seen what has happened to people who have suffered child abuse. Unfortunately, I've seen so many school friends whose lives have been turned upside down as a result of what happened when they were young and naive. I dealt with cases when I was assistant minister in the Children and Families portfolio and through my involvement with Bravehearts.
The main thing is that this is an all-encompassing attempt to close a lot of loopholes so that Australians who do travel overseas don't abuse children under the cover of forced marriages, with lax law enforcement and child protection structures in place. It means that we can catch Australians who are doing these horrible things overseas. All in all, it is a great outcome that this bill has so much support across the aisles, and I'm sure it will have equal support in the other place. I commend the bill to the House.
I thank the House for the opportunity to speak on this incredibly important bill, the Combatting Child Sexual Exploitation Legislation Amendment Bill 2019. It has been a number of years since the Commonwealth parliament came to a view that it was important for us to extend our purview over people who were plying their evil trade of abusing minors to countries outside Australia. It was an important step, because they were using the reach of this parliament and parliaments in other parts of Australia to try and get outside the net of the will of the people. As a father of a daughter, it is quite extraordinary that anyone would behave in such a manner and form. These reforms are critical to sending a clear message to people who would use this type of activity to create a situation where they feel they could get away with it.
We have seen in other jurisdictions that minimum mandatory sentencing sends a clear signal to perpetrators of all types of crimes that it is unacceptable and they will not be able to get through the court system or to somehow convince people that they should not be punished in a relevant and systemic fashion. When such measures have been introduced, what we have found is that those crimes have reduced quite massively and quite substantially. This bill makes it quite clear that we are going to be in a position where such people will not be able to go overseas and will not be able to subvert the will of this parliament and the people of Australia. This is important for many reasons. Yesterday, we had World Suicide Prevention Day. It is amazing, the number of people who commit suicide because of events that occurred earlier in their lives. In some cases, they have denied that those events ever occurred, but later in life they find themselves in the situation where they simply cannot deal with those events.
Preventing this sort of crime against children is, I think, one of the most important things that any parliament can do. I say, as the parent of a daughter, it is difficult to imagine a better way to harm any parent than to abuse their child—especially in situations where there are people in places of trust. That is, they've been given an opportunity to look after children and that instead of using that position as they should, undertaking care and diligence to ensure that the child is protected, they betray the trust that has been placed in them.
We cannot, in any circumstances, underestimate the enormity of the betrayal. This parliament is right to send a most extraordinary signal—in fact, there is probably no signal that we could send that is extraordinary enough—to say to people in that position that if they abuse the child who they are meant to be protecting, then the weight of the law will come down upon them without mercy because they have shown the most vulnerable in our community no mercy. We don't care where that happens. They can try to ply their evil trade in other parts of the world, but the long arm of the Australian law will find them, will prosecute them and will punish them for this crime that they have committed. There is nothing more serious than injuring a person for life in a manner and form that does not allow them to live their lives to their greatest possibilities.
From time to time I reflect on the number of people who have committed suicide later in life, who were unable to continue a full life because of the scars—the mental distress—that they had suffered due to the abuse that they had to endure as children. How many great people have our communities lost because we were unable in that time and place to look after them in a manner and form that we should have? That is why I believe that this particular piece of legislation will be passed by this parliament unanimously.
The member for Mayo also spoke of the damaging effects of normalising aberrant behaviour, as we see with child sex dolls. It is important that this parliament, as the Attorney-General has done, recognises the harm that these dolls can do and recognises that it is almost like a ramp-up to committing a crime. It's important that we stop these things now, before they come and do harm and damage to others. This is not a trivial matter; this is in fact quite the opposite. It is a very serious matter, and it is right that this parliament recognises that. We need to take the opportunity at this point in time to say very clearly to people who think that it's okay that it's not okay; that this House, the people's House, recognises that the behaviour of people who think that it's okay is not okay, and that if they try to do that the law of this land will very clearly be brought down upon their heads.
There are, obviously, other matters that we should look at very seriously as well. This bill, like all bills of this nature, must take account of circumstances as they evolve. It is important that we continue to recognise that while we may believe there is no other way for people who wish to perpetrate this crime to do so, inevitably there will be people who try to find ways around this law. In those circumstances, it is important that this parliament be very strong in the manner and form that it responds to those opportunities.