Jenny Leong MP on responses to child sexual abuse

Jenny Leong MP, Member for Newtown spoke on behalf of the Greens in support of the bill, but flagged that there is much room for improvement.


Ms JENNY LEONG (Newtown) (11:42): On behalf of The Greens I speak in debate on the Criminal Legislation Amendment (Child Sexual Abuse) Bill 2018 and I offer The Greens' support for the bill. We support the bill and the commitment from the New South Wales Government to implement the recommendations of the royal commission earlier this year. However, I flag that The Greens will move an amendment in the other place to acknowledge and recognise a significant shortcoming in this bill. My Greens colleague David Shoebridge will move an amendment to seek to remedy the omission in the bill of the royal commission recommendation to remove the seal of the confessional for child sexual abuse. The royal commission found that the confessional was an obstacle to justice and unambiguously recommended that the seal be removed. Unfortunately, this bill does not include that recommendation and my Greens colleague David Shoebridge in the other place will move an amendment to remedy that.

The bill makes a number of amendments to the criminal law following the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. The recommendations in the bill are most of the basic criminal justice reforms, but we note that there are a number of outstanding recommendations about police response and charging policy, investigations, evidence policy and procedure, judicial directions and other areas. We will continue to monitor the progress of the implementation of those reforms. This bill will create a new offence of concealing child abuse offences, which is modelled on the existing section 316. Adults who knew or reasonably should have known child abuse offences have been committed will have to provide that information to the police or face prosecution. That is good, but, as with the existing section 316, it still requires the Attorney General to consent to a prosecution if it is against a member of a profession identified in the regulations. The current regulations include, amongst other things, lawyers and members of the clergy.

While lawyers must be able to hold confidential information given to them by their clients, the same cannot be said of priests. Under this new proposed law there will continue to be special treatment for members of the clergy and special protections for the confessional. It makes the prosecution of a priest for failing to disclose child abuse evidence a political matter, and that should no longer be the law. As I have said, the royal commission unambiguously recommended that this not be the case, and The Greens are committed to seeing that recommendation upheld. We urge members in the other place who are considering this legislation and are having conversations about it in their party rooms and amongst their colleagues, to consider supporting that recommendation.

The Catholic Church has long argued that the confessional should be above the law and, to date, has had the support of the Parliament of New South Wales for that position. The Greens and the royal commission both disagree with that. The idea that we put a confessional above the law cannot be in any way logically argued when we have seen and heard the stories of the harm that has been done to so many young people as a result of many years of abuse and heinous and unspeakable causes of harm. It is clear that the royal commission unambiguously recommended the removal of the confessional as a barrier to reporting, and that is why The Greens will move an amendment to address that issue.

Ireland made changes in 2015 with the Children First Act, which introduced mandatory reporting for clergy. Other jurisdictions in Australia have committed to implementing the royal commission recommendation, with South Australia and the Australian Capital Territory already committed to legislating it. This is a test of the good faith of the Government. We call on all members in this House and in the upper House to consider supporting this amendment. I cannot imagine the pain and the impact on the survivors of such abuse. I cannot imagine the impact of this kind of abuse on their families, their loved ones and their communities. I thank all of the brave survivors and people who have spoken out with such courage and resilience and with such a commitment to standing up against injustice. The Greens will continue to stand with them in their long road to see the implementation of all the recommendations. I believe we should do everything we can to prevent the protection of anything that would in any way enable harm to occur to children. I urge everyone in the other House to support The Greens amendment.

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