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Mandatory Reporting of Offences of Child Sexual Abuse


Cassy O'Connor MP

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Thursday, 21 June 2018

Tags: Royal Commission on Institutional Responses to Childhood Sexual Abuse, Child Abuse, Catholic Church

Ms O'CONNOR question to the ATTORNEY-GENERAL, Ms ARCHER

The Catholic Church in Tasmania has vowed to defy law reform that would remove the protections on the confessional and ensure priests mandatorily report instances of child sexual abuse. The church leadership sent the strongest possible message to priests not to comply with the law when it is enacted. I note section 298 of the Criminal Code makes it an offence to incite a person to commit a crime. Given what the royal commission heard about the church's role in enabling and covering up the abuse of children, on behalf of survivors and all Tasmania's children and young people, will you condemn this statement by church leadership? What will you do to ensure the Catholic Church in Tasmania is not above the law and no longer able to cover up child sexual abuse as it has with such devastating, lifelong consequences for those abused by its clergy in the past?

 

ANSWER

Madam Speaker, I thank the member for her question on this important issue. In responding to the recommendations of the royal commission, of which I tabled the initial response yesterday, the focus of this Government is on delivering what is in the best interests of Tasmania's children. This includes our acceptance in principle of reforms relating to mandatory reporting laws to include those in the religious ministry as mandatory reporters alongside other mandatory reporters that currently exist, as well as lifting the veil on the confessional for the purposes of such reporting.

I accept that this is a significant step and one that is difficult for the Catholic Church. The Government is already engaging with the leadership of the Catholic Church on this and I will continue to do so. However, I do not intend to have a running commentary of my engagement with the church. I will say that we will continue to consult with all stakeholders on the issues that impact them.

The findings of the royal commission revealed the way in which institutions across the spectrum have failed our children in the past. This Government is committed to doing all we can to prevent it from happening again. I agree this may be a contentious issue in some quarters. Some may find it difficult, but we must learn from our past and put the safety of children above all else.

As I have said, it is expected that all members of the community will comply with the laws of the state in which they live. That is how our society functions. Although I understand the importance of canon law to the Catholic Church, the Government believes that these changes are important and we will pursue them. As I have indicated previously, our preference is for national consistency in this regard so we need to actively engage on this point with other jurisdictions, my state and territory counterparts and federally as well, but this is an area of state law.

We will implement these changes. Obviously the form that it takes needs to be considered. As I said yesterday, there is a lot more work to do. Yesterday we tabled an initial response to the 409 recommendations, which were very lengthy. I trust that the royal commission in its findings considered an enormous amount of evidence to presented to it to get to the point it did and we take those findings very seriously. Given their significance, I have no doubt the royal commission gave careful consideration to the recommendations it made. I reiterate that we have accepted those in principle and will do the work that is necessary to ensure these laws come to fruition.