Senate debates

Tuesday, 20 June 2017


Passports Legislation Amendment (Overseas Travel by Child Sex Offenders) Bill 2017; Second Reading

6:14 pm

Photo of Derryn HinchDerryn Hinch (Victoria, Derryn Hinch's Justice Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I will conclude my comments on this crucial and urgent bill amending the Australian Passports Act—the Passports Legislation Amendment (Overseas Travel by Child Sex Offenders) Bill 2017. Last Wednesday morning, I was privileged to sit in the roped-off guest section in the other place to watch the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Julie Bishop, introduce the changes—my changes—to the passport act which will take passports off all convicted paedophiles on the child-sex offender register and curtail the perverts going on child-rape holidays in South-East Asia.

I want to thank the Minister for Foreign Affairs; the Minister for Justice, Michael Keenan; and the Prime Minister and his office for allowing me to participate in the drafting of this legislation and for the speed with which it has come before this chamber. I know that in this town the wheels of justice can sometimes grind exceedingly slowly. I also want to thank the Australian Federal Police for their input about this disgusting trade, which has stained Australia's reputation throughout South-East Asia for decades. We will get our good reputation back, because this is the first country in the world to impose such travel restrictions. I have already had preliminary discussions with the foreign minister about approaching her counterparts in New Zealand, in Canada and in the UK—and I have debated it on the BBC—and maybe even in the USA, where they have had a national public register of convicted sex offenders for more than 20 years.

This is just a start. As I mentioned earlier, the government is working with me on more-protective laws for our most vulnerable here at home, for the spring session of parliament. I also say thanks to the Nick Xenophon Team. Because of them we now have Carly's law, aimed at internet stalkers. As I speak, I know that there are deviants right here in Australia using their credit cards and Skype for real-time sex crimes. I was given evidence today of an Australian paedophile in Australia hiring a baby from her mother in the Philippines for less than $100 for his real-time gratification on Skype, and that baby was three months old.

I will be working closely in the months ahead with a group called IJM Australia, International Justice Mission Australia, to fight what they called cybersex trafficking in our region. I know that the Xenophon team, through Senator Kakoschke-Moore, has an amendment to cover cybersex traffickers. Going forward, I will happily work with her on all of this, and with the government.

Finally, I stand here tonight a very proud man. I am very proud of you all, in both houses, for rescuing hundreds and thousands of children from a truly evil and depraved culture. Thank you.

6:16 pm

Photo of Skye Kakoschke-MooreSkye Kakoschke-Moore (SA, Nick Xenophon Team) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the Passports Legislation Amendment (Overseas Travel by Child Sex Offenders) Bill 2017. The Nick Xenophon Team supports this bill, which responds to increasing community concern about Australian convicted child sex offenders travelling overseas to sexually abuse vulnerable children in countries where the law enforcement framework is weaker and the activities of offenders are not monitored. That community concern is justified. We must never be complacent where the innocence, safety and exploitation of children are at stake. I acknowledge Senator Derryn Hinch's contribution to the genesis of this bill, and his strong advocacy for the measures contained in it.

This bill will amend the Australian Passports Act and the Foreign Passports (Law Enforcement and Security) Act so that, upon request by a competent authority as defined in the Passports Act, the Minister for Foreign Affairs will be required to refuse to issue or required to cancel an Australian passport, or demand the surrender of a foreign travel document, where an Australian citizen is on a state or territory child sex offender register with reporting obligations. The decision to refuse to issue or the decision to cancel a passport will be mandatory and not subject to administrative review following a request by the competent authority—namely, a state or territory court, sex offender registry or police.

This bill will also amend the Criminal Code Act 1995 to make it a Commonwealth offence for a registered child sex offender with reporting obligations to travel or attempt to travel overseas without permission from a relevant authority. The new offence is crucial and complementary to the passport measures. The new offence ensures that child sex offenders can be prosecuted, should they try to evade the passport measures.

The bill also amends the Foreign Passports (Law Enforcement and Security) Act by inserting new law enforcement grounds for a competent authority to request the minister to order the surrender of a foreign travel document because the person is an Australian citizen. This is intended to prevent Australian dual nationals from travelling overseas on foreign passports to sexually exploit or sexually abuse vulnerable children in overseas countries.

There are about 20,000 registered sex offenders in Australia who, having served their sentence, are subject to supervision and reporting obligations because they remain a risk to the community and innocent children. Approximately 2,500 child sex offenders are added to the list each year. The passport measures introduced under this bill will apply to the existing cohort of registered child sex offenders with reporting obligations, and they will also apply to future child sex offenders registered annually. The Nick Xenophon Team remains satisfied that, if there are compelling reasons such as bereavement, offenders with reporting obligations will be able to obtain permission from authorities to travel overseas.

The Nick Xenophon Team will always fight to protect vulnerable children who are the victims of terrible abuse. Convicted child sex offenders must be stopped from fuelling the child sex trafficking trade, which flourishes overseas. The statistics are alarming, with more than 770 Australian registered child sex offenders travelling overseas in 2016. Alarmingly, a third of them violated an obligation to notify police of their intention to travel. Under existing laws, a failure to report intended overseas travel or to comply with other obligations can result in up to two years imprisonment. However, the penalties handed down by the courts are generally warnings or small fines which provide little incentive to comply. This is completely unacceptable and clearly ineffective. These offenders have a high propensity to re-offend in countries where they are not monitored and where child sexual exploitation is rampant.

Registered child sex offenders are subject to reporting obligations in Australia specifically because of their ongoing risk to children. This bill will address current deficiencies and will prevent Australian registered child sex offenders with reporting obligations with the measures I have outlined. Once their reporting obligations have concluded, offenders will be able to apply for a passport in the usual way. While the Nick Xenophon Team supports the bill, we are concerned about the unintended consequences of the measures fuelling cybersex trafficking, which is why I will be moving amendments to the Criminal Code to tighten existing sections of the code to prevent these unintended consequences emerging. I will move those amendments during the committee stage.

6:21 pm

Photo of Mathias CormannMathias Cormann (WA, Liberal Party, Minister for Finance) Share this | | Hansard source

I would like to thank all senators for their contribution to this debate on this bill, which will combat the sexual exploitation of vulnerable children overseas by Australian child sex offenders. In particular I would like to commend Senator Hinch for his dedicated contribution to this debate over many years. I also thank the senators from the Nick Xenophon Team for their proposed amendments to the bill. We appreciate your shared concerns in ensuring that vulnerable children are protected from the dangers posed by child sex offenders. However, the government would like to consider those proposed amendments in further detail to ensure that they function with the existing provisions. We will progress this as part of the package of child sex offender reforms being progressed for the spring sittings.

This bill reflects the seriousness with which the government is addressing child sex tourism. These tough new measures send a strong message to child sex offenders that they cannot use overseas travel to sexually exploit and abuse children. Such abhorrent crimes will not be tolerated. The risk posed to vulnerable children overseas by Australian child sex offenders is utterly and completely unacceptable. There is currently no effective mechanism to stop Australian child sex offenders from travelling overseas to countries with weaker law enforcement frameworks where their activities are not monitored.

The measures are intended to capture all Australian registered child sex offenders with current reporting obligations. When an offender's reporting obligations end, they can apply for a passport as usual. This is necessary and appropriate because registered child sex offenders are subject to reporting obligations in Australia specifically because of their ongoing risk to children.

For these measures to be effective in stopping child sex offenders from travelling overseas to commit horrific acts against children, it is essential that passport decisions are mandatory and not subject to merits review following a competent authority request for passport denial. Unless these tough new laws are introduced, Australian child sex offenders will continue to travel overseas and be in a position to commit those offences. These laws will make Australia world leader in protecting vulnerable children from child sex tourism, and I urge senators to support this legislation as a matter of urgency.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.