My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for Tuesday 10 April 2018

by ray goodlass

NSW government puts religion ahead of children’s safety

In what appeared to be good news last week we learnt that paedophiles are to be punished with strengthened sentencing and new laws in changes promised for NSW (ABC TV News).

The NSW Premier and Attorney-General announced a suite of changes in response to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse final report.

Changes to child sex abusers’ punishment in NSW will include a maximum life sentence introduced for the strengthened offence of persistent child sexual abuse and there will be new offences for failure to report and failure to protect against child abuse. Courts to be required to sentence child sex abusers using current sentencing standards, rather than applying historic sentencing principles and they would not be able to take into account an offender’s good character when sentencing for historic offences.

“We are tightening the laws, we’re making sure NSW is not leaving any stone unturned in the relation to the protection of children,” Premier Gladys Berejiklian said.
Yet in a more than disappointing move the Premier sidestepped introducing state laws to break the seal of confession.

Indeed, the NSW Government is putting questionable religious practices ahead of the welfare and safety of children by failing to abolish the secrecy of the confessional.

The NSW Government has failed to remove the outdated and dangerous practice of priests using the seal of the confessional to avoid reporting child sexual abuse to the police. This was one of the most important symbolic recommendations from the Royal Commission.

This is very disappointing and shows a real lack of courage from the Government. Children must be protected ahead of the interests of any church or religion and surely that means abolishing the ‘sanctity’ of the confession.

Not surprisingly, the Roman Catholic Church was quick to defend the sanctity of the confessional. For example, Denis Hart, the archbishop of Melbourne, responded by saying the sacredness of the confessional was above the law, and he would rather go to jail than report any sin he heard during the sacrament of penance, reported the Guardian Australia.

However, many of us beg to differ, for abolishing the secrecy of the confessional was one of the most important recommendations from the Royal Commission. However, rather than taking leadership, this government pushed this question off to the Council of Australian Governments (COAG).

So instead of putting children first, failure to remove the sanctity of the confessional shows just how much the NSW government is captured by the religious right in its ranks.
“While we welcome the government finally moving to implement our long-standing proposal to fix the unfairly lenient sentences handed down to historical child sex offenders, there is so much left undone with this announcement” Greens NSW MP and Justice Spokesperson David Shoebridge said.

What’s most remarkable is that the NSW Government’s headline grabbing plan for life sentences was not even a recommendation of the Royal Commission.

It is good to hear that the Greens will closely review this legislation and move to amend it to “ensure far more of the Royal Commission’s recommendations are implemented as soon as possible,” Mr Shoebridge said. Let’s hope the ALP and the cross benchers do likewise.