Criminal Law Consolidation (Dishonest Communication with Children) Amendment Bill

Second Reading

The Hon. V.A. CHAPMAN (Bragg—Deputy Premier, Attorney-General) (15:58): The Criminal Law Consolidation (Dishonest Communication With Children) Amendment Bill 2018 amends the Criminal Law Consolidation Act 1935 to include two new offences to apply where an adult communicates with a child and lies about their age or identity seeking to meet with the child or with the intent to commit an offence against that child. Serious penalties will apply.

This bill is prompted by the tragic death in 2007 of Carly Ryan, who was pursued online by an adult predator who pretended to be a teenage boy and groomed, deceived and subsequently murdered Carly after she rejected his advances. Unfortunately, this is just one example of the danger posed by adult predators who use deceptive means in order to make contact with children, but it is Carly's loss to her family that is just so heart wrenching and the ultimate price has been paid. I welcome Carly's mother, Sonya Ryan, to the parliament today and would like to thank her and the Carly Ryan Foundation and its hardworking members. Indeed Carly's brother has also been here today in support of the Carly Ryan Foundation.

A number of people and a number of organisations have raised the broader cyberbullying responses and education programs in the community, and the Carly Ryan Foundation has been at the forefront of the incredibly important work that is done in this area. I am also aware of Ms Ryan's support and contribution at the national level. She now spends time assisting at the national committee and also gives up her own personal time to traverse the country and alert the next generation about what they face and the perils of not seeking protection in this area.

So I am very pleased to be able to introduce this bill, which provides that adults purporting to be children in an attempt to meet up with young girls and boys can be punished for the ruthlessness of their actions. This bill makes it clear that there should be no situation where an adult sexual predator is able to take advantage of a child through deception. What has happened to Carly can happen to any child. The Marshall government is making the protection and wellbeing of children a priority and above all is ensuring community safety is first.

The bill creates two new offences targeting adults who lie about their age to get a child aged under 17 to meet with them. Firstly, it will now be an offence, with a maximum penalty of five years' imprisonment, for a person to communicate with a child and say that they are younger than they really are or that they are someone else and then meet or arrange to meet the child. Secondly, if a person communicates with a child and says that they are younger than they really are or that they are someone else and they also have the intention of committing a crime against a child, there will now be an offence punishable by a maximum of 10 years' imprisonment.

The offences in the bill apply to persons who are or who are over the age of 18 years. A child is defined as a person under the age of 17 years. This bill will promote the safety of children and counter the danger posed by adult predators who use deceptive means in order to make contact with children. The offences in this bill, we hope, will act as a very clear deterrent to such predatory behaviour and will provide another mechanism for the early intervention of law enforcement into grooming activity.

What is most important to me is that it will be a law that intervenes to be able to expose or prosecute someone before they have had a chance to actually come into contact with or cause harm to that child, whether through grooming or through direct contact, which will lead to their having a lifelong legacy—as Ms Ryan has pointed out again today—of that type of conduct towards them, if they are lucky enough to survive and not be killed. It is just a horrendous thought, either way.

Again I turn to Ms Ryan and thank her for the tireless work the Carly Ryan Foundation does to protect children, to make them aware and to educate them, and indeed their parents, when they use the internet. Again, as Ms Ryan has pointed out, the internet is a valuable tool in communication and education, but when somebody mischievously and with a prurient interest enters that space for their own gratification and sexual appetite against the interests of children, that must be stopped, and that is something we hope this bill will be effective in doing.

I commend the bill to members. Although this is rather unique legislation, we are intending, if the parliament does approve this legislation, to take it to the national level. The next meeting of attorneys-general is in Western Australia in June, and I will commit, if the parliament does us the honour of ensuring that this legislation is passed, to use our best endeavours to ensure that it is replicated around the country. I table the explanation of clauses.

Debate adjourned on motion of Mr Odenwalder.