Mr RAMSEY (Grey—Government Whip) (18:59): There is very little that sickens me more than the prospect of child sexual abuse, it must be said. It is one of the most heinous crimes and it is right that we should move to harden up the stance of the laws in Australia against people who would even contemplate such behaviour. We have had the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse and, quite rightly, that royal commission has handed down a list of recommendations, many of which are being addressed in this legislation. One would hope that the spotlight being shone on institutional abuse has led to a great decline in it. Of course, we have fewer children in institutions in any case in this day and age. But it would seem to me that, while we may be improving in that area, in the general public, in non-institutionalised areas, the incidence of child sexual abuse and other abuses seems to be on the rise. So, while we might be saying we are cleaning up one part of our society, it feels as though we’re losing ground on another and we need to send a strong message from this place that it will not be tolerated.
Before I get onto the legislation, it does make me reflect on the modern environment and the proliferation of pornography generally—even soft pornography. If you turn on the television on a Saturday morning, you will see music video clips which are sexually explicit and are clearly aimed at children. I mean, is it any surprise that they grow up into adults who are less than savoury with poor judgement in these areas? I’m not a psychologist. I’m not a scientist who can prove the link, but it seems to me, as someone who sees themselves as a middle Australian, it is hard to deny that that type of thing should be influencing people. Some violent video games are so horrific, so life-like now. Where do the lines stop blurring for some people?
I think with this legislation we’re doing the right thing, but in time this parliament is going to have to bring itself to address some of these other issues. Children are being exposed, as I said, at younger and younger ages to more explicit material. We defend the rights of adults to behave in any manner they wish so long as it doesn’t impact on other individuals, and that’s a good enough position to take. But if behaviour behind closed doors is actually influencing their behaviour beyond the closed doors—and who’s to say it’s not—then perhaps we need to intervene in that area as well. I will sound like some 19th-century censorship agent here, but we just cannot turn a blind eye to what is happening around us and sort of deny cause and effect. I just put those remarks in there because I think that is something that we are going to have to consider.
To come to the legislation: one of the things it will do is make it an offence to turn a blind eye, to walk past the crime. As we know, many people in public positions, particularly in schools, have had mandatory reporting for some time, quite rightly. Well, this legislation puts mandatory reporting on everybody’s back. If you’re aware of a child being abused and you do not act on it, if you don’t notify police, if you don’t move to do something to intervene—don’t put your own life in jeopardy—or make it known then you’ll be committing an offence, I think, quite rightly. I’ll only be able to paraphrase it but, whoever it was who said the crime we walk by is the one we tolerate, the one we endorse, was completely right. It strengthens laws, quite rightly again, against Australians sexually abusing children overseas. This is really difficult to police. When you think about it, what a low, miserable act it is, to go somewhere where people are poor and take advantage of their children, abuse them and leave them in a pile of rubble in a distant country. It’s simply not good enough.
This bill also seeks to change the language, the way that we refer to these events. Possessing child pornography will disappear as an offence. It will be known as child abuse material. We’ll call it for what it is. Hopefully, that will continue to raise the public ire and public intolerance of this type of behaviour. The bill will alter the language around forced marriage. It tightens the definition and also attempts to reach overseas, so that Australians that may be involved in forced marriages offshore will be committing offences as well. It’s worth reading one of the subsections that apply here. A marriage is forced if it’s entered into without full and free consent ‘because of the use of coercion, threat or deception’ or ‘because the victim was incapable of understanding the nature and effect of the marriage ceremony’—and the explanatory memorandum says in brackets ‘for reasons such as age and mental capacity’. Subsection 270.7A(4) provides that a person under 16 years of age is presumed, unless the contrary is proven, to be incapable of understanding the nature and effect of the marriage ceremony.
I commend that language. I commend the process behind that bill. Last year there were 18,000 reports of child exploitation in Australia. It really makes one blanch, doesn’t it:18,000 reports last year. As the Prime Minister has noted, 28 per cent of child sex offenders convicted federally did not spend a day in jail. I wonder whether we’re already committing an offence under this act by turning a blind eye and walking past the offence. I don’t think that’s good enough. I don’t think any caring parent thinks it’s good enough. I certainly don’t want people who would commit those kinds of acts living next door to my children or grandchildren. I’m sure no other caring parent does. So we ramp up the penalties, we ramp up the language, we attempt to influence public opinion and to come out more strongly in defence of those that are most defenceless in our society.
We will make the possession of childlike sex dolls a criminal offence. I note that there has been some debate in the newspapers about therapeutic sex dolls and whatever. Maybe, but I struggle to be convinced. I don’t know what makes a huge difference between a childlike one and an adultlike one. I don’t like either of them, quite frankly, but we are moving in this area, as we should. This bill also will criminalise online dealings in child abuse material; that is, the transmission, distribution, accessing or soliciting of material. Once again, so it should.
This bill seeks to implement many of the recommendations of the royal commission. As I said, while not every member of parliament may speak on it, I think there would be 151 members of this House that certainly support the views that are put forward in this bill, and I would assume there will be 76 senators in the other place. We should all abhor child sexual abuse. I strongly commend this bill to the House. We should work together to try to stamp out this abomination.