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).


  • 2/05/2015 4:00 AM

Thank you for your comment. If it does not require moderation, it will appear shortly.
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 immigration Australian foreign policy Parliament elections climate change social security women welfare reform taxation Indigenous Australians Australian Defence Force welfare policy school education higher education private health insurance health financing emissions trading Senate Australian Bureau of Statistics employment people trafficking Asia statistics Middle East illicit drugs gambling health reform federal election 2010 Australian Public Service income management Medicare disability Sport United Nations environment industrial relations constitution transport politics criminal law Afghanistan health forced labour food public service reform aged care aid Australian Sports Anti-Doping Agency World Anti-Doping Agency United States federal budget Carbon Pricing Mechanism dental health international relations governance regulation Fair Work Act voting law enforcement electoral reform OECD Australian Electoral Commission WADA child protection poker machines Australia in the Asian Century steroids National Disability Insurance Scheme detention 43rd Parliament slavery health system leadership domestic violence parliamentary procedure International Women's Day accountability defence capability multiculturalism ASADA Australian Federal Police labour force people smuggling debt New Zealand Australian Crime Commission pharmaceutical benefits scheme political parties coal seam gas Human rights crime China Census election results UK Parliament Papua New Guinea banking corruption pensions children's health Aviation federal election 2013 foreign debt gross debt net debt Senators and Members ALP Newstart Parenting Payment Youth Allowance sea farers United Kingdom energy food labelling Australian economy violence against women vocational education and training military history by-election High Court skilled migration mental health Federal Court terrorist groups science social media Higher Education Loan Program HECS federal state relations youth paid parental leave same sex relationships customs planning doping health risks Gonski Review of Funding for Schooling sex slavery Special Rapporteur Northern Territory Emergency Response social policy ANZUS Rural and regional trade unions Foreign affairs election timetable Indigenous royal commission Productivity firearms public policy Population ADRV terrorism transparency research and development welfare ASIO intelligence community Australian Security Intelligence Organisation carbon tax mining employer employee renewable energy regional unemployment fishing European Union family assistance United Nations Security Council forestry Drugs welfare systems Indonesia children Constitutional reform local government codes of conduct terrorist financing homelessness Parliamentary remuneration money laundering Trafficking in Persons Report social inclusion paternalism environmental law US presidential election nutrition ODA Defence sitting days electoral divisions Southeast Asia administrative law universities TAFE Ireland citizenship asylum seekers early childhood education Canada Financial sector national security fuel disability employment Tasmania integrity standards NATO Australian Secret Intelligence Service sexual abuse World Trade Organization Australia public health housing affordability bulk billing water health policy Governor-General US economy export liquefied natural gas foreign bribery question time speaker superannuation public housing expertise climate Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Department of Agriculture Fisheries and Forestry Pacific Islands reserved seats new psychoactive substances synthetic drugs UNODC carbon markets animal health middle class welfare constitutional recognition of local government referendum consumer laws PISA competition policy US politics language education baby bonus Leaders of the Opposition citizen engagement policymaking Australia Greens servitude Trafficking Protocol forced marriage alcohol entitlements ministries Hung Parliament social citizenship maritime Iran regional students school chaplains federal budget 2011-12 salary Medicare Locals primary care Building the Education Revolution marine pollution sustainability prisons police deaths in custody electoral margins electoral pendulum electoral redistribution redistribution NSW redistribution WA redistribution ACT electoral boundaries ASEAN Sustainable Development Goals Double dissolution Senators safety vehicles MYEFO Pathology tertiary education Taiwan Xi Ma meeting family violence government financial advisers financial planners Financial System Inquiry Murray Inquiry China; Economic policy; Southeast Asia; Africa housing Speaker; House of Representatives; Parliament High Court; Indigenous; Indigenous Australians; Native Title ACT Indigenous education Norfolk Island External Territories emissions reduction fund; climate change child care funding refugees immigration asylum procurement Indigenous health e-voting internet voting nsw state elections 44th Parliament 2015 ABS Age Pension Death penalty capital punishment execution Bali nine Bali bombings Trade EU China soft power education Fiji India Disability Support Pension Antarctica Diplomacy by-elections state and territories Bills anti-corruption fraud bribery corporate ownership whistleblower G20 economic reform innovation Members of Parliament Scottish referendum 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 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 Israel Palestine asylum refugees immigration political finance donations foreign aid Economics efficiency human rights; Racial Discrimination Act employment law bullying Animal law; food copyright Australian Law Reform Commission industry peace keeping contracts workplace policies same-sex marriage disorderly conduct retirement Parliament House standing orders prime ministers First speech defence budget submarines workers Somalia GDP world heritage political engagement leave loading Trade; tariffs; safeguards; Anti-dumping public interest disclosure whistleblowing Productivity Commission limitation period 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 anti-dumping Rent Assistance obesity evidence law sacrament of confession international days DFAT UN General Assembly deregulation Regulation Impact Statements small business Breaker Morant regional engagement social determinants of health abortion Members suspension workplace health and safety marine reserves hearing Victoria astronomy resources sector YMCA youth parliament Korea 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 federalism federation preselection therapeutic goods Therapeutic Goods Administration plebiscites computer games pests suicide nuclear COAG Ministerial Councils floods ADHD stimulant medication advertising electricity extradition conscience votes poverty preventative health rural health coastal erosion Parliamentary Budget Office work-life balance

Show all
Show less
Back to top