News & Current Affairs

By Peter Woodhouse


Defending the indefensible

Child Sex Offenders and the horrible offences they commit upon vulnerable members of society is about as unpopular a topic as you can think of.  It is unsurprising then that I was somewhat reluctant to write this short blog.

Yesterday, The Federal Justice Minister, Hon Michael Keenan MP announced the “toughest crack down on paedophiles in a generation”.  No doubt the Minister expected his announcement to crack down on the kiddie-fiddlers would be met with applause – and it probably will be.  The problem I have with the announcement (find it here: ) is it contains bald statements of fact that are plainly wrong and misleading.

For example, the media release states:

“Since 2012, only 58.7 per cent of convicted Commonwealth child sex offenders received a term of imprisonment. For those who did, the most common period of actual imprisonment was just six months.” 

That does not ring true.  In order to make his statistics sound better, the Minister appears to be ignoring sentences of imprisonment which are fully or partially suspended and sentences of imprisonment that are served in the community under a relatively new regime called Intensive Corrections Orders (“ICOs”).  At law they are sentences of imprisonment.  Suspended sentences and ICOs often involve specialised intervention and rehabilitation programs focused on providing treatment to ensure these offenders are rehabilitated and their risk of reoffending in a similar way is substantially reduced.  If the offender refuses to comply with the treatment, their order would be breached and they would be returned to full-time custody.

It further states:

“This represents a staggering number of offenders who are released into the community often without any form of monitoring, posing an unacceptable risk to children everywhere.”

That is false – plain and simple.  Almost every person who is convicted of a child sexual offence or an offence involving the use of child pornography is automatically entered on the Child Sex Offender Register of their State or Territory.  Those regimes are tough and they require strict reporting and compliance with various conditions, including living and association restrictions often up to 15 years.

Whilst the text of the Bill has not yet been released to the public, the announcement suggests the amendments will further restrict Judicial discretion , impose a presumption in favour of sentences of full-time imprisonment and mandatory minimum sentences.  Whilst it is all well and good to talk tough on crime, the community – including the most vulnerable members, our children, are best protected by ensuring offenders are properly treated and rehabilitated so they do not reoffend.  Whilst it’s not good for scoring political points, the Government should invest in that area if they really want to make a difference and be open and honest when announcing these matters to the public.