My matter for the Minister for Child Protection is about the topics of child pornography and exploitation. I raise it not only because of a recent spate of horrifying news stories in these areas, like the conduct of Westpac, the starved four-year-old in Gippsland and a series of child neglect cases in Queensland; I also raise it because of my longstanding concerns about Victorian sentencing practices and data for child pornography crimes. Broadly speaking, serious sex offenders now account for around one in five people incarcerated in Victoria. Child pornography offenders are among the most challenging parts of all of this cohort, with Victoria currently facing, in police chief commissioner Graham Ashton’s words, a tidal wave of violent child pornography activity. His observations are also very consistent with trends more widely which have been evidenced, for instance, in Australian paedophiles purchasing swathes of online footage of children being tortured and murdered as well as the arrests of 1700 suspected predators in the US in June and the global operation last month against a dark web child pornography site involving 337 arrests across 12 countries. Federally in Australia there was also a very important development in September, when the attainment of child abuse material through a carriage service officially became a crime. Of course the young victims will face many incredibly serious challenges in overcoming such exploitation, and we will never eradicate violence from society as long as this abuse of children continues. Sadly it still seems to be the case in Victoria that an overwhelming majority—around two-thirds or more—of those convicted of child pornography offences never even serve a custodial sentence. I say ‘seems’ because it is becoming more difficult to attain such data. The Crime Statistics Agency now groups child pornography offences into a much broader category titled ‘offensive conduct’. The Sentencing Advisory Council still provides information for Crimes Act offences both under section 51G(1) and the repealed section 70(1); however, there is no longer an obvious way of accessing information purely in respect of child pornography charges and sentences.
The action I therefore seek from the minister is that he indicate what changes, if any, are being implemented in Victoria on three fronts, namely: following the federal and international leads in proactively targeting child pornography offenders; ensuring that sentences in this area reflect community expectations and the gravity of the crimes; and making publicly available crime data specific to child pornography offending and sentencing.