I rise to speak on the Crimes Amendment (Child Pornography and Other Matters) Bill 2015. This bill is a response to the rapidly changing world in which we live. The internet is transforming our lives in many unimaginable ways. The advances in technology and the ability to improve the lives of millions is happening at a speed and rate that would be incomprehensible to our grandparents. Regrettably, though, there is also a dark side to human nature. The ease with which we can communicate that has made the world so interconnected can be used for deviant purposes too, and unfortunately it is being used in that way.
Child sexual abusers and pornographers have taken advantage of modern communications to ply their sick wares and build abhorrent networks. The Australian Communications and Media Authority reported last month that it had experienced a dramatic jump in investigations into online sexual abuse in the last year. It conducted over 7600 investigations, which is an increase of over 550 per cent in just one year. As I said, the world is rapidly changing. Sometimes our laws just do not keep pace with the changes in society due to the constant evolutions in technology. We in this place have a responsibility to our community to ensure that our statutes remain relevant to the modern world and keep our community safe. This bill is a vital step in that process. It ensures that law enforcement and our courts have the tools to deal with those in our community who do not abide by the standards civilised people expect in a modern society.
This bill has been developed in response to Victoria Police concerns about the inadequacies of current child pornography laws. There are four main elements to this bill. They are the creation of new offences, increased penalties, changes to evidentiary requirements, and changes to warrant procedures. I will deal with these in turn. There are three new offences created in this bill. The Crimes Act 1958 is amended to make it an offence to: administer a child pornography website, encourage the use of a website to deal with child pornography or provide assistance to another person avoiding apprehension for a child pornography offence.
The first makes it an offence if a person administers or assists in the administration of a website that is used by another person to deal with child pornography and the person intends that the website be used for child pornography or is aware that the website is being used for child pornography. This offence targets the enablers of child pornographers. It puts the onus on website administrators to take reasonable steps to prevent their website being used by child pornographers. For instance, if an administrator notifies police or takes down the website, they will help to ensure they are not found guilty of an offence. This ensures that website administrators acting in good faith are not unintentionally caught up in this new offence.
There are two obvious exemptions to this law. They are if the website is used in administering the criminal justice system or if the material has been classified as other than RC or X 18+ under the Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) (Enforcement) Act 1995. It should be noted that the new offence is limited to websites, which are defined as a page or group of pages on the internet. The government is currently reviewing existing child pornography offences in the Crimes Act to ensure that the law adequately addresses other means of distributing and accessing such horrendous material, for example, through peer-to-peer file sharing or self-contained web apps. It is important we get this right as this is the first offence of its kind, and in such a rapidly changing environment it must be right. It was only earlier this year that we repealed the HIV infections legislation — knee-jerk lawmaking is rarely good lawmaking.
The second offence contained in the bill is a good example of how rapidly this world is changing. A person 18 years of age or over will commit an offence if they encourage another person to use a website and intends that the other person uses the website to deal with child pornography.
Once again, this new offence targets the enablers. If a person promotes or advertises their child pornography website, they will have committed an offence. It will not be necessary to prove the person they encouraged actually used the website. An important safeguard in this new offence is that it only applies to adults.
The final offence created by this bill also targets enablers. It will be an offence to assist someone to avoid apprehension for child pornography offences. This new offence applies to all child pornography offences, not just the new ones contained in this bill. It will be an offence if information is intentionally provided to another person and it is intended that the other person will use the information to avoid apprehension for a child pornography offence. This is another provision reflecting the rapidly changing world we live in. In short, this is aimed at persons sharing information for anonymous usage child pornography websites or encryption of vile child pornographic electronic files.
The unbreakable code is a part of history made redundant by Enigma machines in World War II, but with the rise of quantum encryption on the horizon, it is only a matter of time before the unbreakable code is a reality again. This offence targets the enablers, with significant penalties to discourage those who try to help in this very sick trade. All these new offences will carry a maximum penalty of 10 years imprisonment. They are serious and abhorrent crimes. They deserve serious penalties, and this bill provides those.
Moving to the second element of this bill, Victoria currently has the lowest penalty for possession of child pornography in Australia. The maximum current penalty for an offence is 5 years; this bill doubles that to 10 years. This brings Victoria into line with the majority of other states and territories.
It should be noted that this bill is the first stage of reforms to child pornography offences. It does not include expanding the offences to cover a broader spectrum of child abuse material. The government is considering the second stage of reforms.
In relation to evidentiary requirements, as I highlighted earlier, online child pornography is a growing problem. This bill has made adjustments for the occupational health and safety of those protecting our community. Some of these offences involve tens of thousands of depraved images that must be viewed by good and decent people who are keeping our community safe. This is unfair to the victims, law enforcement and the legal profession. It compounds the violation of child victims and places undue stresses on normal people doing their jobs, protecting our community. This bill addresses these matters. It provides for a random sample of material to be taken from what has been seized from an accused person. The nature and content of the sample are assessed by an expert. The court may then conclude that the sample is reflective of the material as a whole. This is an important reform that will allow for shorter time frames to analyse material whilst protecting victims and law enforcement.
Importantly, there are safeguards. It is a random sample, not a sample. This prevents the accused from having evidence weighted against them in consideration of the seriousness of their crime. The accused has the right to challenge the random sample. The random sample is only admissible if the accused’s lawyer has had reasonable opportunity to view all the material.
This brings me to another important reform contained in this bill — that is, the accused will be restricted from viewing the evidence. It goes without saying why this is an important reform. However, we live under the rule of law and, as I outlined earlier, the accused’s lawyer will be able to inspect the evidence. The accused can apply to the court for an order to inspect the evidence, and it is the intent of this bill that this will only ever be done when the court deems it necessary for justice — it will not be an automatic right.
The bill will also amend the Crimes Act to allow a magistrate to include in a search warrant an authorisation allowing police to direct a specified person to assist them to access data on a computer. Basically this means they must provide passwords to police. Failure to comply carries a two-year penalty. A more serious version of this offence is already in the Crimes Act. However, it is a court order that must be obtained in open court and carries a maximum penalty of five years. The new offence is a simple and easy process for police to use in urgent cases.
This bill is about an ugly matter, and it is a difficult topic on which to speak. However, we owe it to our community to ensure that the legislative framework that community members live under reflects the community they want to live in. This bill does that. It gives law enforcement powers to tackle offences that were inconceivable 20 years ago and applies penalties the community expects in the 21st century. This bill is a very important step in reforming our laws to protect the most vulnerable in our society, children, from the monsters who would prey on them. I commend the bill to the house.