Monday, 15 June 2020
Crimes Legislation Amendment (Sexual Crimes Against Children and Community Protection Measures) Bill 2019; In Committee
When this bill previously came before the House the opposition erroneously said that the government's reforms would see teenagers locked up for five years, as you have just said, for their flirtations over Snapchap or on Facebook or on other social media platforms. This bill specifically does not target that type of sweetheart relationship between consenting young people. Rather, it targets serious predators aiming to sexually exploit vulnerable children. The criminal justice system has effective safeguards. Firstly, all child sex offences in part 10.6 of the Criminal Code—transmitting child abuse material over a carriage service—require the Attorney-General's consent to prosecute, where the accused was a minor at the time of offending. Further, police and prosecutors retain discretion to pursue an investigation and must ensure that any prosecution is in the public interest. These existing safeguards have not been altered by this bill.
A review of the cases of actual prosecutions for engaging in sexual activity with a child under 16, since the introduction of the offence in 2010, reveals that consenting teenagers are not in fact being prosecuted. The people who have been convicted of these crimes include a 56-year-old who preyed on a nine-year-old, who received a three-year sentence and was released after one year's imprisonment, on the condition that he be of good behaviour; a 49-year-old who targeted children ranging in age from nine to 14, who was sentenced to four years in prison with a two-year non-parole period, for child abuse material and grooming offences, as well as attempting to engage in a sexual activity with a child; and a 36-year-old who abused eight child victims and made video recordings of the abuse, who was released after serving only 14 months in prison, on the condition that he be of good behaviour. On the very few occasions where young people aged 18 and above have been prosecuted for engaging in sexual activity with a child, often the victims were manipulated or deceived into sexual activity with or providing abuse material to the offender. The victims were tricked about the age and, often, the gender of the offender. Such conduct cannot be excused. For an example of a young person convicted of sexual activity with a child using a carriage service, in 2014 an offender aged 19 was convicted of 14 Commonwealth child sex offences. The offences were committed over a period of approximately 12 months and involved the exploitation of 14 individual children, most of whom were aged between 13 and 16, but one of the victims was seven years of age. The court awarded a 25 per cent discount for an early guilty plea. The offender's total effective sentence was three years and six months and he was released after serving 14 months, on a recognizance release order, on the condition that he be of good behaviour, accept supervision and pay $200 for any breach. The offender had been convicted previously of contact child sex offences. I note that because the conviction was before the passage of the legislation in 2015 that required sentences of over three years to include a non-parole period, the court was able to sentence this offender with a recognizance release order. The bill ensures sexual predators who abuse children face appropriately severe penalties, regardless of their age.