Harsher penalties for concealing child sex abuse could be in place by the end of the year now Maitland Pastor Bob Cotton has notched up enough signatures to table the matter in parliament.
Pastor Cotton and fellow advocates have amassed 13,000 signatures on a petition pushing for an increase in the maximum jail sentence for concealing child sex abuse, which he hopes to have submitted in State Parliament in the next week.
The petition calls for the maximum penalty for the offence to be increased from two years jail to five years.
Half the signatures were gathered in the past two weeks following meetings Pastor Cotton had with Attorney General Mark Speakman and Police Minister Troy Grant.
Pastor Cotton said the meetings were “very positive” and both MPs were “very accommodating”.
He said he had received an “overwhelming” public response to the petition, and now it was time for the politicians to act on that.
“The people are on our side – 99 per cent of the people I approached wanted to sign,” he said.
“I hand it to them and they say ‘say no more’.
“The people are not happy [with the current laws] and the politicians need to listen.
“It’s an absolute no brainer.”
Based on the advice he has received, Pastor Cotton said he was hopeful of the matter being discussed and voted on before parliament breaks up in November and prior to the government caretaker mode ahead of the 2019 election.
One politician who is behind the idea is Parliamentary Secretary for the Hunter Scot MacDonald, who was one of the first few thousand to sign.
Mr MacDonald supported minor changes to the concealment laws introduced in parliament back in May, which kept the maximum penalty for the offence at two years. But he thinks they should be harsher.
“We had a tightening of Section 316, I was comfortable with that,” he said. “There was no way I would have voted against that.
“But I think it needs to go further. It’s a step by step approach.”
Mr MacDonald said through speaking with child sex abuse survivors and advocates over the years and reading the Royal Commission’s findings, he believed failure to report was at the core of the problem of institutional child sex abuse.
“It enables abusers to be shifted around,” he said. “The institutions have to be held to account.”
Mr MacDonald wrote to Mr Speakman expressing his support of a review of the penalties, which he said “do not provide sufficient incentive to prioritise child protection”.
“I think my job is to keep it in the face of the government,” Mr MacDonald said.