The NSW government has been accused of passing the buck on child sex reforms and “cherry-picking” which royal commission recommendations to adopt.
Premier Gladys Berejiklian on Tuesday announced expansive law reform addressing 50 of the institutional sex abuse royal commission’s 85 recommendations.
Under the reforms, judges will have the power to sentence people convicted of “persistent” child sex abuse – being two or more instances – to life in prison.
They also include new offences for people who fail to report or protect against child abuse, Ms Berejiklian told reporters in Sydney.
But the announcement stopped short of tackling the seal of confessional.
One of the major recommendations of the royal commission was to force religious leaders to break confidentiality if child abuse is disclosed in the confessional.
Ms Berejiklian said she believes that change should be discussed nationally at the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) meeting.
“They’re complex issues that need to be balanced with what people believe to be religious freedoms,” she said, ABC reported.
But Care Leavers Australasia Network chief executive Leonie Sheedy argued Ms Berejiklian should stand up to the churches.
“They need to be accountable just like every other Australian citizen – we don’t live under canon law, we live under Australian law,” Ms Sheedy said.
“They’re buck-passing. It’s not acceptable to cherry-pick the recommendations you like.”
Ms Sheedy is disappointed with the government’s lack of action on religious reporting but she welcomes the other reforms announced on Tuesday.
The new laws will require courts to consider current sentencing standards rather than those in place when the offences occurred.
Judges will also no longer take into account an offender’s good character when sentencing for historical offences if that good character facilitated the offending.
Four new offences will be established including failing to report child abuse, failing to protect a child from abuse, grooming an adult to gain access to a child and sexual touching of a child under the special care of the offender.
“These historic reforms are designed to deliver survivors the justice they deserve and impose tougher penalties on offenders for their appalling abuse of children,” Ms Berejiklian said.
“NSW continues to lead the nation in its response to the royal commission by introducing one of the state’s largest-ever criminal reform packages.”
Attorney-General Mark Speakman said proving persistent abuse will also now become much easier for victims.
“The problem with the law at the moment is the need to demonstrate specific circumstances, specific times and places,” Mr Speakman told reporters.
“We’re changing that so what you’ll have to prove is an ongoing sexual relationship can be constituted by two or more circumstances.
“It will not be necessary to prove specific times and places to establish the persistent child abuse offence.”
The state government will formally respond to the royal commission in June.
Support for survivors is available through Lifeline 13 11 14, Blue Knot Foundation on 1300 657 380 or MensLine Australia on 1300 789 978.