Home Affairs Minister (and failed challenger for Prime Minister) Peter Dutton has urged the states and territories to support his plan for a national, public registry for child sex offenders. The details that could be included might be the offender’s name, date of birth, photo, offence committed and postcode or suburb.
The Minister’s justification for his proposal (which was considered and then rejected by then-PM Tony Abbott) is that parents should be able to see if sex offenders live nearby. He believes that a registry would help to protect children, both by letting parents know if a person convicted of sex offences lives nearby and as a deterrent.
At this stage it is unclear which specific crimes would be included in the publicised list, or if sex offender registries held by the police would simply be made public. The idea is similar to a Western Australia registry which allows people to search for dangerous and high-risk offenders who live nearby.
The registry would need the support of all states and territories as most crimes are dealt with through the state criminal codes, so they are the ones who have the information that Dutton wants to publish. So far no state or territory has taken a stance on the proposal.
It is unclear if people’s names will ever be taken off the list if they stay clean, or if there will be a limit on how far back the registry goes. Most state sex offender registry obligations expire after a number of years (varying by state and offence), but Dutton hasn’t explained if similar rules will apply.
The Labor opposition are cautious, arguing that Dutton needs to show that this registry would be effective. Crossbench Senator Derryn Hinch is in favour of the registry, although he believes that home addresses should also be included – he says that people convicted of sexually abusing children should lose their civil rights.
Public sex offender registries are common (and highly controversial) in the United States, where there have been problems with people convicted of minor crimes being included on lists alongside serial rapists. There have also been issues with vigilante attacks, and the evidence around harm prevention is mixed.