The Victorian opposition’s radical plan to expose details about sex offenders to their neighbours could make matters worse, an expert says.
Victorians would be able to apply to access descriptions, photographs, and the current suburb of anyone convicted of serious sex offences under the Coalition’s policy, announced ahead of the November election.
Professor James Ogloff, director of the Centre for Forensic Behavioural Science at Swinburne University, said there was no evidence it would make the public safer.
“The bigger issue, if we want to protect our children from ongoing sex offending, is not so much worrying about these strangers who are out there, but family factors – people we know, institutions – as we’ve heard through the royal commission,” Professor Ogloff told ABC Radio Melbourne.
He said it could further marginalise offenders and make them more likely to reoffend.
“If people are going to refrain from offending, they need social support, accommodation and employment and what the research shows is that if people’s identities are known, then it becomes very, very difficult for them to get any of those three things.”
The opposition’s policy
Under the policy, Victorians would also be able to check if someone who has close contact with their children had a history of sex crimes.
Those making inquiries would have to supply some of their own details before being able to see the information.
A dedicated commissioner would run the database and decide whether to grant access to individuals who applied.
It would cost $3 million to set up and run over the first four years, the opposition said.
Opposition spokesman Edward O’Donohue said the community had a right to know if offenders lived nearby.
“This is about protecting the community, about giving people in their individual neighbourhoods and suburbs the right to know if there are sex offenders among them,” he said.
Mr O’Donohue said checks and balances would prevent the register from being used to fuel vigilante justice, and that specific addresses of offenders would not be accessible.
“That is something we will guard against very seriously, and there’ll be significant penalties for those who undertake any sort of vigilante behaviour, but that’s why address details will not be provided,” he said.
This is about providing that information in a controlled way that balances the competing rights that are at play here.
Mr O’Donohue said a range of stakeholders had been consulted, including victims’ groups and police.
Opposition Leader Matthew Guy said it was about protecting people “from the worst of the worst”.
“Victorians deserve to know if they have a high risk serial sex offender living in their street,” he said in a statement.
“Mums and dads have enough to worry about with cost of living and jobs pressures without the added worry of whether their kids are safe in their own neighbourhood.”
There are 7193 people on the state’s sex offender register, including 4000 who are ‘active’.
Government spokeswoman Jacinta Allan said sweeping reforms had already been made, following the Harper Review into managing serious sex offenders.
Last year, the Victorian government introduced new legislation into Parliament that would allow police to collect DNA and fingerprints from all registered sex offenders without a warrant.
But the opposition policy would be examined if police believed it could improve community safety, Ms Allan said.
“This is a policy position that has been proposed overnight,” she told reporters on Monday.
“It is important to take the advice from the experts and that includes from Victoria Police.”
Victorian federal senator Derryn Hinch has long been campaigning for a national register that provided names, photos and addresses of sex offenders.
Senator Hinch said a similar register was operating in the United States.