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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2021 Week 05 Hansard (Tuesday, 11 May 2021) . . Page.. 1223 ..

I move:

That the Assembly take note of the paper.

DR PATERSON (Murrumbidgee) (10.12): I thank Minister Berry for the work that she is doing in establishing the sexual assault prevention and response program. This is a very complex, sensitive and emotional issue. We need to ensure that we have world-class leadership here in the ACT in relation to addressing sexual assault.

The methods through which we, as a government and a community, will achieve this are many and varied. We will require long-term cultural change. A coordinated and strategic program that includes all stakeholders, including victim survivors themselves, is critical.

I commend Minister Berry and all stakeholders on coming together to consider, review and assess our current situation and “where to”. Minister Berry’s proposed program for prevention, response and law reform will ensure that a targeted and focused effort is brought to education and awareness, victim support and criminal justice.

Broad community education is paramount to ensure that we have an understanding about respectful relationships and a core principle in our city that sexual activity without consent is illegal and will not be tolerated.

Victim survivor support is absolutely critical. Victims must feel comfortable and confident that they can report incidents of sexual assault and know that they will be taken seriously, their complaint will be investigated, and they will be supported.

Law reform is another critical component to addressing sexual assault. Across Australia, we see many jurisdictions reform sexual assault legislation to be in line with contemporary community standards. Much of this process hinges on the definition of consent, as well as other matters. The definition of consent in the ACT Crimes Act and legal system is outdated and out of step with community expectations. It continues to rely on the notion of non-consensual sexual activity being that in which a person actively resists a sexual act.

We need to turn this around 180 degrees so that non-consensual sexual activity is, instead, commonly understood and interpreted in our legal system and law courts to be that where a person has not positively communicated their agreement or willingness to participate in the act. This is a much more nuanced approach and is often referred to as a model of communicative affirmative consent—that is, a person clearly indicates their agreement to participate in the act, rather than relying on the starting point that the victim has to prove that they did not agree to the act.

Our legal definition of consent should be based on the principle of a person giving free and voluntary consent—not where a person may agree to participate in a sexual act only because of force, fear, intimidation, threat or other forms of coercion or mental and emotional abuse.

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