House debates

Thursday, 18 June 2020


Child Sexual Abuse

12:22 pm

Photo of Bridget ArcherBridget Archer (Bass, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

No group in our community is more deserving of our protection than our children. I have spoken before in the House about my own history, and as a parent with five children of my own I feel very strongly about protecting children from harm. Yet for all the noise and grandstanding on a range of issues from that side, I cannot for the life of me understand why it took three years, coupled with a major public relations disaster on Tuesday, for Labor to finally come to its senses and support the introduction of mandatory minimum sentences for Commonwealth child sex offenders.

We see almost daily reports of sexual crimes against children, but I think the recent case in New South Wales sent shock waves through us all. One of the country's largest child sex rings was exposed, with two men accused of horrific actions that I don't wish to repeat here today. At least 14 children have been removed from harmful situations, and a total of 40 charges have been laid. It's important to note that this story is not uncommon. Those who commit these crimes are not the shadowy monster lurking in the corner; this is a very common misconception. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics' Personal safety report in 2005, of all those who reported having been victimised sexually before the age of 15 years, just 11.1 per cent were victimised by a stranger. The rest were known to the victim, with over 30 per cent reporting that it was perpetrated by a male relative.

You would think that the rights of children in situations such as this would be an absolute no-brainer for Labor, who, despite claiming to oppose mandatory sentencing on principle, introduced mandatory sentences for people smugglers after losing control of Australia's borders when it was last in government. Their hypocrisy was laid bare on Monday night, when Labor senators voted down the mandatory sentencing component of a broader sentencing reform bill that was first introduced by the government back in 2017. If it's okay for people smugglers to face mandatory jail, why is it not okay for child sex predators to face the same fate? It was only after a furious public backlash on Tuesday morning that Labor finally agreed to pass the government's bill in its entirety.

Last 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, approximately 40 per cent of Commonwealth child sex offenders were not sentenced to spend a single day in prison. Needless to say, it is extremely disappointing that those on the other side fought for so long to stop the laws passing the parliament. Of all the issues and rights you could fight for, many of them noble, those who commit sex offences against children do not deserve your advocacy.

I'm incredibly proud of our government's efforts to continue to fight for the rights to protect children. This new bill will vastly improve justice outcomes and community safety through mandatory minimum sentencing for serious child sex offences and for recidivist offenders; a presumption against bail for serious and repeat offenders to keep them off the streets; increased maximum penalties across the spectrum of child sex offences, including up to life imprisonment for the most serious offences; presumptions in favour of cumulative sentences and actual imprisonment; ensuring that sex offenders, upon release from custody, are adequately supervised and subject to appropriate rehabilitative conditions; and preventing courts from discounting sentences on the basis of good character where this is used to facilitate the crime.

I'd like to point out that while not all mandatory minimum sentencing schemes are the same, there is no doubt that mandatory minimum sentences can be effective in responding to particular issues. Additionally, this view of mandatory sentencing is supported by the Australian Institute of Criminology, which concluded in its research paper on mandatory sentencing that such sentences may result in a reduction of crime. Sentencing an abuser does not take away the pain a child has suffered; the mental anguish is undoubtedly lifelong. However, by imposing mandatory sentencing, it sends the message that what happened to a child matters. How can a survivor feel any sense of justice in the world when their offender did not spend a single day in prison for their actions? As those who represent our communities, it is our duty of care to protect our most vulnerable where we have the ability to do so. This bill sends a clear and necessary message that child sexual abuse will never be tolerated.