NSW Attorney-General not considering tougher laws for child abuse concealers
There are no plans to increase the penalty for concealing child sexual abuse offences in New South Wales, the Government says.
Just days before Adelaide Catholic Archbishop Philip Wilson was convicted, Attorney-General Mark Speakman’s office advised Paul Gray, a victim of notorious Anglican paedophile Peter Rushton, that there were no plans to increase the penalty for concealment if the circumstances in the Wilson case occurred again in the future.
His office said the Government was legislating new offences of failure to report and failure to protect against child abuse, as part of a comprehensive package of criminal justice reforms in response to the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.
Mr Gray, who had asked his local Member of Parliament to advocate on his behalf for tougher penalties, said he had been gutted when he received the letter from the NSW Parliamentary Secretary for Justice, David Clarke.
“It is an absolute no-brainer. A no-brainer that the law has to be changed,” Mr Gray said.
“We can make a change from this point of time. We need to protect children.
“They are now giving paedophiles life imprisonment and yet only two years if you know about it and don’t do anything about it.
“Something has to be done about that imbalance because we don’t want other children to go through what we did. We have to put the laws in place.”
A former director of public prosecutions in Wilson’s home state of South Australia labelled the sentence a disgrace and urged New South Wales prosecutors to appeal against its leniency
But advocates for changing the penalty say it is not just about the sentence received.
The more serious the crime, the higher priority it is
Hunter Valley-based Christian church pastor Bob Cotton has been supporting survivors through the royal commission and the trial of Wilson.
He would like the sentence for concealing offences to be increased to at least five years.
“At least five years and then it becomes a serious crime and so the police have to act on it straight away,” he said.
“If it’s a non-serious crime with a sentence of two years, then they don’t have to act on it straight away.
“The sentence handed down to Archbishop Philip Wilson was manifestly inadequate for the damage and ruination it’s caused in the lives of innocent children.”
Mr Cotton said it was good news the Parliamentary Secretary’s letter was written before Wilson’s judgement was handed down.
“Now the public has clearly shown that the judgement given to Wilson is manifestly inadequate,” he said.
“This penalty is not sufficient and people are outraged at the thought that he’s only going to get home detention.”
A longer sentence would also give judges and magistrates greater flexibility.
Mr Cotton said the judiciary would be able to properly punish the criminal and deter those who attempted to conceal a crime.
“I really do hope that he will introduce laws that are going to truly reflect the criminality of the actions of people like Wilson, because there has never been a more pivotal moment in history with these law changes on the table at the moment,” he said.
Chance to lead the way
In the letter forwarded to Mr Gray, the Parliamentary Secretary for Justice said that some sentences, including where a person profited from withholding information on a crime, would be strengthened.
But that is not good enough for Mr Cotton.
“New South Wales must ensure that its laws aren’t impotent,” he said.
“States such as Queensland, Western Australia and South Australia have no provision at the moment for people who conceal serious indictable offences.
“Therefore, whatever New South Wales does is going to be copied by the other states, and if we bring into place impotent and ineffective laws with penalties of only two years’ imprisonment, that’s going to set the standard for the other states.”
Mr Gray said if the opportunity was not taken now, everyone who had sat in the royal commission and re-opened old wounds, “telling their stories through all the shame and humiliation”, would have done it for nothing.
He does not believe the sentence given to Wilson was adequate, but it was “probably about as much as they could give him”.
“That is why it is time to change,” he said.
“We need to protect children. If we don’t protect children, then what sort of society are we?”
All adults required to report information under new law
A NSW Government spokesman told the ABC the Government remained committed to ensuring justice for survivors.
The Criminal Legislation Amendment (Child Sexual Abuse) Bill 2018, which responded to the criminal justice recommendations of the royal commission, passed the NSW Parliament on June 20.
A new failure to report offence will require all adults in NSW to report information to police if they know, believe or reasonably ought to know that a child has been abused.
The maximum penalty for the offence is two years’ imprisonment.