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Criminal Code & Related Legislation Amendment (Child Abuse) Bill 2018 (No 63)

August 15, 2019

[3.21 p.m.]


Ms ARMITAGE (Launceston) - Mr President, I really appreciate the briefings that were organised. I also appreciated the letter from the honourable Elise Archer last year with regard to the draft copy of the Criminal Code bill. This was very useful to have so we could comment on it. I ask the Leader to pass on my appreciation to Elise Archer for that.


Like other people, we were all shocked and horrified by the revelations from the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse and I am sure, like many others, we all know someone or have friends involved.

I have a friend who gave evidence. Of the two people I know who are involved in this, one is in their 60s and the other is in their 70s and they have never been able to get over it. It is forever part of their life regardless of moving on. In one case they got married, divorced, married, divorced - it is still part of them. The first thing one particular person does when they meet you is to tell you about their situation. It is still affecting their lives even though they have been through counselling and many other aspects of trying to heal themselves.


Broadly speaking, the royal commission's recommendations were to prevent abuse or at the very least identify it, improve the way perpetrators are investigated, prosecuted and sentenced, and improve survivors' access to justice and ongoing support.


I will briefly go on about the Church, because the member for Murchison went on for a considerable time. I note the inclusion of people in the religious ministry as mandatory reporters or notifiers and admit I was concerned people might not seek counselling. That was a concern of mine. I listened to the hearings yesterday and wondered whether making priests mandatory reporters would stop people getting help or counselling.


I have always believed that if a priest reported to another priest, they certainly should have been reported to the archbishop. However, having read many documents, including the one sent to us, the Criminal Code and Related Legislation Amendment (Child Abuse) Bill, I now have no problem with priests being mandatory reporters. This is what comes from briefings. You ask questions, receive evidence and it can change your mind.


Mrs Hiscutt - Are you referring to the document from Steve Fisher from Beyond Abuse? They are not all from the Criminal Code and Related Legislation Amendment (Child Abuse) Bill 2018 briefing?


Ms ARMITAGE - Yes.


Mrs Hiscutt - That came from Beyond Abuse.

Ms ARMITAGE - Thank you. It did not have any name on it, but it was among my documents and I found it very useful. Page 4 states the Anglican Church has already done this. It has ruled at its national synod that the confidentiality of the confessional does not apply to reported child abuse.


In January 2014 the Doctrine Commission of the Anglican Church of Australia produced its report to the Standing Committee on Confidentiality and Confessions updated and reinforced in 2017.


I found other comments in the report useful, as well as some of the other things mentioned by those briefing us. For example, evidence before the royal commission is that offenders have confessed to abusing children and their confessions have formed part of the cycle of repeat offending, absolving the offenders of feelings of guilt, remorse and responsibility so they then go on to reoffend.


With evidence like that, I certainly have no problem with priests being mandatory reporters. I do not know how they will actually do it. I think it could be difficult in the confessional. I too went to a Catholic school and I can remember saying, 'Bless me Father, for I have sinned'. It was just something you had to do when you went to church, once a fortnight. I must admit I have not been to Confession for about 30 or 40 years. My husband tells me, 'You Catholics can do what you like when you go to church. You say you are sorry, and you get absolved and do it again'. He is a Quaker, so it is different to my being a Catholic, but he finds it quite amusing we can actually do that - we can be absolved of whatever sin we have committed and can start afresh.


Mr Finch - I had a Catholic upbringing too.


Ms ARMITAGE - I might be due to go to church and maybe will get absolved of a few sins I have. I am not going to disclose anything at the lectern.


Any argument against mandatory reporting based on the alleged impedance of the Catholic Church's ability to counsel offenders falls over when the evidence of the Church's actual history of counselling offenders is examined and did come from that document. Thank you for pointing out its origins.


After talking to the member for Windermere, I came to an understanding about mandatory reporting. There are so many documents; I found it easier not to write a speech because there are so many different issues. Mandatory reporting is really a personal issue. If a parent is aware one of their children is being abused by the other parent - obviously it can go either way - because of the Evidence Act, if, for example, a mother is abusing a child, the father may not want to report it because they may try to keep the family together, so they hope it stops and try to help the other parent. Once it is reported, the family obviously is totally dissolved. This was not mentioned.


When we are talking about people reporting abuse, a parent would know more than anyone else a child is being abused. How does this affect the Evidence Act with parents giving evidence, or a husband and wife giving evidence against each other? I would hate to see a mother or father have a charge against them for not reporting the reasons that might be behind it, but the child is paramount.


The other area is grooming. It is a shame the member for Windermere is not here - he is probably listening. When we were on the Launceston City Council, a gentleman in Launceston was grooming young children, male and female. I am not sure whether the member for Rosevears was aware of this, but a lot of people were. This man used to invite children to his home. It was quite a substantial home; he was quite a wealthy man. He lived in Brisbane Street, not far from my home. The police were well aware. The police had said to me, 'Can you bring it up in council?' because they could not raise it. They knew the background but they could not divulge it.


I am pleased the issue of grooming has been raised because it is more prevalent than we realise. The member for Windermere might like to mention the gentleman in Launceston in relation to grooming. You will recall, member for Windermere, when we were both on council a number of young children and teenagers were given alcohol at this gentleman's house. It turned out it was a grooming situation. I am pleased to see grooming is in the legislation because it is a difficult situation that is difficult to prove.


We all know people who have been abused. Some of the evidence in the royal commission reports made me quite upset. Realistically, it is terrible and hard to imagine how they can ever get over it - knowing a couple of people in that situation, I know they have not.


I am not going to go on for long because the Leader covered this well in her speech. The fact sheet was very informative and useful. I certainly will support the bill in its entirety and I thank the Leader for bringing it forward.

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