Crimes Amendment (Sexual Offences) Bill 2016
Written on the 1 September 2016
GEORGIE CROZIER (LIB - Southern Metropolitan)
I am pleased to be able to rise this evening to speak to the Crimes Amendment (Sexual Offences) Bill 2016. In doing so, I wanted to make a number of comments in relation to this bill, as others have done, because it is an important piece of legislation. For the purpose of Hansard, the bill is some 190 pages, so it is a very extensive bill, and it brings together a number of areas that are important and that members have been debating this evening.
Can I say that this is an important piece of legislation not only in the life of the Andrews government; these reforms have also been conducted over the life of a number of governments, and of course the coalition government undertook some significant reforms. I would like to place on record the work of the former Attorney-General, Robert Clark, in the other place, for his work in relation to the reform of sexual offences in the Crimes Act 1958, and that is what this legislation we are debating tonight also undertakes to do. I note that in his second-reading speech the current Attorney-General also acknowledges the work of former governments. As other members have said, this is an important piece of legislation that modernises elements of previous legislation to deal with issues that we face in 2016.It is very important that we are speaking to this piece of legislation, the Crimes Amendment (Sexual Offences) Bill 2016. Hardly a day goes by when we are not reading about in the newspaper or seeing on our television screens or in other media crimes that are occurring across our state. We have had a recent crime wave, and crime statistics across the state are going up. We have got some serious issues in relation to dealing with the shortfalls of the current government, which are reflected in the inadequate numbers of police resources on the front line and the closing of police stations. As we know, there are young and not so young offenders committing very serious and in fact quite terrifying crimes across our suburbs at an alarming rate. These crimes have been in the news recently, including the many instances of carjackings and home invasions. I am certainly very cognisant of this in my electorate of Southern Metropolitan Region, where there have been some very, very serious and violent crimes, which have included carjackings and home invasions. I would like to note that the current government needs to be doing more in that regard.
I note that Mr O'Donohue is in the house today, and I would like to put on record and acknowledge the work that he is doing in relation to this very important area. In fact only last week the Corrections Amendment (No body, no parole) Bill 2016 was brought into the house. Unfortunately it was not supported by the government, which was an extraordinary decision. I still am bewildered by the government's decision to reject such an important piece of legislation. It must be beyond the comprehension of the families of the poor victims as to why on earth the legislation was rejected, and it is beyond me too.Nevertheless, if we can return to the piece of legislation that we are discussing here tonight, as I said this is a very important piece of legislation. I will go to the main parts of the bill. I will not go through every element of it, because I think there are around 50 reforms in the legislation. Clause 5 of the bill relates to changes to family relationships, including domestic partnerships. The explanatory memorandum states that:
The definition of domestic partner now applies irrespective of gender identity to recognise transgender and intersex status.There are some other definitions contained in this clause which I will not discuss. The Scrutiny of Acts and Regulations Committee (SARC) report went into some detail in relation to this, which I noted when I was reviewing various elements of this legislation. SARC discuss these in great detail.
I will also make reference to clause 16, which speaks of new offences of encouraging children to engage in sexual activity. This clause targets predatory behaviour. As the explanatory memorandum says, this offence is in line with existing offences. It states that:In line with existing offences, consent is not an element of sexual offences against children. Sexual contact with a child under the age of 16, or aged 16 or 17 under care, supervision or authority of a person, or aged under 18 in the context of the sexual performance offences, may constitute an offence irrespective of whether the child consents or not. This recognises that children, due to their dependency and immaturity, cannot give consent to sexual activity in the same way as adults.
That is a very important part of the bill to acknowledge, and I note that others have spoken about especially children with disabilities or mental impairments. These are some of our most vulnerable children, and to think that they could be exploited in such a manner is completely abhorrent. One just cannot fathom how anybody could possibly commit such a crime against those who are the most vulnerable. This particular clause, as I said, relates to the consent of children, and it really goes further than a grooming element.Whilst the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse is occurring at the national level, I was heavily involved in the Victorian parliamentary inquiry, and after hearing and reading hundreds of submissions from adults who were once abused children, I have no doubt that the lifelong implications are profound. During the course of that inquiry we learnt a great deal about the long-lasting and damaging effects of that abuse. It was not so long ago in the late 1930s or early 1940s I believe that the crime of buggery of a child carried the death sentence. It was regarded as a very serious matter, and it should still be regarded as such. Anyone perpetrating such a heinous crime on a child must be dealt with. We are currently seeing various issues connected with these crimes throughout our society, and the bill goes a long way to dealing with many of those issues.
The bill also looks at terminology, and it replaces the term 'child pornography' with 'child abuse material', which contemporises what we are dealing with in 2016 and looks at the technological aspects that many children are dealing with. In the bill, 'material' is defined as:any film, audio, photograph, printed matter, image, computer game or text, or any electronic material, or any other thing of any kind. This broad definition highlights that the term material is intended to be inclusive, and not limited to any particular media.
I think this is really important in the context of what we are dealing with, and I note that a recent article reported what children and schools are doing in relation to some of the online chat forums and some of the material that is being uploaded, with children not really understanding the full implication of what they are doing. The article was in the Age in Melbourne, but I am quoting from the Sydney Morning Herald article:More than 2000 photos of students from at least 70 Australian schools were reportedly uploaded on the online chat forum, which was taken down on Friday by police. Some of the images exposed young girls engaged in sexual acts. The majority were nude selfies taken in the privacy of their bathrooms or bedrooms and shared by former partners, without the girls' consent.
Those acts and those numbers are absolutely frightening, and the bill tries to address the dangers that exist for our young people. They do not realise what they may be doing by their actions. In 2013 the then Law Reform Committee undertook an inquiry into sexting and looked at this issue, but even in the three years from 2013 to 2016 we have seen much more explicit images exhibited through media technology, through Snapchat or Skype. Although under current law a child has to be physically present for the offence to occur, this piece of legislation expands the provision so that the victim does not have to be present and an offence occurs if images of the child are viewed on an electronic medium.So I think that is a very important element, and I would just hate to see so many young children having these very personal, explicit images being violated and abused in the way that they currently are. The same article states that a number of children have been involved in this, possibly unknowingly. A quote from the article says:
The ramifications are much greater than writing someone's name on the toilet door at your school. It's around the entire world and that is much more scary.We have to do more in the education system to alert children to the potential damage that such images can do and how they can be used if they fall into the wrong hands. Those images can be plastered all around the world. For many young women who have, if I can use these words, fallen prey to some of these acts, it is a terrible thing to know that those images will be out there forevermore.
I think that is a very important area that the bill does address, and it is incredibly important that we acknowledge important areas of the bill. Just finally, I know the bill goes to other areas, including in relation to the judiciary and jury directions. I will not go into the entire technical elements due to the time that I have left, but I would just like to acknowledge that this is a technical bill, as others have said. It brings together some reforms that have been made by previous governments. It takes steps towards what needs to be done here in Victoria in relation to protecting, especially, our young and vulnerable children who might be exposed to these heinous crimes. As other members of the opposition have said, we will not be opposing the bill.