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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2018 Week 06 Hansard (Thursday, 7 June 2018) . . Page.. 2184 ..

58.6 per cent—said that they were sexually abused in an institution managed by a religious organisation. While the original legislation would certainly cover those instances where the abuse was perpetrated by teachers and those in a school setting, people in religious ministries were equally implicated in the proceedings. It was a gross oversight not to include them in the first place. I commend the government for rectifying this gap.

I would like to address an aspect of the legislation that causes some concern in the community. There was an article about it in today’s Canberra Times. This is the step towards the inclusion of religious confession. I commend the government for taking this step. The royal commission clearly states:

Laws concerning mandatory reporting to child protection authorities should not exempt persons in religious ministry from being required to report knowledge or suspicions formed, in whole or in part, on the basis of information disclosed in or in connection with a religious confession.

The royal commission goes further in recommending that representations be made to the Pope to amend canon law to exclude child sex abuse allegations from confessional privilege. I would like to say very clearly on the record that there is no room in our multi-faith and secular society for exempting the practices of one particular religious organisation from the obligation to report and respond to child sex abuse allegations. Preventing the ability to cover up such abuses of trust and power is not a matter of religious freedom, faith or beliefs. It is about protecting children.

On balance, the government has taken a measured approach in allowing a nine-month transitional period to do the work to address any legal or legislative uncertainty. As I have clearly said, I endorse the inclusion of religious institutions as a designated entity in the legislation. However, it is important to note that it does not, by itself, address some of the other gaps that currently exist. There is a lack of protection for vulnerable adults.

We already know that people with disabilities suffer sexual assault at disproportionately higher rates, as high as 90 per cent for some groups. As I called for last year, if the reportable conduct scheme cannot be extended to cover these groups, the government needs to examine what other robust protections for these vulnerable adults can be introduced.

Without clear and mandatory reporting, this group will remain reliant on good intentions. As we have clearly seen in the royal commission process, all too often this means they are unprotected. It would be a terrible tragedy to have to wait for the outcomes of another royal commission to prevent further harm for people with disabilities, who we know are at a higher risk of sexual assault than the wider population.

Promoting a child-safe and child-friendly city is about more than the obligation to report child abuse. It is about the ability to respond and provide support that is timely and appropriate when abuse does happen, to hopefully minimise the harm caused and prevent the terrible repercussions of trauma left unacknowledged and untreated.

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