Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2008 Week 09 Hansard (Thursday, 21 August 2008) . . Page.. 3510 ..
piece of legislation puts into place recommendations made three years ago. It complements some other reforms made by the attorney about 12 months ago in relation to other aspects of sexual assault issues and law. We are very happy to see it introduced and will be happy to see it passed before this Sixth Assembly finishes next week. The opposition welcomes the legislation and will be supporting it.
DR FOSKEY (Molonglo) (7.47): This bill is aimed at providing greater protection for the victims and witnesses of sexual and violent offences, and this is an aim that I commend. Assaults of this nature bring lasting damage to victims and the court process, as it stands, can often exacerbate their suffering. Often, as noted by other members, victims can withdraw from the court process or be too frightened or distressed to commit to legal proceedings. This has a huge impact on their wellbeing, and thus the wellbeing of the community.
The low prosecution rate in sexual abuse cases is a cause for deep concern. I acknowledge that the government is trying to address the problem with this bill. No doubt the changes will give victims a greater sense of safety and personal dignity in legal proceedings. This is an undeniably positive development which is long overdue.
The 2005 report Responding to sexual assault: the challenge of change by the sexual assault response program team, thereafter called SARP, which prompted this legislation is informative and raises some key issues for the judicial process. I would like to run through a couple of points that I have noted from the report.
The majority of recommendations are necessary and reasonable, and I am shocked that the SARP team even needed to raise some of them. I would have thought that things such as having guidelines for the investigation of sexual offences and ensuring that the sexual assault and child abuse team leaders were familiar with them would already be a part of ACT Policing policy.
The liaison with the Canberra Rape Crisis Centre on each case is also common sense and no doubt does much to help victims. I hope that the recommendations around improving liaison have been implemented. I also hope that funding for the centre has been increased in line with the extra workload. I hope that the recommendations surrounding training for personnel involved in the interviewing and liaison with victims and witnesses are implemented, and I would be interested in learning the progress of the victim one-stop shops.
Recommendation 12.1 of the report states:
A working group should be established in the ACT—along the lines of the Child Sexual Assault Jurisdiction Team Education Working Group in New South Wales—with representatives of the judiciary and magistracy, the Director of Public Prosecutions, Legal Aid, the Bar Association, the Law Society and other relevant organisations to discuss and plan training for judges and magistrates on legal and other aspects of sexual offences and child witnesses.
What is the status of this working group? Were they involved in the consultation on this bill? Perhaps the minister will respond on that one. Has a specialist sexual offences unit been established in the DPP? Will resources to the DPP be increased to allow for the extra workload that such recommendations and the government’s spate of law and order bills will create?