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