A Tasmanian government move to make religious ministers mandatory reporters of child sexual abuse should also be adopted in Queensland.
That’s the view of Brisbane compensation lawyer Trent Johnson who says the national redress scheme being adopted across Australia has highlighted an anomaly in the State and Territory laws which exempt church officials from a mandatory requirement to report any child abuse they are aware of.
The issue came to light earlier in the year when the Archbishop of Adelaide was found guilty of concealing his knowledge of a credible complaint of child sex abuse by a 15 year old boy in the 1970s. Many were surprised to know that ministers and church officials in Queensland are not on the state’s list for mandatory reporting of child sex abuse.
Tasmania has a similar situation and the state government has now prepared draft legislation to make religious ministers mandatory reporters of child sex abuse and to toughen laws around failing to report such crimes.
Trent Johnson, a specialist compensation lawyer and a Director with Bennett & Philp Lawyers, has welcomed the move and says Queensland should match it.
The draft Tasmanian legislation specifically expands the list of mandatory reporters to include people in religious ministry and inserts a new crime of failing to report a serious offence into criminal legislation.
Trent says the proposed Tasmanian legislation is notable in that it excludes confessional privilege as a defence to the non-reporting of any child abuse.
“This is significant. Ministers who hear of child sex abuse in a confessional will no longer be able to claim the confessional privilege as a defence for suppressing this information.”
Trent says in Queensland the Child Protection Act of 1999 lists the “mandatory reporters” as teachers; doctors; registered nurses; police officers with child protection responsibilities, people performing a child advocate function under the Public Guardian Act and early childhood education and care professionals.
“Surprisingly, those involved in religious ministry are not on that list in Queensland though they should be included,” he says.
“The people mandated to notify cases of suspected child abuse and neglect range from state to state. The occupations most commonly named as mandatory reporters are those who deal frequently with children in the course of their work: teachers, doctors, nurses and police,” he says.
Trent says the community’s repugnance at child sex abuse means that offenders should no longer be allowed to hide behind the church confessional.
Everybody in the community has an obligation to report abuse and do everything in their power to prevent any abuse of children,” he says.