Criminal Code Amendment Protecting Minors Online
Posted on Tuesday, 13 June, 2017
Mr RAMSEY (Grey—Government Whip) (18:48): There can never be too much that we can do to protect our children, and the Criminal Code Amendment (Protecting Minors Online) Bill 2017 will add another layer to laws aimed at protecting children under the age of 16 from online predators. Carly's Law, a law that has evolved out of tragedy, will target online predators planning to cause harm to or to procure or engage in sexual activity in a child. It will also target those who misrepresent their age, with offenders facing 10 years imprisonment. The proposed legislation is the legacy of a decade-long campaign by a mother whose 15-year-old daughter, Carly Ryan, was murdered by a man posing as a teenager online.
In South Australia, where this tragic event took place, and right across the rest of Australia, every parent felt the pain of Carly's mother, Sonya, when her daughter was murdered by a sick deviant. It was 10 years ago, in 2007, that the gorgeous 15-year-old fell in love with a young musician called Brandon. They corresponded online, sharing intimate thoughts and dreams. But Brandon was not who he said he was. He was not an 18-year-old musician; he was a 47-year-old sexual predator who cruelly deceived Carly and tricked her into meeting him. He raped and brutally murdered her. He discarded her battered body on the beach. He took a beautiful young life, destroyed a family, and forever broke her mother's heart. Within 11 days, police found Garry Newman in Victoria. They found him at his computer, logged on as Brandon Kane and talking with a 14-year-old girl in Western Australia. He had 200 fake internet IDs.
This brutal and sadistic paedophile, with the ability to charm his way into the hearts of vulnerable young girls is not alone in trawling the internet for young victims. It is the responsibility of parents and governments to protect children from perverts like Garry Newman, whose grossly depraved plan to deceive, seduce and murder Carly was born out of his own perversions. Carly had her whole life in front of her, an impressionable 15-year-old child whose dreams, goals and future were stolen by a love interest who was a lie—not the young man of her dreams, but an overweight, balding, middle-aged paedophile with sex and murder on his mind. What terrifies many parents is that Carly only did what millions of other kids around the world do for hours on every single day—they use social media to meet new people and make new friends. There are so many ways that young people can access the internet—mobile phones, game consoles, tablets—there is now unprecedented access for those who wish to do harm, develop relationships and exploit vulnerable children. With accessibility of email, social networking, chat rooms and instant messaging, children are exposed as never before. Online predators are frighteningly clever, often posing as another young person to gain trust, and, frighteningly, they can contact children in almost any online venue.
Parents have always been the first order of care for their children and that is increasingly so today, as new and unfamiliar risks enter our children's lives—risks that parents do not have direct experience in dealing with. That is why the coalition government established the Children's eSafety Commissioner in 2015 to increase awareness and to provide extra information to parents. It is vital that parents understand when, where and what their children are accessing online. It is vital that parents are equipped to deal with daily advances in technology and the constant adaption of the predators, that parents are always vigilant and that they have the tools to educate their children in the dangers that lurk beyond the screen.
However, the government also recognises that parental vigilance on its own is not enough and that laws need to be changed to respond to this evolving menace. The protecting minors online bill that is before us today is a clear demonstration that this parliament has nil tolerance of that type of predation. Australian children must be safe to grow, explore and develop. The government has a duty to ensure that, with ever-evolving technology and expanding possibilities of communication, Commonwealth laws deter would-be offenders and provide a sound basis for prosecution. The iCyberSafe.com website is there to help protect kids and cites some of the facts about internet predators. At any one time in the online environment there could be up to 750,000 online child sexual predators. These predators are online around the clock looking for targets. Surveys show that one in five of our kids will receive sexual advances while online, but less than 25 per cent of them will inform a parent or an adult. Seventy-five per cent of children are willing to share personal information with a stranger on the internet—exactly what the predators are looking for. Sixty-four per cent of the teens surveyed admitted that they did things online that they would not want their parents to know about. Approximately 19 per cent of teens say they have considered meeting someone offline that they have only known online. Approximately nine per cent of teens state that they have actually met an offline stranger who they previously only knew through an online contact. Teens spend an average of six hours a day using media, which is more than any other activity.
Following Carly's death, her mother founded the Carly Ryan Foundation, devoted to promoting internet safety and supporting victims. The passage of this legislation is a testament to Sonya Ryan's relentless efforts to protect children from online predators. She has taken her unimaginable grief head on, risen above her suffering and turned the greatest tragedy possible—the murder of her child—into a relentless crusade. Sonya has dedicated her life to driving the cause of cyber safety through the Carly Ryan Foundation. Her selfless and tireless push for internet safety earned her the honour of being named South Australia's Australian of the Year in 2013.
Now we have before us this legislation which will further strengthen our weaponry against those who wish to prey upon our children and do them harm. The new law will criminalise acts that plan to cause harm to, procure or engage in sexual activity with a person under the age of 16. The new law allows for the law enforcement agencies to act pre-emptively, most importantly, before the offence is committed. An offence will have been committed if someone uses a carriage service—that is, the internet—to prepare or plan to cause harm, procure or engage in sexual activity with a person under the age of 16. The legislation also implements provisions to protect children from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect, negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation, including sexual abuse. The bill promotes the rights of children to be protected from physical or mental violence, sexual exploitation and abuse. It deserves the full support of this parliament. The legislation is presented in Carly's memory and in recognition of the bravery of her mother, Sonya, to try and ensure that this tragedy will never happen again. I am proud to stand in this chamber and support the bill.