Thursday, 18 June 2020
I want to address the House this afternoon on the disturbing spike in child exploitation and sexual abuse that has occurred during the coronavirus pandemic. Due to social distancing and homeschooling, children's screen time has increased. This has been accompanied by an increase in child predators grooming or exploiting children online. According to the eSafety Commissioner, over March, April and May, there were significant surges in reporting volumes compared to 2019, with an 80 per cent increase in child sexual abuse content. In addition to this, the Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation has released data that is shocking but perhaps not surprising. Their Child Protection Triage Unit has stated that the average number of child exploitation reports it receives has increased from 776 to 1,731 a month. In fact, every five minutes a webpage showed a child being sexually abused for the gratification of an offender. This shows us just how staggering the reach of child exploitation is.
While this is a global issue, we cannot deny how prevalent this issue is here in Australia. The sexual abuse of children has become more organised and extreme, with technology posing new and evolving challenges for law enforcement. Last financial year, 39 per cent of convicted Commonwealth child sex offenders did not spend a single day in jail. This is not an anomaly. In the last five years, about 40 per cent of Commonwealth child sex offenders were not sentenced to spend a day in prison. Sentencing rarely reflects the seriousness of the crime committed. It's simply not good enough, and it does not reflect the community's expectations. That statistic lets down survivors. It lets down the whole community.
Evidence has increasingly shown that child sexual abuse leaves lifelong trauma and impacts on survivors. The seriousness of these crimes demands changes to our criminal justice system, which has proven to be insufficient in punishing, deterring or rehabilitating offenders. I feel very strongly about this issue, not only because I'm a parent but also because I worked with vulnerable children as a psychologist before entering this place. The Morrison government's Crimes Legislation Amendment (Sexual Crimes Against Children and Community Protection Measures) Bill 2019 has been designed to make several changes to our justice system so that the sentencing of child sex offenders aligns with community expectations. Among other amendments, the bill aggregates the sentencing factors for all federal offenders where a person uses their community standing to facilitate the crime. In recent months, we have seen the reported allegations and convictions in the media once again expose the deep breach of trust when those in positions of authority—teachers, religious leaders, health professionals and even politicians—abuse children. Some of these stories relate directly to my community in Reid. Where someone uses a position of authority to carry out serious child exploitation or abuse, there must be sentencing that reflects the nature of their crime.
To come back to my earlier point, as our children spend more time in front of screens, we as parents and carers share a responsibility to ensure their safety online. Our government has invested more than $100 million to give parents and children the resources they need to navigate safely through the digital world. I encourage parents in Reid and elsewhere to visit esafety.gov.au and to use the tools there to keep their children safe online.
The bill introduces mandatory minimum sentencing, presumptions in favour of cumulative sentences and a presumption against bail, and it increases maximum penalties across the spectrum of child sex offences. One such example is the creation of aggregated offences where a child who has an intellectual disability has been a victim of sexual abuse. This bill is another example of the Morrison government's commitment to protect children in Australia and overseas from the dangers of sexual exploitation and abuse and to improve the justice outcomes for survivors of child sex offenders. We have listened to the experiences of survivors and we will keep taking steps to protect them and to protect the vulnerable children at risk of abuse and exploitation.