Legislative Council: Tuesday, February 06, 2024



Child Sex Offenders Registration (Child-Related Work) Amendment Bill

Second Reading

Adjourned debate on second reading.

(Continued from 30 November 2023.)

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK (15:46): I rise to make some remarks in relation to this piece of legislation, which the Liberal Party is supporting. The bill before us amends the Child Sex Offenders Registration Act 2006 to amend the definition of child-related work to include work in a business or undertaking that employs children where the work would involve contact with a child. Clearly, we are all supportive of ensuring that children in work environments are kept safe from any sort of things that might impact on them. I understand there is currently nothing in the legislation that prevents a registered child sex offender from taking a job working alongside, or actually managing, employees.

I would like to also say at the outset that credit for this should be given to the Hon. Connie Bonaros, who sought amendments to the Bail Act last year, from memory. The Liberal Party was not able to support them at that stage, but we did urge the government to seek to come up with some amendments that would ensure that the Hon. Ms Bonaros's amendment would cover off to close this loophole, if you like.

This change in definition has a consequential effect on the Bail Act, being that persons accused of registrable sex offences will be prohibited from working with child employees as a bail condition, unless otherwise exempted. Clause 4 amends section 66B of the act to allow the Commissioner of Police to make a declaration exempting an offender from any restriction on child-related work, which could only be granted if the relevant offences were not committed in connection with child-related work and the commissioner is satisfied that the offender does not pose a risk to the safety and wellbeing of children employed in the business.

I think that set of amendments covers off on some of the circumstances that might not be anticipated by having a piece of legislation that straight-out bans sex offenders from working directly with children. My understanding is that the Law Society supports the objectives of the bill and supports the commissioner having the discretion to make decisions on a case-by-case basis.

We have also received correspondence from Business SA and I would appreciate it if the Attorney could respond to some of the concerns they have raised either in the committee stage or in his summing-up. I am sure all honourable members have seen this letter from Business SA, which states that:

…safety of children in the workplace is paramount and supports the amendment set out in the draft Bill. Equally, we are concerned about the significant industrial implications that will flow from this change to legislation.

They state that, firstly, they want to understand:

…how a convicted child sex offender will be made aware of the new laws following commencement and what the timeframes would be for compliance with the new Act.

They go on to say, which I think is a separate concern:

Presumably with the child-related work specifically meaning 'working involving contact with a child', there may be instances where child sex offenders can continue to work with an employer or children so long as they have no contact with any child in the course of their work. In these circumstances, how should an employer approach the situation if a child sex offender requests a change to their work arrangements? Presumably the child sex offender will need to advise their employer of the circumstances so that appropriate decisions can be made.

With those comments, we support the passage of the bill.

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS (15:51): I rise to speak briefly on the Child Sex Offenders Registration (Child-Related Work) Amendment Bill 2023 and indicate that the Greens will also be supporting this important reform. The Greens are supportive of this initiative as it addresses the circumstances that arise when a person on the Child Sex Offenders Register is able to work alongside a young person under the age of 18 without any conditions.

I want to acknowledge the leadership of the Hon. Connie Bonaros in this regard. I know this is an issue that she has been pushing for some time. Indeed, she moved an amendment in this regard to a previous bill. The Greens were supportive of that amendment at that time and we are supportive of this legislation again today. I also acknowledge the work of my colleague the Hon. Tammy Franks, who has been a strong advocate for the welfare of young people at work.

Currently, people who are on the Child Sex Offenders Register are only prevented from working in businesses that provide services to children such as educational settings. That is a significant oversight. There is a gap in the law that allows young people to be in a situation where they may be working alongside people who are on the Child Sex Offenders Register and that poses some quite obvious risks.

The Greens believe that children and young people have a right to work in an environment that is free of abuse and, of course, this means ensuring there are appropriate protections in place. I also want to acknowledge the leadership of the SDA. The secretary, Josh Peak, has been really active in pushing for this reform. Indeed, as he has remarked:

It doesn't make sense that people who are charged or convicted with child-related offences are removed from volunteer-type settings, indeed employment, but can continue to work with children in the retail and fast-food industries.

We know that young people are over-represented in the retail and fast-food industries. They are also very vulnerable because they are often working in casualised work and they are often balancing that with school and study. It is really vitally important that they are protected and, in particular, protected from potential predators.

This bill addresses this issue by changing the definition of child-related work to include places where young people are employed. This will provide valuable protection for young people who work in our supermarkets, our coffee shops, our fast-food outlets and our retail environments. The Greens consider this to be a sensible measure and one that we are pleased to support.

The Hon. S.L. GAME (15:54): I rise briefly to support the government's Child Sex Offenders Registration (Child-Related Work) Amendment Bill, making it illegal for anyone charged or convicted of child sex offences to work alongside children. The current definition of child-related work is too limited, relating more to working in schools or foster care. One Nation supports broadening this definition to ensure places like supermarkets and fast-food outlets where children are typically employed do not employ serious child sex offenders.

Parents want to know their children are working in safe environments, where the kids can go to work in a place predators cannot access. One Nation supports the onus being on the employee to comply with the law, given the difficulties for employers to be able to identify perpetrators who, by nature, hide in the shadows. Child sex offenders who have convictions or who are on bail have given up their right to be around children. I support the bill.

The Hon. C. BONAROS (15:55): I rise to speak in support of the Child Sex Offenders Registration (Child-Related Work) Amendment Bill 2023, which, as we have heard, addresses a serious loophole in our laws aimed to prevent convicted child sex offenders and those charged with child sex offences from working alongside children. While protections are in place for children in various settings, such as schools, sporting clubs and volunteer organisations, a notable gap exists when it comes to child workers in employment settings.

When you consider that children are safeguarded in volunteer settings, in schools, in kindergartens, in the child protection system, in the juvenile justice setting and in sports clubs and associations, as one would expect, it is surprising that it has taken so long to address this issue. We know that once the work uniform is donned child workers are no longer considered children requiring protection under our current laws. The same person who would be prevented from coaching a child at a swimming pool could put on a Maccas, Woolies or KFC uniform on the very same day and supervise that very same child that they were unable to supervise at swimming in the morning.

Many in the community are unaware of this loophole and would understandably be outraged—parents would be outraged—and I can only imagine the 'pit in the stomach' feeling and fear parents have had to endure seeing a convicted sex offender on the news, knowing that person worked alongside their child and there was nothing in the law to prevent it, let alone advise them of that.

There are currently no clear hard and fast rules for the police to notify employers when a worker has been charged with a child-related sex offence. It is my understanding, based on extended discussions I have had with the SDA, that SAPOL has been very responsive and maintained an open communication line with the SDA. That is what we have currently relied on: an ad hoc system, an informal basis, which requires cementing. Recent instances of individuals on outstanding child sex offence charges slipping through the cracks and continuing or indeed commencing work with children highlights the urgency of these amendments.

I do not need to tell anyone in this place that the SDA has been an outspoken ally in securing action from the government on this issue, having been privy to details of shocking cases of individuals slipping through the cracks. They include convicted child sex offenders managing teams at fast-food outlets and individuals on charges working alongside children in supermarkets completely under the radar.

As has been mentioned, last year I took the opportunity to raise this matter in this place via amendments to the Bail Act, following very strong representations made to me by the SDA, in particular Mr Josh Peak. This bill takes it one step further to expand the definition of child-related work in the Child Sex Offenders Registration Act to include workplaces where children are employed, ensuring convicted child sex offenders are also captured.

I am very happy with where we have landed on a workable model, which includes the power of the Commissioner of Police, via delegation to the Assistant Commissioner Crime Service, to grant individual exemptions in very special circumstances where satisfied the individual would not pose a risk to the safety of a child. It could be, for instance, where an underage child is never on site during a night-fill shift, for example.

Importantly, individuals who have been granted an exemption by a bail authority will be required to inform their employer of any child-related sex offence charges. Undoubtedly, this bill will provide safety for young workers against working with convicted paedophiles and people charged with sex offences against children, in line with community expectations. While I am very pleased with the progress, I also acknowledge that there is much more work to be done in this space, especially when it comes to working with children checks.

Given the success of the undertakings and this arrangement I have had with the Attorney-General, I have opted not to amend this bill, but I am seeking an undertaking from the Attorney today to continue to consider and address the issue of working with children checks. I have not signalled any amendments because I understand there are some technical issues that need fleshing out.

That said, the Attorney is once again very much on notice that this is a very necessary next phase of these changes, and I am hoping he will be open to telling us that he is committed to working through the challenges and identifying any of the possible ways of meeting those requirements and making it a prescribed requirement. This is a logical next step in ensuring that kids are safe from predators in the workplace.

I am sure we will have much more to hear about working with children checks during subsequent debates in this place, but we have an opportunity here to lead the nation, as we have done with this bill. I urge the Attorney to heed that advice and act on any such moves that would see us be the first to go down that path.

Of course, it would be very remiss of me not to acknowledge everybody in this chamber who has supported this bill, including the government and the Attorney-General, but I also want to make a very special acknowledgement of the SDA, in particular Mr Josh Peak, who, I think it is fair to say, has made it his personal mission to protect vulnerable workers in their workplace. That is a very commendable mission Mr Peak has taken on board.

If anyone in here has spoken to Mr Peak about this issue they will know that it is one he is extremely passionate about, and he is extremely passionate in terms of following through and ensuring that our most vulnerable group of workers—that being children—are afforded all the protections possible under our laws when it comes to donning that work uniform and turning up to a shift, wherever it may be. With those words, I again thank the Attorney and other members for supporting this bill, and of course the SDA for their ongoing advocacy on this issue. I commend the bill to the chamber.

The Hon. E.S. BOURKE (16:02): Every worker deserves to be safe at work, as we have heard a number of times in this chamber today. This is particularly so for our children going out to work in their first part-time jobs. They are amongst the most vulnerable of employees, and we must do all we can to protect them.

This bill will mean that registered and accused child sex offenders can no longer work in a workplace where they have contact with employees who are children. It is the result of a long campaign, as mentioned by previous speakers, by the SDA union, who are tireless advocates for members, many of whom are school-age kids working in fast food and retail.

I join the many who have already congratulated the SDA secretary, Josh Peak, and his team, who have worked not only with members around this chamber but also out in the community to get attention to why this change is needed. I know that Josh Peak is a father himself, and he has commented many a time that he would want only the best possible workplace for his children and that he will advocate for every other person's child as well.

As has rightfully been highlighted, and I know that Josh Peak has the utmost respect for them as well, I commend the Hon. Connie Bonaros and the Hon. Tammy Franks for the tireless efforts they have put into this space as well in protecting our children in their workplaces but also, importantly, the Attorney-General, the Hon. Kyam Maher, for working across the chamber to make sure this legislation could get into the parliament and then through it as well.

The SDA first raised this issue with the previous government, but unfortunately no action was taken. It has taken the Malinauskas Labor government to act, and this is another in a series of reforms this government has taken to protect the South Australian community, particularly the children within our community, from exposure to child sex offences.

Many young people may be engaged in part-time work while they are students. Others may be earning qualifications through work-based apprenticeships. Under our current laws, there is nothing to prevent a registered child sex offender from taking a job working alongside or even managing underage employees. Registered child sex offenders are, of course, prohibited from applying for or engaging in child-related works.

As the Hon. Connie Bonaros has said, you cannot work in a children's centre, you cannot be a foster carer, but you can work in fast food alongside young children. This is often in late night shifts and could be up to eight hours on a barbecue grill with what might seem like friendly banter, where someone is gaining the trust of a child. I have heard stories of when this relationship has overstepped the mark and an adult has offered to drive a child home in the evening. This is where that trust is broken, and we need to make sure that we can put the right laws in place to protect our children as much as we can in their workplace.

I have also seen stories where an alleged sex offender was found working with underaged staff at McDonald's where the SDA first raised the alarm. Just last year, a man was convicted of sexual offences against his teenage co-workers at a KFC in South Australia. It is entirely reasonable that parents in South Australia should expect that their children are not facing dangers just because they go to work.

This bill takes the important step of amending the definition of child-related work in the Child Sex Offenders Registration Act 2006 so that it will include work in a business or undertaking that employs children where the work would involve contact with a child. I am really proud that we are working and taking these steps that will strengthen our laws to provide better protections for children in their workplaces.

Children are already a vulnerable cohort of workers and the state has a clear duty of care to support them to have a safe workplace so that they can just rock up to the kitchen and have banter and enjoy their workplace. We must do more to recognise and mitigate the risks that underage workers face that potentially exist for them to be exposed to if there are convicted or accused offenders working alongside them. I congratulate the Malinauskas Labor government on bringing this to the chamber and all who have been involved.

The Hon. F. PANGALLO (16:07): I rise to speak briefly in support of this legislation and I commend the work of the SDA and other members in this place for bringing it to fruition. It looks like an easy passage through this place. As it stands, this legislation is designed for the protection of young people in our workplaces. I would be interested to hear from the Attorney how it will be policed, enforced and other measures that will be taken to ensure it is quite effective.

The Hon. M. EL DANNAWI (16:07): I rise to speak on the Child Sex Offenders Registration (Child-Related Work) Amendment Bill. This is an awful subject and, tragically, it is one we have heard far too much about in the news over the summer. The abuse of children is abhorrent and morally reprehensible—that goes without saying. We have a responsibility to ensure that our legislation is capable of meaningfully addressing the seriousness of this matter.

This bill is the latest in a line of commitments that the government has delivered on to better protect victims. These commitments have included closing legal loopholes that made it easier for those in the possession of child pornography to receive a bigger sentence discount than other serious sexual offences upon entering an early guilty plea, increasing penalties for a range of child sex offenders and, critically, boosting funding for victim support services.

I was not yet a politician during that last election, but I was pleased to see the government's commitment to protecting the most vulnerable in our society through reforms that uphold the rules of law and integrity of our justice system. This latest bill creates a presumption that registered child sex offenders and those accused cannot work in businesses that employ children where their employment would involve contact with those underage employees. Accused and registered sex offenders are already prohibited from engaging in child-related work.

However, the current definition of child-related work does not extend to working with underage employees in the same workplace. The bill broadens this definition. This means that a registered sex offender cannot be placed proximate to underage employees or in a position of oversight and responsibility over them. Hopefully, this change will help to prevent incidents such as the one in August last year, when The Advertiser reported that an adult man was convicted of sexual offending against a teenage co-worker at a South Australian KFC franchise.

The SDA called for reform in this area, following this report and further news of an alleged child sex offender found working in authority over underage employees at McDonald's and at Coles. These are industries where working with children checks are not required. All workers have a right to a workplace free from harassment and abuse. Underage employees are already in a vulnerable position as workers. We should expect, as an absolute minimum, that those people with responsibility over them are fit for the job.

The ban on child-related work created by the bill is capable of being varied or revoked in individual cases where the decision-maker is satisfied that the person would not pose a risk to child employees in all circumstances. For accused offenders, this assessment is at the discretion of the bail authority, and for convicted registered offenders the discretion is held by the Commissioner of Police. We must make sure that our laws can adequately address the nuances of a situation while maintaining the strength required to protect the vulnerable.

The bill also provides for transitional arrangements for those who may already be working in these environments. For registered offenders, they must, within 30 days of commencement, notify their employer and SAPOL of their intention to make a variation application. They would then be able to continue working, either until the application is determined by the commissioner or until six months after the commencement of the act.

The changes to the Bail Act only apply to persons who apply for bail after the commencement of the bill. However, a person already charged but not yet convicted of a registerable offence before the commencement of this amendment bill must still notify their employer within seven days of commencement.

This bill is a sensible change that will strengthen protection for the younger members of our society. I commend the bill.

The Hon. K.J. MAHER (Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Attorney-General, Minister for Industrial Relations and Public Sector) (16:12): I thank all members for their contributions on this important piece of legislation. I, too, would like to place on the record my thanks to the SDA for their advocacy in this area. Secretary Josh Peak has probably already got enough love from people in this room and from the speakers, so I am not going to add much to it, but he has done very well on this. He is a very strong advocate, not just in this area but in a lot of other things. You can let him know that, the Hon. Reggie Martin.

In particular, the Hon. Connie Bonaros has been a pretty fierce advocate on this issue in particular but also on a number of other issues associated with this area. I think a number of changes we have made in this place have come about as a result of undertakings that I have given to look at or to work on areas as suggested by the Hon. Connie Bonaros. It has worked very well, and I think South Australia has been made a better place as a result of some of the reforms that have been suggested by the Hon. Connie Bonaros. I am happy to continue in that vein and, as she has asked, to give that undertaking in relation to working with children checks, which is work that I know has already started. We are happy to continue to see if there can be reforms, as the honourable member has mentioned.

I know the Hon. Michelle Lensink has raised some issues, and certainly there is correspondence from Business SA about the effect on business. I want to make sure it is clearly understood that this imposes no new obligations on businesses in the way this scheme is set up under this legislation. The obligations and the potential offences are on those child sex offenders, so the businesses have no new obligations as a result of the legislation that we are passing.

I think a couple of speakers mentioned notifications and transitional provisions. My initial advice is that it would be open, and we will work with SAPOL to write to registered child sex offenders as a possibility, and certainly it could be information that a court gives upon conviction about this as being a new obligation. So I thank honourable members for raising those important issues, and we will work with ways to make sure this law is as effective as possible, because the more those people to whom it applies know about it the safer children will be.

Bill read a second time.

Committee Stage

Bill taken through committee without amendment.

Third Reading

The Hon. K.J. MAHER (Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Attorney-General, Minister for Industrial Relations and Public Sector) (16:16): I move:

That this bill be now read a third time.

Bill read a third time and passed.