Legislative Council: Wednesday, April 10, 2024


Child Sexual Abuse

Adjourned debate on motion of Hon. L.A. Henderson:

That this council—

1. Acknowledges that one in three girls and one in five boys are sexually assaulted by the time they turn 18;

2. Acknowledges the call on the federal Labor government to close a legal loophole which protects paedophiles' superannuation from access by the victims and survivors; and

3. Calls on the Malinauskas Labor government to urge their federal counterparts to adopt a policy addressing the legal loophole around superannuation for victims and survivors of child sexual abuse.

(Continued from 21 February 2024.)

The Hon. B.R. HOOD (18:12): Today, I stand with the Hon. Laura Henderson MLC in support of her motion that addresses a critical oversight in our federal legislation concerning child sexual abuse. Child sexual abuse is an intolerable crime and it is distressing to learn that our legal framework harbours a loophole that inadvertently allows perpetrators to safeguard their assets from just consequences. This legislative gap shields their superannuation funds from rightful claims from survivors, leaving them without compensation that they are due for their immense suffering.

Yet, with this current legal loophole, we witness an inverse penalty where survivors, burdened by the costs of recovery, often face financial destitution, while offenders potentially use the legal system to protect their financial interests. This is a stark contradiction of justice. It is apparent there are offenders who exploit this loophole and likely do so with calculated foresight, with the knowledge that they can avoid financial accountability for their actions.

The manipulation of legislation to protect personal assets at the expense of justice for victims cannot be overlooked. Allowing this to continue means accepting a system that fails to uphold the basic principles of justice and accountability. We must ensure that survivors of such heinous acts have a clear path to the compensation they deserve, including access to the offender's superannuation when proven guilty.

Addressing this issue is not just about closing the loophole, it is about sending a clear message that the system stands firmly on the side of survivors, not those who commit such indefensible crimes. We must urge the federal government to act swiftly and decisively to amend this legislation.

The victims of child sex abuse are always robbed of their childhoods, bearing scars that are physical, mental and emotional for the rest of their lives. This motion presents us with a profound responsibility to fortify our legal system against exploitation and reinforce the scales of justice in favour of those who have suffered too much already. I commend this motion to the chamber.

The Hon. S.L. GAME (18:14): I rise briefly in support of the honourable member's motion. It is unacceptable that convicted paedophiles have been able to avoid compensating their victims by hiding their assets in superannuation funds. South Australian taxpayers therefore compensate victims from the Victims of Crime Fund. This needs to change.

Child sex abuse ruins the lives of victims and survivors. Compensation will never undo the untold damage, but it is vital to ensure a fighting chance of overcoming the devastating consequences of child sex abuse. Limited avenues for compensation need to be addressed. One Nation supports the need for child sex offenders to be held responsible for compensating their victims, and I commend the motion.

The Hon. K.J. MAHER (Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Attorney-General, Minister for Industrial Relations and Public Sector) (18:15): I thank the honourable member for her motion and for getting behind the state government's calls for reform in this area. We are firmly committed to doing everything we can to produce better outcomes for those who have been through the heinous, unspeakable ordeal of child sexual abuse. We are proud to have previously demonstrated this commitment repeatedly, and have made a number of significant reforms in this space, headlined by:

recently introducing legislation in relation to indefinite detention of repeat child sex offenders;

passing legislation to create a default rule that accused and convicted child sex offenders may not work in businesses that employ children;

listening to and working with former Australian of the Year Grace Tame to pass legislation to rename the offence 'unlawful sexual relationship with a child' to 'sexual abuse of a child';

significantly increasing—sometimes doubling or tripling—penalties for a range of child sex offences; and

closing loopholes that allow offenders who possess child pornography or childlike sex dolls to access bigger sentence discounts or bail.

I am pleased to say that I have had a number of interactions with my federal counterparts about legislative reform to ensure that financial assets cannot be hidden by perpetrators of child sexual abuse in their superannuation accounts to avoid paying compensation to their victims following civil actions.

I have previously written to Assistant Treasurer and Minister for Financial Services, the Hon. Stephen Jones MP, initially in September 2022, copying in the commonwealth Attorney-General, the Hon. Mark Dreyfus MP. In that letter I requested an update on behalf of the South Australian Labor government on whether the commonwealth had progressed these proposals and whether any consultation would be undertaken with states and territories about the reforms.

Support by the Malinauskas government for reforms was expressed at that time back in September 2022. In November 2022, the Minister for Financial Services responded and indicated the commonwealth government would continue to explore options to help ensure that victims of child sexual abuse receive their rightful compensation after litigation. In January 2023, the commonwealth government released its discussion paper for consultation, putting forward options for legislative reforms. Under the proposals in their discussion paper, certain super contributions made by an offender in the lead-up to criminal proceedings would be made available to the victim for the purposes of paying compensation, and courts would also be entitled to access to Australian Taxation Office data about superannuation.

Again, in February 2024, I wrote to the Minister for Financial Services reiterating the Labor government's support for the commonwealth to progress this legislative reform, seeking a further update on progress, as well as offering assistance that we could provide to help progress these reforms. I look forward to the commonwealth government's plan for reform and continuing to work for reform in these areas. It might be helpful in the summing-up contribution to the motion if the representative from the opposition outlined the representations that she or the Liberal opposition have made to the commonwealth government urging reform as well.

The Hon. C. BONAROS (18:20): I rise to speak on this motion calling on the Malinauskas government to urge federal colleagues to close the legal loophole shielding superannuation of child sex abusers from their victims. At the outset, I would like to acknowledge the deeply troubling statistics that continue to reveal the prevalence of childhood sexual abuse in our communities.

It is staggering to comprehend that more than one in three girls and almost one in five boys are sexually assaulted before reaching the age of 18. I think today it was pointed out that that is about eight children in every class of around 30, statistically speaking. Behind these statistics lie the shattered innocence and lifelong trauma endured by over 1.1 million Australian women and nearly 350,000 Australian men. Also distressing is the revelation that the vast majority of these crimes are perpetrated by individuals known to the victims, individuals who have betrayed the trust of innocent children in the most abhorrent manner imaginable.

Further, it is deeply concerning that a significant proportion of cases remain unreported, with about 84 per cent of women and an alarming 99 per cent of men choosing not to disclose their abuse to authorities. What compounds this already horrific situation is the exploitation of a legal loophole allowing perpetrators of these heinous acts to shield their super from their victims. It is a loophole perpetrators are openly exploiting. They are loading up their super with all that they can simply so that their victims cannot access it. We have heard anecdotally of perpetrators boasting about it; we have heard about them being sentenced to jail and spending big while incarcerated, just to ensure that their victims do not get access to that cash.

Today, we had a case mentioned to us at the forum that was held—and I thank the honourable member for that—of someone who was charged and incarcerated with such charges of spending something like $320,000-odd while incarcerated. There are only so many chocolate bars, chips, soft drinks and God knows what that you can buy while you are in prison, but that is the amount of money that that particular perpetrator spent whilst incarcerated just to ensure that the victims of his heinous crimes did not get access to his funds.

The case of former magistrate Peter Liddy obviously serves as a stark reminder of the injustices caused by this loophole. Despite being convicted of sexually abusing multiple young boys, Liddy's considerable super remains beyond the reach of his victims, adding to their pain and suffering. Since his conviction in 2001, Liddy's super from 25 years of serving as a magistrate has compounded. I think that also raises questions about whether that should actually be able to happen in the first place. Meanwhile, while we sit here and contemplate those questions, his victims have suffered unimaginable trauma all these years.

I would like to commend the tireless advocacy of individuals, including of course Andrew Carpenter, who I know is known to many of us in here; Ms Claire O'Connor; Mr Adam Washbourne; Madeleine West; Grace Tame, who has made this one of her campaigns that she, together with those individuals that I mentioned, has advocated on tirelessly; my former boss, Nick Xenophon, who worked with Andrew on this very important issue—all of whom have been allies in this pursuit for justice—and, of course, the mover of this motion, the Hon. Laura Henderson, who has joined the chorus of calls for legislative change in this area. It has been a long time coming. There has been a lot of groundwork that people have been doing for a very long time. As we know, this is one of those issues that deserves the unanimous support of this parliament.

Paedophiles are the lowest of the low. It is unconscionable that they should be allowed to serve a prison sentence and walk away with a nest egg while their victims continue to suffer. Frankly, I have zero empathy for perpetrators of these crimes. Any sense of empathy I have goes out the window. You can do what you like when it comes to these monsters who have effectively ruined lives, taken away children's childhoods and set them up for a destiny to nowhere in terms of the pain and trauma that will be inflicted on them for years to come.

We heard today from Madeleine West. This might be something that does not surface for some 40 years, and in all that time you have gone through all these horrific things. You can hide it from the world, but the reality is that it is a very ugly future that those children face after having been abused and sexually assaulted as children, most commonly by a family member. For me that is the most terrifying part, that people who we know and trust and love could do that to a child.

So taking away their super is the least that we could do, in my view, for those children who grow up to be adults and have to navigate their way through the rest of their life and find some meaning and purpose and way to continue. It is a legal loophole which, in my opinion, is a glaring failure of our justice system.

I certainly look forward and indeed acknowledge—because we have had those discussions jointly; I know the Attorney has had those discussions with Ms Tame, and on her last visit we had those discussions together—that this is on the Attorney's radar. It is an issue that he has had raised with him already, and I am sure it continues to be, despite the fact that it is on the national agenda, not the state agenda. With those words, I thank the mover of this motion. I support it wholeheartedly.

Sitting extended beyond 18:00 on motion of Hon. K.J. Maher.

The Hon. L.A. HENDERSON (18:28): I would like to thank honourable members for their contribution: the Hon. Ben Hood, the Hon. Connie Bonaros, the Hon. Sarah Game and the Attorney-General. Some issues ought to be above politics, and it is disappointing that the government decided to play politics on this issue.

I would like to address commentary in The Advertiser today by the Attorney-General, who said, 'I welcome the state Liberals following our lead and jumping on board this worthy cause.' It is a worthy cause indeed. It was my understanding that the Super for Survivors team had been met with less than desired action from the Attorney-General, hence the need for this motion.

Earlier this afternoon, members of parliament and staff had the opportunity to hear from the Super for Survivors team, including Andrew Carpenter from Websters lawyers, Adam Washbourne from Fighters Against Child Abuse Australia, and Madeleine West from Safe on Social and Project Paradigm. This afternoon's forum was moving and a clear demonstration of why this change is needed. I thank members of parliament and staff who took time out of their busy day to attend this really important forum. I would like to take a moment to acknowledge the Super for Survivors team and their continued advocacy in this incredibly important space. Through their advocacy, they are able to give a voice to so many who may be unable to speak for themselves.

I was horrified when I learnt convicted paedophiles can hide their assets in their superannuation to avoid compensating survivors of their vile crimes, and I strongly believe this needs to change. This motion seeks to call on the Malinauskas government to urge action from their federal counterparts to close the legal loophole which protects paedophiles' superannuation from access by their victim survivors. Currently, offenders are able to hide their assets in their superannuation because there is no provision allowing sexual abuse survivors to access these funds. As a result, many survivors have been unable to receive the compensation they deserve.

The horrendous scourge of child sexual abuse impacts the quality of life and the health of these victim survivors in both the long term and short term. The lack of avenues for compensation for some of these victims is something that needs to be addressed. This can ultimately leave victim survivors with little to no support as they try to seek the support that they need because of this crime and a continued sense of injustice after so many years of trauma.

Child sexual abuse is the most unforgivable of acts, and the fact that many survivors are unable to access the compensation they deserve and the compensation they have been awarded just adds salt to their wounds. While reforming superannuation law is a federal issue, ensuring child abuse survivors have the support they need should be a priority for our community as a whole. This is not a case of winning the lottery. Compensation for survivors of child sexual abuse will never right the wrongs committed against them, but it will provide some kind of financial stability and assist them in getting the support that they need. For many, this may be the first time that they have had financial stability.

Paedophiles should not have the privilege of concealing their assets or enjoying a peaceful retirement while their victims serve a life sentence due to the nature of these crimes committed against them. Child sex offenders should be held responsible for compensating their victims with all of their funds made available for doing so. The system should be there to support these victim survivors, and it is about time that it was no longer stacked against them. With those words, I commend the motion to the house.

Motion carried.