The lower house has passed a government bill making it a crime for commonwealth officers not to report incidents of child abuse.
The laws, introduced to Parliament by the Minister for Home Affairs Peter Dutton, will also make it illegal for federal officers to fail to protect children under their care through their job, from sex abuse.
Commonwealth officers could face three years’ prison for failing to report abuse, and five years for failing to protect children under their care from sexual abuse.
The legislation passed through the House of Representatives on Sept. 12 and is expected to breeze through the Senate with the backing of an upper house committee.
Labor, now led by opposition Anthony Albanese, has voted to support the bill after it stymied the bill last year due to what it called the inflexible nature of mandatory sentencing.
But shadow attorney-general Mark Dreyfus warned that the opposition would monitor the laws as they come into operation, citing concerns from certain legal experts that there is virtually no defence available for commonwealth officers who don’t report child abuse.
He also said the legal experts were concerned that people would still have to report abuse, even if any information was self-incriminating.
“We will be watching the government’s next steps closely, to ensure that those measures are appropriately and competently implemented,” Dreyfus said.
The draft laws have strengthened protection for children by lowering the minimum number of offences from three occasions of abuse to two, as well as introducing a mandatory sentencing scheme and increasing the maximum penalties that can be given.
It also criminalises the possession of child-like sex dolls, and targets forced marriage to increase protections for children.
Dutton said on Sept. 3 that the Australian Federal Police received almost 18,000 reports of child exploitation involving Australian children or Australian child sex offenders last year—almost double that of 2017.
“Sentences need to reflect community expectations and act as a significant deterrent to others, which is why these sorts of despicable crimes must result in significant penalties, not simply a slap on the wrist which is often the case,” he continued. “Our Government is at war with these predators and all those who would seek to do harm to children. The message we are sending to paedophiles is that it won’t matter how good their lawyer is, a prison cell will be waiting for them when they are convicted.”
Environment minister Sussan Ley said child sexual abuse was a “global epidemic” that was becoming more serious and dangerous.
In the past year, only 72 children were removed from harm, leading to 83 people arrested and charged with a total of nearly 350 offences, Ley said.
“Importantly, 18 new victims have been identified. These are children depicted in child sexual abuse materials previously not known by Australian or foreign law enforcement,” she said. “More can, and must be done.”
Once passed, the new laws will implement a number of recommendations from the royal commission into institutional responses to child sexual abuse.
With reporting by Epoch Times staff.