BILL: Carly's Law - creating offences for dishonest communication with children

Today Mark spoke in support of legislation to make it illegal for a person to engage in dishonest communication with children.  The Bill was passed that evening, with the support of entire Legislative Council.

Criminal Law Consolidation (Dishonest Communication with Children) Amendment Bill 2018

I rise on behalf of the Greens to support this bill. All members are familiar with the tragic case of 15-year-old Carly Ryan, who was murdered in 2007 by Garry Newman, a 50-year-old paedophile who posed as an 18-year-old musician from Melbourne. Newman deceived Carly for 18 months through online contact and phone calls before ultimately meeting and murdering her.

This case touched us as a nation and we were collectively appalled by its deviousness and its brutality. Newman's deceptive actions of lying about his age to Carly and pretending to be someone other than he was, which ultimately led to Carly's death, are not currently crimes under existing state law and this bill fixes that deficiency. Carly's Law makes it illegal for a person to lie about their age to a child and then attempt to meet that child. By targeting the grooming and predatory behaviour, police will be able to intervene sooner to prevent harm to children.

The commonwealth parliament passed a federal version of Carly's Law last year and that means that police in South Australia will now have the choice to use either the commonwealth law or state law, depending on the nature of the offending and the evidence that they have gathered.

I was pleased this morning to meet with Sonya Ryan, mother of Carly and also the founder of the Carly Ryan Foundation, a non-profit charity that exists to promote internet safety. I am pleased that Sonya and her colleague Karina Natt are in the chamber today, as they see the culmination of their campaign to have Carly's Law passed in South Australia. I acknowledge their patience in what appears to be a very slow process as we legislate. On behalf of the Greens, I was pleased to offer Sonya our support for the legislation. I mentioned to her that we were very happy to see the bill passed, and to be passed unamended, but that as a lawyer I would need to raise a couple of technical issues for the attention of the minister.

Like most pieces of criminal legislation, the operational aspects will depend largely on the good judgement being exercised by law enforcement officers. That will be important because it seems to me that in this bill there is one potential anomaly that I think both the Attorney-General and the police need to be aware of, and that flows from the fact that—and it was news to me—apparently there is a variety of situations where people do lie about their age but with absolutely no criminal or wrong intent.

It has been put to me that a lot of people are now using dating apps, for example, as well as more traditional social media. I am told that it is not uncommon for young people to add a few years—in other words, to lie about their age—in order to try to meet someone a bit older and, similarly, I am told it works even more the other way, with people understating their age by a few years in order to increase their chances of meeting someone. When those two things collide there is, however remote, a technical possibility that a breach of the act could occur, despite no criminal intent.

That certainly was not the case in Carly Ryan's situation, where the murderer was 50 and pretending to be 18. As I say, I am not proposing to move any amendments. I do not want to undo the good work that has been done but I would invite the minister to address whether this is a potential anomaly or whether it is, in fact, a figment of a lawyer's robust imagination. However, in any event, I do not know if there is any fix that would work without undermining the intent, and absolutely no-one wants to do that.

I am prepared to trust that law enforcement officers will exercise common sense, that they will use these powers and these laws appropriately and that they will consider the harm that this bill is seeking to overcome when exercising their powers. I fully expect that is exactly how it will work in practice.

In conclusion, I congratulate Sonya Ryan, I congratulate the Carly Ryan Foundation on what I think will be, in just a few minutes' time, the successful passage of this bill through both houses of parliament, and I commend the foundation on the work that it is doing to keep all of our children safe, especially in the growing online environment that is such a big part of young people's lives these days.