Targeting online predators: proposed changes to criminal law

Parliament house flag post

Targeting online predators: proposed changes to criminal law

Posted 18/08/2014 by Genevieve Butler

Fifty-year-old Gary Newman was sentenced to life in prison in 2010 for the brutal murder of 15-year-old Carly Ryan in 2007.

However, Newman committed no crime in posing online as 18-year-old Brandon Kane in order to meet Carly.

Senator Nick Xenophon says that is a gap in the criminal law which he hopes to close with his Private Members Bill, the Criminal Code Amendment (Misrepresentation of Age to a Minor) Bill 2013.

The aim of the Bill is to make it an offence for a person over 18 years old to lie about their age in online communications to a person under 16 for the purposes of encouraging a physical meeting or with the intention of committing another offence (proposed section 474.40 of the Criminal Code Act 1995).

In Carly’s case, Newman had over 200 fake identities and a history of pursuing young girls online. Newman used one of his online identities to lure Carly to a meeting at a secluded beach at Port Elliot in South Australia, where he assaulted her and left her to die.

Senator Xenophon contends that the Bill closes an important loophole in the law.  

“This Bill is an attempt to address some of the techniques used by online predators, so that we can put an additional safeguard in place for our children,” he told Parliament in his Second Reading Speech.

Senator Xenophon says that under current online predator laws, police need to actually prove the adult is grooming the child for a sexual purpose. He considers that existing laws are too narrow, and is concerned that there are no laws directly addressing the situation where an adult lies about their age to a child online for the purpose of encouraging that child to meet them in person. He notes that there are few circumstances in which an adult can legitimately pretend to be younger than they are in order to meet a child.

Senator Xenophon believes there ought to be an offence that can allow the police to act and intervene at a much earlier stage to prevent harm being caused.

However, the Government argues that the existing criminal provisions sufficiently cover the relevant offending behaviour.

Section 474.26 of the Criminal Code covers using a carriage service (eg Internet or telephone) to procure children under 16 years of age to engage in sexual activity; section 474.27 relates to using a carriage service to "groom" children under 16 years of age; and section 474.14 sets out liability for using a telecommunications network with the intention to commit a serious offence.

Child sex-related offences were strengthened nationally in March 2010 through the Crimes Legislation Amendment (Sexual Offences Against Children) Act 2010. The amendments in this Act were designed to ensure that such offences were comprehensive and addressed contemporary forms of offending, such as using the Internet for indecent communications or sexual activity with a child.   

The Attorney-General’s Department (AGD) has also noted that while the intention of the Bill is sound, it may criminalise conduct that is innocent and does not warrant criminal sanctions. AGD commented that lying about one’s age occurs in many social situations, including on the Internet and social networking sights such as Facebook. The Department gave the example of a person emailing a birthday party invitation to co-workers or family members who are under 18, and claiming to be far younger than they really were as a joke. 

It is the third time that Senator Xenophon has proposed such a Bill before Parliament. The 2010 Bill lapsed at the end of the 42nd Parliament. The Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee considered the Bill in June 2010, recommending that it not be passed, citing a failure to incorporate an element of intent, and duplication of existing provisions.

The Bill was then considerably revised to take those issues into account, and reintroduced in February 2013, only to lapse in November 2013 at the end of the 43rd Parliament. The Committee reported on its inquiry into the Bill in June 2013, again recommending that it not be passed.  The Committee considered that existing offences in the Criminal Code already criminalised online communications with children where there is evidence of intention to cause harm, and that the Bill was too broad in its application.

The current Bill, introduced on 12 December 2013, was further revised to address issues raised by the Committee in its report on the second Bill. It has again been referred to the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee, which is due to report on 4 December 2014.

The Committee held a public hearing for its inquiry into the Bill on 3 March 2014.  Senator Penny Wright was concerned that the only aspect of the offence required to be proved is that the misrepresentation of age is for the purpose of encouraging the child to meet in person. Senator Wright expressed concern that people with intellectual disabilities not be caught in an offence where, for example, they had the level of thinking of a child, and wanted to meet young people simply because they were lonely.

Submissions have been received from government agencies, law societies and non-government organisations. The submissions concentrate on the adequacy of existing criminal offences, as well as the broad application of proposed section 474.40(1).

Thank you for your comment. If it does not require moderation, it will appear shortly.

Add your comment

[Click to expand]

We welcome your comments, or additional information which is relevant to a post. These can be added by clicking on the ‘Add your comment’ option above. Please note that the Parliamentary Library will moderate comments, and reserves the right not to publish comments that are inconsistent with the objectives of FlagPost. This includes spam, profanity and personal abuse, as well as comments that are factually incorrect or politically partisan. We will close comments after three months.

Generate a new image
Type characters from the image:

Facebook LinkedIn Twitter Add | Email Print


Flagpost is a blog on current issues of interest to members of the Australian Parliament

Parliamentary Library Logo showing Information Analysis & Advice




Refugees asylum climate change immigration Australian foreign policy parliament social security welfare policy elections welfare reform school education health financing higher education Australian Defence Force emissions trading indigenous Australians women private health insurance people trafficking illicit drugs gambling health reform federal election 2010 United Nations Employment Asia disability income management Middle East Medicare Australian Bureau of Statistics statistics sport health forced labour federal budget Afghanistan Industrial Relations Carbon Pricing Mechanism politics dental health United States aid child protection environment poker machines Australia in the Asian Century Australian Sports Anti-Doping Agency steroids World Anti-Doping Agency National Disability Insurance Scheme detention aged care 43rd Parliament slavery health system Law Enforcement Australian Federal Police Criminal Law Fair Work Act Australian Public Service governance labour force people smuggling transport debt taxation international relations constitution New Zealand food WADA Australian Crime Commission pharmaceutical benefits scheme pensions public service reform children's health Aviation foreign debt gross debt net debt defence capability parliamentary procedure Senate Senators and Members ALP ASADA Newstart Parenting Payment multiculturalism Youth Allowance sea farers Higher Education Loan Program HECS federal state relations accountability Papua New Guinea youth paid parental leave same sex relationships corruption coal seam gas customs planning federal election 2013 Australian Electoral Commission doping OECD crime health risks International Women's Day Gonski Review of Funding for Schooling sex slavery Special Rapporteur Northern Territory Emergency Response social policy welfare ASIO intelligence community terrorist groups Australian Security Intelligence Organisation carbon tax mining High Court military history electoral reform employer employee renewable energy regional unemployment fishing European Union Federal Court family assistance skilled migration banking United Nations Security Council Australian economy forestry food labelling vocational education and training Drugs UK Parliament welfare systems Indonesia social media children Constitutional reform local government codes of conduct terrorist financing homelessness Parliamentary remuneration money laundering Trafficking in Persons Report energy science social inclusion human rights paternalism Australian Secret Intelligence Service sexual abuse terrorism World Trade Organization Australia public health China housing affordability bulk billing political parties water productivity health policy Governor-General US economy trade unions domestic violence export liquefied natural gas foreign bribery firearms question time speaker superannuation public housing election results by-election expertise public policy climate Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change leadership voting Department of Agriculture Fisheries and Forestry regulation Pacific Islands reserved seats research and development new psychoactive substances synthetic drugs UNODC carbon markets animal health middle class welfare ADRV Census Indigenous constitutional recognition of local government referendum consumer laws PISA competition policy royal commission US politics violence against women language education baby bonus Leaders of the Opposition citizen engagement policymaking Australia Greens servitude Trafficking Protocol forced marriage Population rural and regional mental health alcohol entitlements ministries Hung Parliament social citizenship maritime Iran transparency ANZUS regional students school chaplains federal budget 2011-12 salary Medicare Locals primary care Building the Education Revolution early childhood education Middle East; national security; terrorism social services Criminal Code Amendment (Misrepresentation of Age to a Minor) Bill 2013 online grooming sexual assault of minors ACT Assembly national security smoking plain packaging tobacco cigarettes Asia; Japan; international relations Work Health and Safety Migration; asylum seekers; regional processing China; United States; international relations fiscal policy Racial Discrimination Act; social policy; human rights; indigenous Australians Foreign policy Southeast Asia Israel Palestine asylum refugees immigration political finance donations foreign aid disability employment Economics efficiency human rights; Racial Discrimination Act employment law bullying asylum seekers Animal law; food copyright Australian Law Reform Commission industry peace keeping contracts workplace policies same-sex marriage disorderly conduct integrity retirement Parliament House standing orders prime ministers election timetable sitting days First speech defence budget submarines workers financial sector Canada Somalia United Kingdom GDP Tasmania world heritage political engagement leave loading Trade; tariffs; safeguards; Anti-dumping public interest disclosure whistleblowing Productivity Commission limitation period universities Ireland cancer gene patents genetic testing suspension of standing and sessional orders live exports infant mortality honorary citizen railways disciplinary tribunals standard of proof World Health Organisation arts international students skilled graduate visas temporary employment visas apologies roads Italy national heritage NHMRC nutrition anti-dumping Rent Assistance obesity evidence law sacrament of confession US presidential election international days DFAT UN General Assembly deregulation Regulation Impact Statements administrative law small business Breaker Morant regional engagement social determinants of health abortion Members suspension workplace health and safety marine reserves hearing TAFE Victoria astronomy resources sector YMCA youth parliament Korea fuel rebate Australian Greens presidential nomination Racial Discrimination Act political parties preselection solar hot water Financial Action Taskforce Horn of Africa peacekeeping piracy Great Barrier Reef Stronger futures political financing political education Social Inclusion Board early childhood National Quality Framework for Early Childhood Education and Care Murray-Darling Basin sanctions Norway hospitals republic President Barack Obama Presidential visits qantas counselling Korean peninsula Work Choices biosecurity hendra environmental law federalism federation preselection therapeutic goods Therapeutic Goods Administration plebiscites computer games pests suicide nuclear COAG Ministerial Councils floods ADHD stimulant medication advertising electricity extradition standards conscience votes poverty preventative health rural health coastal erosion Parliamentary Budget Office NATO work-life balance

Show all
Show less