Sex Offenders Registration Amendment (Miscellaneous) Bill 2017

Written on the 9 June 2017

8 June 2017

COUNCIL 

Second reading 

GEORGIE CROZIER (LIB - Southern Metropolitan)

 

I rise to make a few remarks regarding the Sex Offenders Registration Amendment (Miscellaneous) Bill 2017. Mr O'Donohue has pointed out to the house in detail what the bill intends to do and how it will protect some young people from being inappropriately put on the sex offender register. It aims to do that. The Sex Offenders Registration Act 2004 provides for the establishment of the register of sex offenders in order to reduce the likelihood of reoffending, to facilitate the investigation and prosecution of future offences and to prevent registered sex offenders working in child-related employment, as is explained in the explanatory memorandum of the bill.

This bill amends the Sex Offenders Registration Act to ensure that the act is targeted at those offenders who pose a risk to the sexual safety of the community and is not resulting in the inappropriate and unnecessary registration of other persons. That is the main thrust of the bill. As Mr O'Donohue said, it is a technical bill and has quite a bit of detail to it, but the main aim is to ensure that people are not inadvertently or inappropriately placed on the sex offender register.

The bill also gives Victoria Police more powers to investigate and monitor registered sex offenders to ensure that police have the tools they need to detect crimes by registered sex offenders and prevent further harm to the community. The bill then goes on to make other miscellaneous changes to clarify and improve various aspects regarding the registration scheme.

Just to put this in a bit of context with a bit of history, in 2011 the then Attorney-General, Robert Clark, asked the Law Reform Committee to review the laws governing the registration of sex offenders and the use of information about registered sex offenders by law enforcement and child protection agencies. The Victorian Ombudsman had recommended this review in a report to Parliament about problems that had been raised with them in relation to the management of the sex offenders registration scheme. The purpose of that review was to ensure that the legislative arrangements for the collection and use of information about registered sex offenders enabled law enforcement and child protection agencies to assess risk of reoffending. It was indeed in June 2011 that the commission then released an information paper that described the registration scheme.

At the time when it was tabled in 2012, it contained 79 recommendations which would strengthen the registration scheme. I think that is also important to understand in the context of what we are discussing this evening in this debate and looking at the further protection of children. It was then that my former colleague Clem Newton-Brown, as chair of the parliamentary Law Reform Committee, also was involved in undertaking an inquiry into sexting. That was actually a very thorough report undertaken at the time, and it really highlighted just how some young people could inadvertently get caught up in the laws as they stood at the time by engaging in inappropriate sexual activity.

In the eyes of the law one person over the age of 18, if they were dealing with a minor, could be caught in relation to using technology and then be placed on a sex offender list. That can have some terrible consequences, and indeed Ms Pulford mentioned one of her constituents, which reminded me of a very similar story that I was reading about in a news article by John Silvester which was published in April 2016. It talked about a young teenager who was wrongly branded a dangerous sex offender because of the current law. I think it was in very similar circumstances, actually. This poor young man had a younger girlfriend. He was, I think, 17 and she was 14. After the parents of the young girl found out what they had been up to, the young man was then put on a sex offender register, and that had some dreadful repercussions that really were very devastating for him. He lost his job, and he then had a whole range of consequences that arose out of his being placed on the sex offender list.

That really highlighted that the one-size-fits-all model does not apply and that the courts need to have discretion in relation to just who is placed on a sex offender register. In saying that, it is very important and we need to ensure that those sex offenders who do pose a risk to the community are on a register and are monitored and the community is kept safe from any unnecessary and criminal behaviour that could cause great harm to individuals.

As I said, the bill has a number of areas that go to those main points. I talked about the registration and the limited exemption from automatic registration that it aims to do. That, as I said, was highlighted by the Victorian Law Reform Commission back in 2011. Stronger safeguards will apply to ensure that offenders who pose a threat cannot avoid registration. I think that is the main point in keeping the community safe, so that those offenders cannot avoid registration and that they are otherwise monitored and followed up.

On suspension of reporting obligations, those registered sex offenders are required to report various details to police, such as their travel plans or any contact with children. The Chief Commissioner of Police or the court may suspend these reporting obligations where the offender is not a risk to the community. That is that discretionary component that I spoke about earlier. The bill amends the test so that reporting obligations may be suspended where the registrable offender poses no risk or a low risk to the sexual safety of the community. That relates to some of the inadvertent consequences for some young people who might be undertaking some sexual activity but who are really not going to be posing a great risk to the community through being a sexual predator.

It must said that it is a terrible crime. While we are thinking about what has happened with some of those sexual predators out there, I refer to the actions of Senator Derryn Hinch in recent times. I know that he was delighted with the results of his lobbying of the federal government. He went to them to ensure that paedophiles are not able to exploit people in other countries but will have their passports removed. I think he is delighted with the outcome, with the federal government working toward that very good and sensible outcome in respect of those known paedophiles.

To come back to this bill and the new search powers, the bill inserts a new search warrant power into the Sex Offenders Registration Act 2004 to provide Victoria Police with an additional, targeted tool to better monitor sex offenders' compliance with their reporting obligations. Again this is really looking at community safety and those obligations. An ability to track people is, I think, very, very important. The bill allows a magistrate to issue a warrant where there are reasonable grounds for suspecting that an offence under the act has been or is about to be committed. Those particular abilities to investigate or search strengthen the current act.

On fingerprints and DNA samples, the bill gives the police extra powers to undertake some of their work around sex offenders. That is also important. Under the current act the police do not have those powers. With the powers the bill gives Victoria Police, they will not need a court order to obtain those samples from a registered sex offender.

There is an area in the bill relating to child-related employment. Again, it is very important to understand that strengthening this area will make it an offence for a registered sex offender to apply for or engage in child-related employment. That, I think, again goes to keeping the community safe.

The bill strengthens the Sex Offenders Registration Act 2004. It provides additional powers to police, which is important the monitoring and importantly, it does not enable unintended consequences from some young people who could inadvertently get caught up and be put on a sex offenders register, which would have some very detrimental impacts to their lives. As I said, this was highlighted by Ms Pulford when she talked about one of her constituents. It was also in the article I referred to that mentioned some detrimental effects for those young men. I am not sure if it is the same story, but it was very similar.

As Mr O'Donohue has said, he has some comments he would like to clarify with the government through the committee process, but the opposition will not be opposing this bill.

 

 


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