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NATIONAL child protection advocate Bravehearts has backed proposed legislation that would prevent convicted child sex offenders from travelling abroad.
The Herald Sun reports that Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop and Justice Minister Michael Keenan will today present plans to the coalition party room to permanently bar Australia’s 20,000 registered child sex offenders from travelling overseas.
The legislation is likely to go before Parliament by June and was first flagged last November by Ms Bishop, who is fulfilling a commitment to work with Victorian Senator Derryn Hinch to develop the legislation.
Bravehearts Founder Hetty Johnston AM, applauded the decision by the government and Senator Hinch to push ahead with the legislation.
“It has been a long time coming, but we welcome this news and congratulate Senator Hinch and the government on bringing this to reality,” said Mrs Johnston.
“We have seen too many horrific outcomes when these dangerous offenders are allowed to travel overseas and prey on vulnerable families and children, particularly in impoverished nations such as Indonesia and the Philippines.”
According to evidence given to a Senate committee hearing last week, almost 800 registered child sex offenders travelled overseas last year, and child sex tourism remains a multi-billion industry in poverty stricken countries in South East Asia.
Mrs Johnston said it was about time Australians prioritised the human rights of children over the civil rights of convicted child sex offenders.
“The safety of children and families should always be a priority,” she said.
“Our responsibility to protect children does not stop at our national borders. We cannot absolve ourselves of responsibility for allowing known Australian child sex offenders to travel or reside overseas and to potentially offend against children in vulnerable communities.
“We must decide to put the best interests of child first – always. Everything we do must pass that test.”
Paedophiles who prey on children overseas can be jailed for up to 20 years on their return to Australia if the offence can be proved, and offenders listed on State and Territory registers are required to detail their international travel plans to the Australian Federal Police.
The AFP’s policy is to share that information with its counterparts in other countries, to give them the chance to bar the entry of potential predators, but it is unclear how often authorities in major child sex tourism destinations, such as Indonesia and the Philippines, have only a patchy record of acting on the information.
Until now Australian law enforcement agencies authorities have needed to make a specific request of the Foreign Minister to cancel passports, or refuse to issue travel documents, and the existing measures have done little to stem the scourge of sex tourism by Australian paedophiles.
The new laws are believed to be a world-first, and would put Australia at the forefront of the growing international effort to stop child sex tourism.