The NSW Government will introduce harsher penalties for concealing child abuse thanks to a Maitland-born push to up the maximum jail term.
The proposed changes, set to be the toughest in the country, will see the maximum penalty for concealing child abuse increased from two to five years, or seven years if the person received a benefit for concealing.
It comes after Maitland pastor Bob Cotton launched a petition pushing for the reform, which amassed 13,000 signatures, as covered by The Mercury over the past few months.
Pastor Cotton said he believed the proposed law change was “one of the most significant pieces of legislation” to come out of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sex Abuse.
“I’m very grateful the government has done this,” he said. “They’ve listened to the people.”
Pastor Cotton has been pushing for the change for more than two years. Fairfax Media reported back in October 2016 that he had joined forces with survivors Peter Gogarty and Paul Gray to push for the law reform.
Pastor Cotton joined Mr Gogarty and Mr Gray in Sydney with Attorney General Mark Speakman to announce the proposed new laws on Monday.
He said he “always thought” the changes would come, but did not expect as much resistance as he initially received.
The government introduced some reforms to child abuse laws back in June, but kept the maximum penalty for concealing at two years.
“I was really disappointed on June 20,” he said. “Those laws hadn’t worked in the past.”
Mr Speakman said upon reflection, he realised the June 20 changes did not reflect community expectation.
“It doesn’t reflect the reality that often those who conceal the abuse are just as culpable as those who engage in the abuse in the first place,” Mr Speakman said.
Pastor Cotton said he believed amending the laws would change the future.
“It’s not going to be worth people’s while to protect pedophiles,” he said.
Mr Speakman agreed that law change would have an impact.
“Child abuse can lead to a lifetime of trauma for victims and should be reported to police immediately,” Mr Speakman said.
“Increasing penalties for concealment will deter people from protecting pedophiles or turning a blind eye to their crimes.
“These reforms will enable courts to impose longer sentences on people who protect pedophiles and other heinous child abusers.”
The law changes will not be retrospective, meaning any people who have concealed abuse up until the laws are finalised will face the current maximum penalty.
NSW and Victoria are the only states in Australia with a concealment offence specifically related to child abuse (NSW) or child sexual abuse (Victoria). In Victoria, the maximum penalty is three years’ imprisonment.
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