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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2019 Week 11 Hansard (Tuesday, 24 September 2019) . . Page.. 3790 ..

Child abuse—reporting

Discussion of matter of public importance

MADAM SPEAKER: I have received letters from Ms Cheyne, Ms Cody, Mr Coe, Mr Gupta, Mr Hanson, Mrs Kikkert, Ms Lawder, Ms Le Couteur, Mr Milligan and Mr Pettersson proposing that matters of public importance be submitted to the Assembly. In accordance with standing order 79, I have determined that the matter proposed by Mr Pettersson be submitted to the Assembly, namely:

The importance of Canberrans understanding their obligation to report suspected child abuse following implementation of the Royal Commission recommendation.

MR PETTERSSON (Yerrabi) (3.00): The calling of the royal commission into child sexual abuse was a watershed moment for Australians. Former Prime Minister Julia Gillard implemented a commission, despite resistance from certain areas of the community. The commission highlighted the harrowing experiences of child abuse victims as well as the failings of governments and institutions, either by design or neglect, to protect children from abusers. The royal commission made it clear that governments must do more to combat child abuse and that the legal regime has failed children. As we have seen in countless distressing cases, children are being abused and are falling through the cracks in the system. We need rigorous safeguards in place to protect children.

The ACT government was quick to respond to the recommendations made by the commission and accepted 290 of the 307 recommendations, the ones relevant to our jurisdiction. The new laws brought in by this government followed the recommendations from the royal commission and are a necessary and important step in protecting children. As these laws are now in effect in the ACT it is important for Canberrans to understand what their obligations are.

Importantly, these laws create a new criminal offence for failing to report child abuse to the police. Anyone over 18 years of age who reasonably believes that a child has experienced sexual abuse must report it to police. This law is not just in relation to those who come into contact with children—people like nurses, teachers or coaches—but all Canberrans. Failure to do so can result in jail time. A reasonable belief is when you believe that it is likely that a sexual offence has been committed against a child and that if you gave someone else the information that you have they would think so too.

There are a number of offences that constitute a sexual offences. These include having sexual intercourse with a person under the age of 16; grooming a person under the age of 16; an adult who is in a position of special care, for example a teacher, an employer, or a foster parent of a person under the age of 18, who has sexual intercourse with that minor; possession or production of child pornography; and committing an act of indecency on or in the presence of a child. If any Canberran over the age of 18 believes that these offences are occurring to a child they must report it to police.

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