Senate debates

Tuesday, 1 December 2020


Child Abuse

7:45 pm

Photo of Claire ChandlerClaire Chandler (Tasmania, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Between 1 July 2019 and 30 June this year, the Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation received more than 21,000 reports of child sexual exploitation—an increase of 50 per cent on the previous year. This is, by any measure, a national emergency. Research indicates that Australia is the third-largest consumer of live online child abuse. This is a disgrace. Every act of child abuse has the potential to completely ruin a child's life. As a nation, we owe it to our children to protect them from this abhorrent abuse, which in so many cases equals a life sentence from which they're unable to escape.

The Australian Federal Police, state and territory police forces and other partners in the Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation are doing fantastic work to track down offenders and to rescue children from these awful situations. Just last month, a major operation with the AFP removed 16 children from harm and arrested and charged 44 Australian men from every state and territory with sharing abhorrent child abuse material online. But, with the number of reports the ACCCE is now receiving each year, they are facing an uphill battle. Clearly, there are tens of thousands of paedophiles and child rapists hiding in communities across Australia and preying on children. Surely it should be our priority as a nation to identify these dangerous criminals and to put them behind bars, where they can never harm children again. After all, it's only when they're in prison that we can know for sure that they're not harming children, because we do know that a high percentage of convicted sex offenders go on to reoffend again and again. Earlier this year, I asked the AFP commissioner about the impact of courts releasing convicted child sex offenders back into the community. Commissioner Kershaw said, 'I think if you asked our frontline officers, their view is that these people are not able to be rehabilitated so it's only a matter of time before they reoffend.' And we do see a lot of reoffending occurring.

Very few Australians would disagree with the proposition that, if you lock up known paedophiles and child rapists and keep them locked up, then you're reducing the threat to children and allowing the police to focus on catching other offenders. But that's not what's happening in Australia. Instead, on a weekly basis, child rapists are walking free after being given suspended sentences or very short periods of time in prison. They're being released back into the community, where we raise our children, and they're back onto the internet and the dark web, looking for and commissioning child abuse material. The briefest search uncovers hundreds of recent cases of child abuse where the offenders will be back on the street in the blink of an eye. Just a handful of examples from court decisions handed down in the last couple of months in Australia are: a 35-year-old woman who produced and distributed child abuse material featuring a child known to her was given a three-month sentence, fully suspended; a 38-year-old man who repeatedly sexually assaulted a 14-year-old girl and filmed the acts is eligible for parole after just three years; a 41-year-old who raped an intoxicated and most likely unconscious 14-year-old is eligible for parole after 2½ years; a 51-year-old with previous convictions for sexual offences was sentenced to just six years and is eligible for parole after four years for repeated sexual assault of a 13-year-old boy with a severe intellectual disability; a 37-year-old was sentenced to just two years and nine months, with parole after half that term, for sexually assaulting his eight-year-old niece, boasting about it in an internet chat room and possessing a large quantity of child abuse material; a 26-year-old who searched for child abuse material on the internet and asked an eight-year-old girl to send him sexualised videos; and a community corrections assessor reported as an above-average risk of sexual recidivism who was given just six months on a home detention order.

How is this acceptable?

Instead of putting child safety first, courts are simply kicking the can down the road for a few months or a couple of years. Are we seriously expected to believe that someone who rapes a 14-year-old won't be a danger to children when they are released in three years time? Are we supposed to accept that a six-month home detention order is going to keep Australian children safe for the next 50 years from a 26-year-old child abuse enthusiast assessed as being at high risk of recidivism? Who will accept culpability when these offenders inevitably abuse another child, when they should have been in jail, where they belong? If courts don't learn to prioritise community safety ahead of the interests of sex offenders then another generation of children will be condemned to a lifetime of pain and suffering. Australia must do better.