Laws across Australia are hardening towards the horror crime of child sex abuse, with another state on track to deliver a public registry of child sex abuse offenders.
A South Australian government spokeswoman has confirmed work is under way “across several government agencies” to deliver a registry for the state, first proposed as an election pledge by Labor Premier Peter Malinauskas in 2022.
The details of the reform are unclear, though it is understood it will be influenced by the Western Australian model which offers parents access to information on offenders who fail to comply with reporting obligations and a local search option for dangerous and high risk offenders.
It also allows a parent or guardian to make an inquiry to the police about a specific person who has regular contact with their child.
Police services across the country all keep registries of convicted offenders but these are generally closed off to the public. Western Australia is the only state to permit some public access to the registry.
But more states are firming up their laws around offenders as community outrage over abuse grows.
Earlier this year, a former childcare worker was arrested in Queensland and charged with raping 91 girls in Brisbane, Sydney and overseas from 2007 to 2022.
Alongside a planned registry, South Australia has increased its penalties for a range of child sex abuse offences and closed loopholes for offenders in bail and sentencing.
In May, Tasmania moved to introduce a disclosure scheme for offenders.
“As part of the disclosure scheme, our government will also introduce changes to allow a parent or guardian to ask if a specific person who has regular, unsupervised access to their child is on the sex offender register,” Tasmanian Police Minister Felix Ellis said.
“Empowering parents will ensure they have the ability to access the information they need to protect their children.”
The state has budgeted an extra $3.2m for five dedicated investigators to monitor convicted offenders across the state.
But as governments move to deliver more public oversight of offenders, University of South Australia criminologist Professor Rick Sarre has warned registries do not deliver a deterrent effect or protect children from further abuse and serve mainly to brutalise people on a rehabilitation pathway.
“The evidence is the possibility of someone who has just come out of jail after having four or five years behind bars on child sex offences, going on and then creating further sexual offending is simply not there,” he said.
“Unless there is evidence of that, which there is not, then all you are doing is simply naming and shaming for your own gratuitous purposes and I don’t think that is effective.”
Professor Sarre also said the authorities would not release a pedophile back into the community if the offender was considered a risk.
The criminologist blasted the South Australian government’s move as “completely wrong” and driven by public sentiment rather than evidence.
“There are manifest downsides (to a registry),” he said.
“But when a person is trying to get re-elected, the last thing you want to talk about is criminological theory.”
Originally published as South Australia prepares new public registry for child sex abuse offenders