Following Coalition’s shock election victory, a public sex offender register posited by the political alliance in Australia could soon become reality.
Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton suggested in a January news release that information about the crimes of pedophiles be added to a national child sex offender registry—including the perpetrators’ names, aliases, and photos.
“It would have a strong deterrent effect on offenders and ensure that parents are not in the dark about whether a registered sex offender has access to their children,” Dutton said at the time.
Now that the center-right political alliance that is one of the two major groupings in Australian federal politics has clinched a victory, the prospect of a pedophile register is that much closer.
“The abuse and exploitation of children is a global epidemic that is becoming more prevalent, more organized, and more extreme,” Dutton said in the release, which accompanied the announcement of a period of consultancy regarding the register.
Some states and territories in Australia already publicly release information about child sex offenders.
Dutton said, “A nationally consistent approach would afford nationwide community protection and ensure offenders cannot evade public scrutiny.”
“It will send a clear message that Australia will not tolerate individuals preying on the most vulnerable members of the community—our children,” he added.
The register was announced as a funding commitment in the second budget paper on April 2.
In the budget announcement, the Liberal Party stated, “Protection of our most vulnerable—our children—remains one of the highest priorities of the Morrison government.”
It added that the register would be hosted by the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission (ACIC), a national crime-fighting body.
“Last year’s Budget provided funding to initiate the Australian Centre to Combat Child Exploitation (ACCCE) in Brisbane.
“This Budget provides $7.8 million over four years for the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission to develop and implement a National Public Register of Child Sex Offenders, which will provide information on convicted offenders residing in the community.”
Questions About Effectiveness
Not everyone is convinced the register will work as advertised.
Child advocates Bravehearts criticized the move as a “political ploy.”
Founder Hetty Johnston was cited by The Guardian as saying, “Elections are going to be run on fear or hope.”
“This is going to be run on fear. It is winning votes on the backs of children’s very lives and I get upset about that,” she said.
She was also cited by The Daily Mail as saying, “The bottom line is that all dangerous and repeat sex offenders should not be on a register, they should be in jail. No offender should be released until the risk they pose is of a level that can be managed in the community. A register will not keep children safe.”
The Australian Institute of Criminology (AIC) published a paper in May 2018, which analyzed research on public sex offender registers in the United States. The study concluded that while public registers “may have a small general deterrent effect on first-time offenders, they do not reduce recidivism.”
The AIC noted, “Nonpublic sex offender registries do appear to reduce reoffending by assisting law enforcement.”
However, U.S. research cited in the study shows “that convicted sex offenders are more likely to reoffend when their personal and offending information is made public due to the psychological and financial costs on offenders.”
The AIC also wrote, “Research has found that being placed on a public sex offender registry can result in exclusion from neighbourhood or residence, job loss, anxiety, and other psychological problems, all of which are counterproductive in terms of reducing reoffending.”
Australian senator and former broadcaster Derryn Hinch, however, has come out in strong support for a public pedophile register, Australia’s ABC News reported.
“I can die happy, this is the only reason I got into politics,” Hinch said of Dutton’s January announcement of the proposal for a public sex offender registry.
Hinch called for the new legislation to be known as “Daniel’s Law,” in honor of 13-year-old Daniel Morcombe, who was kidnapped and murdered in 2003 by Brett Cowan, a convicted sex offender.
“If you rape a child, you lose your civil rights,” Hinch said, according to ABC.
Daniel Morcombe’s mother, Denise Morcombe, spoke out in support of the public register.
Morcombe was cited by ABC as saying the register would empower parents and carers to better protect their children.
“If they meet someone, they’ll be able to put that person’s name into the website and see if this person is a serious offender or not,” Morcombe said.
President of the Law Council of Australia, Arthur Moses, was cited by ABC as saying that while he supported the register, he said he was concerned about potential vigilante attacks on listed offenders.
“We need to make sure people do not commit offences as they potentially engage in some form of retribution in relation to these offenders,” Moses said.