Families would be safer if Australian child sex offenders were publicly listed online, Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton says.
But a leading child protection group has dismissed the minister’s push for a national child sex offender register as a “political stunt”.
The federal government is urging states to sign up to a national register, with consultations on the proposal now underway.
The step comes after reports to the Australian Federal Police of child sexual abuse and exploitation grew by 77 per cent between 2017 and 2018. Mr Dutton said a register would help deter offenders and ensure parents were not “in the dark” about whether registered sex offenders had access to their children.
“It will send a clear message that Australia will not tolerate individuals preying on the most vulnerable members of the community – our children,” he said in a statement on Wednesday.
“The abuse and exploitation of children is a global epidemic that is becoming more prevalent, more organised and more extreme.” The online register would contain information such as the person’s name, photograph, aliases, date of birth, nature of offending and their general locality, such as their postcode.
The information would be vetted by law enforcement to ensure it did not identify victims of abuse or breach non-publication orders and juvenile sex offenders would not be identified States would provide the information, meaning the register couldn’t work unless they back it.
The idea is already facing backlash from child protection group Bravehearts, which argues it won’t protect children.
“If government were serious about protecting our kids, and if they seriously wanted to deal with these very real dangers, they would support our calls for a royal commission into the family law system,” Bravehearts chair Hetty Johnston said in a statement.
“And they would toughen up laws that currently release dangerous sex offenders back into our communities.” Ms Johnston said if Australia does get a national register, a system already active in Western Australia would be best, as it combines the better parts of models in the United Kingdom and United States.
Independent Victorian senator and long-term anti-pedophile campaigner Derryn Hinch said people were entitled to know about child sex offenders in their area. “Out there in the public, you talk to the parents of young kids and they support it,” he told ABC Radio National on Wednesday.
He said the register active in the US since 1996 hadn’t encouraged vigilantes.
The Blue Knot Foundation – which helps people who have dealt with severe trauma – has also criticised the plan.
“Having a publicly searchable sex offenders register has not been established uncategorically to keep children safe,” president Cathy Kezelman said.
“While they appear to reduce the likelihood of first time offenders they do not reduce recidivism for convicted sex offenders. I
“In fact some studies have shown that they might increase the likelihood of re-offending, whilst non-public sex offenders registries do reduce offenders as they assist law enforcement.”