Greens Member for Newtown, Jenny Leong MP has asked the Attorney General to set out a timeline for consent law reform in NSW.
Ms JENNY LEONG (Newtown) (14:59): My question is directed to the Attorney General. Given the urgent need for action to address sexual assault in our society, will you give the House an update on when you will be acting on commitments and the Law Reform Commission report to introduce enthusiastic consent law reform in this place?
Mr MARK SPEAKMAN (Cronulla—Attorney General, and Minister for the Prevention of Domestic Violence) (14:59): I thank the member for Newtown for her question and for her advocacy and passion on this very important issue. We have seen revealed in the last several months some shocking stories of sexual assault on women, including in the very citadel of Federal democracy, our Federal Parliament House. These stories have shocked women in general and indeed the whole nation. I know that there is a groundswell for reform to our laws of consent. That groundswell started with the shocking case of Saxon Mullins a few years ago, in response to which I asked the Law Reform Commission to review the law of consent in New South Wales. In New South Wales the relevant mental element for sexual assault at the moment can be established in one of three ways: if the accused intended to engage in an sexual assault; if the accused was reckless as to sexual assault; or if there were no reasonable grounds for believing that the victim-survivor consented to the sexual act.
The Law Reform Commission has made a number of recommendations, which the Government is considering closely. They include refining the definition of "consent". The recommendations include, in that respect, making it clear that consent cannot happen unless there is an act or a word—a statement—by the complainant that manifests consent. You cannot assume consent; you cannot internalise a thought process about consent. There are some advocates who propose we go further and not only deal with that element of consent but also the mental element—that there be a requirement that inquiries be made or questions asked by the accused. At the moment the taking of reasonable steps is a circumstance to be taken into account when determining whether there are reasonable grounds for believing that there was consent. There are advocates, such as the member for Newtown I believe, who propose to go further. The Government is looking at all of these issues very closely, not just that definition of "consent" but also the state of mind of the accused. The Law Reform Commission recommendations go beyond that to look at questions of education and research into the experience of complainants in the criminal justice process. We are looking at that very closely and I hope that the Government will be in a position to respond to that set of recommendations sooner rather than later.