CRIMES AMENDMENT (SEXUAL OFFENCES AND OTHER MATTERS) BILL 2014

Ms GARRETT (Brunswick) — I am pleased to  rise to make a contribution  to the debate on  the Crimes Amendment  (Sexual Offences and Other  Matters) Bill 2014, and especially to follow my colleague the member for Ivanhoe.

We were  both members  of the  Law Reform  Committee,  that  I  note again  this government abolished this year. The  member for Prahran  chaired that committee, which conducted  an inquiry into sexting, and the recommendations following that inquiry form at least part of the provisions of this legislation.

Much has been said by the lead speakers and others about the provisions relating to  sexual  offences,  and  I  will  touch  on  those  towards  the  end  of  my contribution.  Given  the  work  that  members  of  the  committee  did,  in  my contribution I will  focus on the provisions relating to sexting. As others have noted in their contributions, we are in a very difficult period. The changes to technology have been extraordinary, exponential and rapid, and they are ongoing. I remember standing in this house speaking about the report that we had compiled and presented to this  place. I spoke about  being 16 and there being  no mobile phones. If you had an appointment, you  had to ring on a pay phone and you could not be late.

At the  end of a plane trip we would land and just sit there in the plane on the tarmac. People  would not  be getting  out phones and texting and looking at the web.  I remember  that about  that time  my father  brought home  the first  Mac computer  and the printer that would go dot-dot-dot-dot-dot and would take about 4 hours  to  print out an assignment.  I  remember when we  got  our first video cassette recorder,  the  VCR,  and  the excitement that caused. You stuck in the tape  and  you could press  the  fast forward button.  Those  were extraordinary technological advances. For my mother and my grandparents it was all too much.

 

There were massive remote controls that were as large  as the  moon, it  seemed, and  the television  had 2,  3 or  5 channels. There  were certainly  no digital images.

It is really important that we as legislators remember that that was not so long ago — certainly in  our  lifetimes. Now I have three children  of  my own — an 11-year-old,  a  7-year-old  and  a  2-year-old.  My  seven-year-old is  playing Minecraft like a complete pro and my two-year-old knows his  way around an iPad. The manner in which we use technology has changed dramatically from when we were the ages of my children and the children of other members in this house.

With that comes great opportunity.

To dig  into the archives again, I  remember going to law  school  in the 1990s, photocopying case  notes,  researching cases in  the library with  thick, heavy, dust-laden texts, and now  I look at the manner  in which our kids  learn  these days, with Google and the net, downloading and uploading,  using PowerPoint, and on  it goes.  That is  a wonderful  opportunity for  young people  in  terms  of broadening their horizons, shaping their education and  understanding  the world in which  we live.  However,  there  is  no question  that it  also creates  its challenges.

The manner in which we communicate  has changed at the same  rapid rate. We have gone  from  having to use a payphone if we  wanted  to ring somebody and we were out, to our phone  being a tool for email,  a web browser, instant  messenger, a Facebook app, a  Twitter portal, and so on  and so forth —  a 24-hour, non-stop action tablet — and this  has impacted on the way  in  which all of us  but  in particular young people are communicating, and young people know no other way.

 

The member for Ivanhoe  pointed  out  the challenges of that sort of technology, particularly  with  young and impressionable  people who are  fumbling their way through their early teens and adolescence, as we all did. We need to be there to guide them around some of those pitfalls.

My  generation,  generation  X,  is  probably  the  one  that  has  been  caught flat-footed the most. We have young children and children who  are emerging into the  teenage years,  but as  younger people  we were  not  part of  that massive technological revolution. Members of generation Y, generation Z and whatever the next generation is called will be much better placed to manage these issues when they have their own children, but  we are where we are and the technology caught us  all a bit by  surprise. We did not understand  the manner in which  children were communicating.

The real danger in this technology is  the  capacity to take a video or a  photo and instantly send it on, upload  it, and  disseminate it  well beyond  your own personal use  — this  ain’t a polaroid, this is full-blown access to the  World Wide Web. For  children with  a phone  in their  hand, the  excitement, sense of danger, rebelliousness, capacity and quite natural desire to explore, expand and test the boundaries can lead to lifelong consequences.

Certainly  in  our  inquiry the  Law  Reform Committee  found  that  the growing prevalence  of  sexting among young people had the potential to cause real harm. We  also understood  it is  about getting  the balance right. We know there have been  tragic  situations  — but not  a  huge number — and  that  there was the potential under the then  and current legislative framework for young people who had swapped explicit  images  between  themselves to end up on the sex offenders register  with a  cohort of people who were clearly in  a different  category of conduct, behaviour and attitude.

 

The bill goes to address the issues we identified during our inquiry.

It also grapples — as we attempted to do as best we could — with this issue of getting the balance right and understanding that the  genie is out of the bottle in terms of how humanity is  communicating, while recognising that we want to do our  best  to  have some protections around young people, so that their  digital footprint is protected as much as possible.

We know ourselves now, or at least I know as  a person in their 40s who has been involved  in managing  people or  hiring people,  that the first thing you do is have  a look on the Net and see what a person’s history might be. We really want to protect  our young people and children, so that what  they may have done in a foolish moment, in heat of the moment or as part of a party does not then haunt them for the rest of their days and impact upon their possibilities.

I think the recommendations of the  committee, many of which have been picked up in this  legislation, go  some way to getting that balance right, in that  where there is  consensual sharing of explicit  images between two  people, that stays where it is, so that  people do not end up on sex offenders registers.  However, there is a need for an offence, both in  terms of deterrence and punishment, for those who would without consent forward images on to others.

Again, this  is not  a Polaroid  or something  I  am  sticking  on  a  workplace noticeboard which someone can take down: once  these  images are out there, they can be forwarded on ad infinitum. Someone then loses  control  of  their privacy and in many cases their dignity. At all costs we need to protect that.

 

Hand-in-hand with  these  legislative protections must  come  a very  large  and serious resource commitment to the education of parents and through our schools. We need  to educate  parents about devices. We learnt during the inquiry that it is really  important that kids do  not  take their phones to  bed,  not just for these issues but also for cyberbullying. You do not want to be contactable 24/7, and we have seen some tragic cases in  relation to that. We also need to educate children about  understanding  consequences, as we  do  in many  other  areas of concern —  drugs, smoking, alcohol and the like. We  should try  to help  young people understand the consequences of their actions and the lasting impact these may  have  on their lives. These things must all  go  in tandem: there has to be education, and there has to be a legislative response.

That is what the provisions of this bill  do, and that is what our inquiry  did. This is not over.

Obviously we will need to engage in ongoing  discussion and progression on these issues, but this is a good start, and I commend the bill to the house.

Hansard, 17 September 2014