Child safety is everyone’s responsibility. Thanks to the Labor Government’s Children Legislation Amendment Bill 2019 – which was passed through the Victorian Parliament this week – will now mean that Religious and spiritual leaders in Victoria must report child abuse to authorities, even if it was heard in the confessional, under historic new laws passed by the Andrews Labor Government.
Member for Northern Victoria, Mark Gepp MP, who stood in Parliament on Tuesday to support the Children Legislation Amendment Bill 2019 – said that “this landmark reform is in recognition of the many years of hard work by the thousands of brave and courageous survivors, families and advocates who have told their stories, reliving their nightmares – in their unwavering quest for genuine reform.”
“Without these people and the work undertaken by the Betrayal of Trust Inquiry and the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse – these changes may never have happened.”
“We promised that we would put the safety of children ahead of religion at the last election and and I am so proud to say that we have delivered on that commitment.”
Mandatory reporting refers to the legal requirement for nominated professional groups to report a reasonable belief of physical or sexual child abuse to authorities.
In addition, the new laws ensure disclosures of abuse during religious confession are not exempt under the Failure to Disclose offence contained in the Crimes Act – meaning those who don’t report abuse face up to three years in prison.
Priests and spiritual leaders in religious ministries will now join teachers, police, medical practitioners, nurses, school counsellors, early childhood and youth justice workers as mandated reporters.
“This legislation is not about diminishing the religious rights and freedoms of citizens, nor does it imply that all child abuse occurs within religious organisations – we know that crimes against children are unfortunately perpetrated in many corners of society.”
The reforms also allow survivors of sexual and non-sexual institutional abuse to apply to the courts to overturn unfair historical compensation payments.
“This legislation is saying very loudly, very clearly and unequivocally that the safety, wellbeing and protection of our children is PARAMOUNT and nothing is more important than that.”
Other reforms passed to strengthen the protection of children include:
- Limiting the right of appeal to VCAT for people whose Working with Children Check (WWCC) application is rejected if they have been charged with, convicted or found guilty of a Category A offence as an adult. These offences are the most serious offences and include murder and rape
- Allowing siblings where one is Aboriginal and the other is not, to both be a part of the Aboriginal Children in Aboriginal Care program, ensuring better connection to culture and community for children in care
- Clarifying that immunisation is part of routine medical care, guaranteeing vaccines for children in out-of-home care and protecting vulnerable children and adults across the entire community.
These reforms respond directly to recommendations from the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.
“This legislation is about our children and their rights to live a life free of abuse and to be protected wherever we can from the evils that lurk in our society. It is this parliament and the people of Victoria forever saying that, ‘nothing is more important in our community than you, our children, and we will never place anything before your welfare’.”
“I thank all the abuse survivors, the families of survivors or those lost, advocates and Parliamentarians who helped us deliver these reforms. Sadly we cannot undo the harm done, the trauma and grief that they face every single day. My hope is that the survivors and families can heal and find peace knowing that they helped ensure that this never happens again.”
In November 2012, Prime Minister Julia Gillard established the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.
During its five year process, the Royal Commission reported many key statistics including:
- 16,953 people were heard by the Royal Commission
- Of these, 7,981 child sexual abuse survivors recounted their experience in private sessions
- There was a further 1,344 written accounts of abuse submitted to the Royal Commission
- 2,562 were referred to police by the Royal Commission
- 58.1% of survivors reported that their abuse occurred in an institution managed by a religious organisation
- 1 in 10 people who spoke to the commission, had never before told anyone about the sexual abuse they experienced as a child.
The legislation delivers on a Victorian Government election commitment to: a) include people in religious ministry as mandatory reporters to Child Protection, including reporting information disclosed during religious confessions, and b) ensure that information disclosed during religious confession is not exempt from the ‘failure to disclose’ offence.
This will acquit recommendations 7.3 and 7.4 of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.
Check out my speech in Parliament here: