Evidence (Reporting on Sexual Offences) Amendment Bill

Second Reading

I wish to make a few further concluding remarks in relation to this bill. If I have not already, I thank the member for Badcoe, who was the lead speaker on this matter, for her contribution and indication of general support with the qualification that she foreshadowed that the opposition may move an amendment in another place, and I am happy to canvass that further in committee.

Can I also say that we have had the next wave of campaign from The Advertiser, and, indeed, to some degree in relation to a current national campaign that it is running, namely, the secrecy or anti-secrecy push—the right to know. It has had various titles over the years, but the most recent one has been very vocal in relation to the issue that this legislation will resolve.

It will not resolve the whole issue of suppression laws in relation to criminal litigation, and there are a number of other aspects that we need to continue to monitor—and no doubt there is room for improvement—but the reduction in the number of suppression orders generally in our courts is encouraging. Importantly, this will be a very clear message that this government is supporting transparency.

I think that Mr Sean Fewster, as our chief court reporter, has been acknowledged in contributions by members. I, too, wish to thank him for his advocacy in this area, but I also wish to acknowledge Meagan Dillon, who has been participatory in her advocacy in this area as well. They bring to light a litany of cases which should have been exposed, and other members have raised these, but I will also indicate a recent circumstance and the consequence of it not being dealt with.

There was a publication on 15 November last year and it related to a senior person in the State Opera of South Australia. I do not need to repeat his name—it has been in the public arena—because the issue of their name is not pertinent for these purposes. What is important is that this person was charged and he pleaded not guilty to two counts of being in an unlawful sexual relationship with a minor. He also denied an indecent assault and an account in relation to sexual intercourse with a person under 18 years.

Obviously, the allegations were very serious. At the time, back in May 2017—that is, under the time of the previous government—there had been an announcement by the Chairman of the State Opera to simply advise that this person had resigned 'for personal reasons'. Almost simultaneously, the person's alumni profile was removed from the distinguished awards section of the website of one of our universities. People knew about this, people were acting on it, and people were making statements about it but the general public were not allowed to know who this person was.

What is more disturbing to me is that, for the 18-month period during which there was an internal South Australia Police inquiry involving senior officers, the identity could not be published because of this automatic statutory suppression regime. Whilst at the time the police spokesperson conceded that it had taken a lot longer than it should have, in relation to that period of continued concealment as a result of this legislation the real question is: how many children were exposed to this person during that 18 months? How many children may have been vulnerable to some predatory behaviour by this person?

I am not asserting that there were any. I simply make this point: while things are under a secret shield, in cases like this, in this case the person continuing to work with children and young people for that whole 18-month period, how many of them could have been exposed at least to the risk of sexual exploitation or abuse?

This is one of the fundamental reasons for ensuring that once a person is charged they go to the court system and they turn up to court. They have a right to be able to apply, all victims may apply—anyone, for that matter, can apply—for a suppression at that point to protect the interests of a minor, particularly a victim, and the process is from that point, not another 18 months while police or other parties might continue investigations post the charging, post the court hearing until a committal or conviction. That is the current law. That is what we are asking to change, and this is exactly the sort of example that has come forward, where there has been a continued exposure of risk, which is completely unacceptable.

The other aspect is this—and I just reiterate this—it is important to remember, in cases such as this, the reputational damage that can be caused to someone who may be innocent of such an allegation. But what is even more important is that it relates to things such as the cost laws that we have in relation to felonies. People can be charged with murder, they can be acquitted and they are not automatically eligible to line up to say, 'I want my costs back from the state.' The principle that sits behind not giving them that is to ensure that the state or the people of South Australia act without fear that they are prosecuting at that serious level.

There are lower order charges which can result in cost orders being made against the prosecuting body—effectively the state—and they are accepted as being in the category of that being reasonable. But at the high end, we have laws that enable the agencies that represent the people of South Australia, whether they be the police or the DPP and the like, to be able to investigate and prosecute matters without fear that they will have to meet the costs of that.

I commend the bill to the house and I thank all the members who made a contribution to this debate. I have an indication from the member for Badcoe that she has a number of questions. Although I do not have the benefit of excellent advisers that would ordinarily be here, I will assist where I can and take on notice and provide at a subsequent briefing that information to the member.

Bill read a second time.