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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2001 Week 8 Hansard (9 August) . . Page.. 2651 ..

MR OSBORNE (continuing):

Mr Speaker, this bill recognises the growing use of stalking offences that now occur through advances in electronic forms of communication, such as email and the Internet. Research, both in Australia and overseas, shows that the Internet allows electronic stalking with virtual impunity. Our stalking laws were updated fairly recently. However, according to some sources, including the Australian Institute of Criminology, there is a further need for clarity. This bill attempts to provide that.

Mr Speaker, the terms "cyberstalking" and "child predator" are now commonly used to describe two activities where the Internet has become the means of committing various stalking offences. Although this bill does not use these terms, I shall still explain them briefly. Cyberstalking occurs when a person stalks another person using electronic forms of communication. In most regards, it is the same as more traditional forms of stalking in that the intent is to persistently cause fear or harm to a victim. However, given the latest technology, distance is no longer a factor in this type of stalking. In order to provide for consistent rulings, the law should reflect that fact.

Legislating against cyberstalking is difficult as it uses a completely new medium of communication. As the Internet crosses both state and international boundaries, it can be unclear who has jurisdiction in certain circumstances. Whilst this problem also applies to most other types of computer-related crimes, I understand that legislation currently before the federal parliament will go some way to assisting this country to resolve some of those difficulties.

The second term, child predator, refers to those who intentionally focus their stalking activities on children. At one end of the spectrum are paedophiles who trawl through the Internet chat rooms seeking children to prey on and at the other are those intent on scaring children with email messages that contain lewd or violent material. Extensive scientific research in the United States shows that one child in five who use the Internet in that nation is now hunted by a child predator each year. As an aside, Mr Speaker, I heard on the radio this morning of the arrest in the United States in the last day or two of some people who headed a major child pornography ring and who used the Internet quite extensively. From what I heard this morning, they had a turnover of well over $3 million a year for this type of material.

Instead of hanging around schools and playgrounds, as they used to, many paedophiles now contact their intended victims through the relative safety of anonymous chat rooms. They seek out lonely and troubled kids, befriend them and then work clever schemes to trick them into a meeting. There have been horrific instances of such activity. Unfortunately, as is occasionally reported in the media, we are not immune to these types of people in Australia, nor even in Canberra.

A survey I conducted last month at MacKillop College, with the help of the school staff there, convinced me that we have a significant problem here, too. Of the 238 students surveyed 42, or 27 per cent, said that they had been contacted by someone they considered to be a child predator. A third of those contacted also said that they had not told anyone about the encounter. In response to these results, I have looked for ways to warn and educate parents and their children about the safe use of the Internet. In recent days, I have distributed a leaflet to homes that, hopefully, does that. This legislation is a further response to ensure that our law is as useful as it can be to protect families and successfully prosecute offenders.

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