You are here

Criminal Code Amendment (Sexual Abuse Terminology) Bill 2020

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Thursday, 19 March 2020

Tags: Legislation, Justice

Dr WOODRUFF (Franklin) - Madam Deputy Speaker, I rise to provide the Greens' support on the changes to the terminology in a number of subsections to section 124 of the Criminal Code. For one section of that act, quite a degree of thinking and careful consideration has gone into the proposed changes from many different bodies.

I will start with the work of the Tasmania Law Reform Institute in their Sexual Offences Against Young People paper. These discussions have been around in the legal profession and the community for much longer than that report, which was in October 2012, but I think the genesis of this amendment bill has been a long time coming in the community and legal professions. It is not a simple matter to weigh up the issues of naming, and consider the issues of consent. In this bill we are talking about acts between people who may be 12 to 15 years of age, or people who might be 15 to 20.5 years old.

There are actually lines that are made, that do obviously differ - the mental capacity for consent, the age at which a person is making a decision, and their ability to be aware of the entirety of the impact it is having on themselves and the other person. These are not hard lines, where on our 15th birthday or our 12th birthday or our 20th or 21st birthday, we do not all achieve the same level of maturity and social ability and emotional selves. We are all different beings, and so moving to make changes to law for people who are under the formally recognised age of consent of 18 years is a very murky area, and we tread cautiously. We have to think about the impacts on each case that has come before the courts.

Saying that, of course the year of 18 is often contentious in many different areas - the move of the rights of people the age of 16 years and older, for example, to vote. There are strong moves that have been in place for a long time to grant the right to vote for 16 year olds and older, not having to achieve the age of 18. It has been a longstanding policy of the Tasmanian and Australian Greens that people of that age ought to be able to make decisions about their future. Clearly we take these matters on a case-by-case basis and here we are talking about the impacts on children and young people.

I preface our support for this bill by recognising the serious intent that people brought to the submissions they prepared on this matter. I thank them for the thought they have given to this matter. They include the Community Legal Centres, the Tasmanian Bar, the Tasmanian Law Reform Institute, academic Dr Helen Cockburn from UTAS, the Australian Lawyers Alliance, the Commissioner for Children and Young People, End Rape on Campus, Engender Equality, No More, TasCOSS and the Sexual Assault Support Service. They are the ones I have been able to access and I apologise to those who I have not been able to refer to, if there were more. These bodies represent a significant diversity of views in Tasmania.

We are persuaded that supporting the bill in the form it is in is the right thing to do. We recognise that the term 'relationship' in an act in law has a particular prescribed meaning, which many in the community do not accept or understand because it is not daily parlance. Whilst it can be justified in a legal context to keep the term 'relationship' in terms of maintaining a sexual relationship, and whilst it could be argued technically that it is appropriate and has a meaning in law, it manifestly no longer keeps apace with the view of the community about acts of sexual abuse of a child or young person, and 'the persistent sexual abuse of a child or young person', which is the proposed new charge in place of 'maintaining a sexual relationship with a young person', which was there.

I had a couple of small questions, and I can understand what the Attorney-General will say, but I would like to get on the record one of the comments raised by the Community Legal Centres around 125A(d), which we have been talking about, around the use of the word 'permitting' instead of 'persistent'. I understand that 'persistent' might have been chosen because it is about an action that has been taken more than once and therefore best captures what a relationship is meant to be, which is continual action, not a single action. It was their recommendation to make the change to 'permitting'.

I wondered whether the minister could comment on the reason for 'persistent' in subclause 5(d). In subclause 5(h), replacing 'communication' with the term 'grooming', could she please discuss the meaning of the term 'grooming' in that context? I understand the meaning of the term 'grooming' in another context. It is probably defined but could you clarify the use of that term?

There are many other things that could be said on this bill but I am also of a mind that we have a commitment to keeping our contributions as short as possible. On this matter, I am comfortable to leave our contribution there and to thank the staff for the work they have done in this space and to support the changes proposed in the amendment bill.