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Government to push Labor on child abuse crackdown

Type of protection : Granting release

The Coalition will ask MPs to vote on tougher laws for child sex offences when parliament resumes this week in a crackdown on paedophiles that is set to create headaches for Labor, given the party's longstanding opposition to mandatory sentencing.

The Morrison government wants to increase penalties for child sex offenders, including mandatory minimum sentences for the most serious child sex offences under federal laws – such as child sex tourism – and for repeat child sex offenders.

The Coalition says the new laws are needed because "lenient sentencing practices" are not protecting the community from paedophiles, noting 28 per cent of those convicted of federal offences last year did not spend any time in jail.

The Morrison government wants to introduce mandatory minimum sentences for some federal child sex offences.

The Morrison government wants to introduce mandatory minimum sentences for some federal child sex offences. CREDIT:VIKI LASCARIS

"This is totally out of step with community expectations," Attorney-General Christian Porter said.

The government tried unsuccessfully to legislate the changes in the last parliament. Off the back of its election win, it now plans to put Labor under renewed pressure to support the bill, which also includes a maximum life penalty for the most serious federal child sex offences and presumption against bail, to keep offenders in custody while they face trial.

Labor has a long-standing opposition to mandatory sentencing, which is enshrined in its national platform.  But the issue has already created some tensions within the party, as it works out its various policy positions in wake of the election.  Victorian left powerbroker Senator Kim Carr intervened in a caucus meeting in July, when it was suggested the party might back mandatory sentencing in this instance.

Mandatory sentencing has also stirred some dissent on the government benches, with reports Liberal backbencher Russell Broadbent does not support the changes, which would take away judges' discretion.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has changed the cabinet rules to make clear ministers should attend in person.

A spokesperson for shadow attorney-general Mark Dreyfus said the Labor party would wait until a Senate committee report on the bill, due in November, before it confirmed a position. It is expected that if the bill comes to a vote in the House this week, Labor would wave it through, leaving it open to make a change in the Senate.

In September, Labor leader Anthony Albanese said, "I think people who engage in attacks against kids are vile and deserve to have the book thrown at them".  But he cautioned mandatory sentencing can lead to fewer convictions because judges "make the view that because it's mandatory sentencing, all of the circumstances can't be factored in".

Lawyers are also strongly opposed to the change.  According to Shine Lawyers – a major firm representing abuse victims – mandatory sentencing is "unlikely to deter offenders".

The Law Council of Australia also said the plan "imposes unacceptable restrictions on judicial discretion and independence".

"[This] undermines [the] fundamental rule of principles and human rights obligations."

The bill does not deal with all sex abuse cases, many of which come under state laws. Federal laws deal with offences such as travelling overseas for sex tourism and online offences, such as accessing or transmitting child abuse material, or using a carriage service to groom or abuse a child.

This week, parliament is also due to debate the Coalition's controversial drug-testing trial for welfare recipients. The trial hinges on the support of independent senator Jacqui Lambie, who is so far resistant to the idea. But the government remains hopeful it will be able to make a deal with the Tasmanian senator.

The government is also expecting the Senate to back one of its key election announcements: a scheme to help 10,000 first home buyers with their deposit.

Labor supported the scheme almost immediately during the election campaign and is expected to back it again in the upper house. But in a Senate report released on Friday, Labor senators acknowledged there was "very little information" about how it would work.

Source : https://www.smh.com.au/politics/federal/government-to-push-labor-on-child-abuse-crackdown-20191011-p52zv8.html

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