People who cover up child sex abuse could now be jailed for up to seven years under tough new sentences proposed in New South Wales.
Attorney-General Mark Speakman on Monday announced anyone who has knowledge, a belief, or ought to have known about child abuse but fails to come forward could be jailed for longer.
Currently, people without a reasonable excuse can be jailed for two years.
Mr Speakman said that would be extended to five years, or seven years for those who concealed abuse for benefit, such as financial gain.
“On reflection, that maximum penalty does not reflect community expectations,” Mr Speakman said on Monday.
“It doesn’t reflect the reality that often those who conceal the abuse are just as culpable as those who engaged in the abuse in the first place.
“Often this sort of dreadful abuse has occurred not just because of evil perpetrators, but because people stand by and have turned a blind eye to the abuse going on in the very institutions that are meant to protect children.”
The amendment is expected to be introduced to Parliament on Tuesday.
Religious clergy who are told of abuse in confessionals are exempt.
Mr Speakman said the NSW government wanted national reforms and expects to raise it at a meeting of attorney-generals on November 23.
Abuse survivor Peter Gogarty from the Hunter region on Monday said it was important to survivors to know abuse can’t be covered up so easily any more.
“If they won’t do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do, perhaps they’ll now do the right thing because they’re frightened to go to jail for five years,” Mr Gogarty said.
Maitland church pastor Bob Cotton said the harsher penalties would be a “game changer”.
“No longer are the institutions going to be able to maintain the culture of cover up. Now they’re on notice that those who choose to protect pedophiles, child rapists, they will come under full scrutiny and punishment of the law,” he said on Monday alongside Mr Speaker.
The changes come after Pastor Cotton tabled a petition in Parliament calling for harsher penalties, with 13,000 signatures from Maitland.
Abuse survivor Paul Gray credited the proposed amendment to all the survivors who gave evidence to the royal commission.
“It’s a very hard thing to do. These people have spoken up and the politicians have heard them. The society is aware of this now. Now it’s time for change. Now it’s time to look after our kids, don’t damage them,” Mr Gray said on Monday.
He expected the change to have knock-on effects. For example, he said if there are fewer abuse victims, there could be fewer traumatised survivors ending up in jail after losing control of their life.
“This is going to change everything,” Mr Gray said.
“If this is the only thing I’ve achieved in my life, by standing here next to the attorney-general, then my life has been worthwhile.”
It comes as the NSW Director of Public Prosecution appeals former Adelaide archbishop Philip Wilson’s 12-month home detention sentence for covering up abuse by a pedophile priest in the Hunter region.
The attorney-general declined to comment on the case, but said the community expects powerful people in institutions who have betrayed the trust of children to be incarcerated for a significant period of time.