Twice-Rejected Online Child Protection Legislation ‘Carly’s Law’ Reintroduced

Friday 21 April 2017 @ 11.05 a.m. | Crime | Legal Research

On 2 March 2017, Minister for Justice Michael Keenan introduced the Criminal Code Amendment (Protecting Minors Online) Bill 2017 (CTH). The object of the Bill is to protect children under the age of 16 from harm, sexual activity or contact by a person above the age of 18. This includes misrepresentation of one’s age online as part of a plan to cause harm to anyone less than 16 years of age. The changes have been welcomed as a timely response to the changing nature of online activity by teenagers.

Case background

Garry Francis Newman was convicted in March 2010 for murdering 15 year old Carly Ryan. Newman posed as a handsome teenager, in order to groom Ryan, and when Ryan invited him to her 15th birthday party in 2007, Newman posed as the teenager’s stepfather and attended her birthday instead. During that time, Ryan rejected his advances, and Newman lured Ryan to Port Elliot where he assaulted her and killed her. Newman was sentenced to a 29 year non-parole period for life. Previously, Newman had attempted contact with girls in Singapore and the United States under a variety of aliases as well. 

Government response

According to the media release on 30 March 2017, the ‘evolved form’ of Carly’s Law will enable law enforcement to intervene sooner in the grooming process.   The bill is an achievement of Cary’s mother, Sonya Ryan, who has campaigned for better protections since her daughter was killed. Nick Xenophon Team senator Skye Kakoschke-Moore highlighted that Newman was ‘experienced’ in grooming children online, and argued that legislation such as Carly’s Law was necessary to prevent law enforcement being ‘powerless’ to intervene.

During the trial, it was revealed that Newman was operating 200 fake profiles with fake ages to lure other young women.  Nick Xenophon has previously tried twice to have this legislation pass Parliament. The legislation will build upon other initiatives such as the:

Difference from previous initiatives

Currently, grooming laws require evidence that proves sexual intention for police to be able to arrest an individual. The most recent attempt to pass the bill, titled Criminal Code Amendment (Misrepresentation of Age to a Minor) Bill 2016 was rejected for being ‘too broad in its application’.

Former DPP Nicholas Cowdery argued in 2016 that the law was a push for police to have more power. He also highlighted that in its previous incarnation, the law would have captured individuals who were intellectually disabled.  The previous Bill stated that the object was to protect minors from predatory behaviour by adults, and was broad in its language where it stated that it was an offence to simply use a carriage service to send messages to a person under 16 years.

In contrast, the 2017 Bill is tighter in its drafting, signifying a parliamentary intention to capture those who use a carriage service to communicate with persons less than 16 years of age to plan sexual activity or cause harm.  The new bill also introduces higher penalties, up to 10 years of imprisonment, as opposed to the 8 years set by the 2016 bill.

Opposition response

Labor MP Terri Butler now argues that the government should address revenge pornography by similarly amending the Commonwealth Criminal Code. She drew parallels between online child grooming and revenge pornography, where offenders share intimate images and video without permission, and highlighted that both involved using carriage services to control and coerce people, especially women.  
Australian child protection laws must evolve with the changing online landscape and increase in children’s use of technology, as Senator Kakoschke-Moore noted in 2016.  Research from the E-Safety Commissioner shows that teenagers spend thirty hours online each week outside of school. While early intervention in child grooming cases is welcomed, as is the implementation of a Commonwealth law, care must be taken to not enlarge police powers extensively.

TimeBase is an independent, privately owned Australian legal publisher specialising in the online delivery of accurate, comprehensive and innovative legislation research tools including LawOne and unique Point-in-Time Products. Nothing on this website should be construed as legal advice and does not substitute for the advice of competent legal counsel.

Sources:

Senator Kakoschke-Moore, Second Reading Speech on Criminal Code Amendment (Misrepresentation of Age to a Minor) Bill 2016, as reproduced on TimeBase LawOne

Karen Barlow, "After Carly's Law, Labor Says It's Now Time To Move On Revenge Porn," (3 March, 2017) Huffington Post Australia.

Minister for Justice, "Carly’s Law introduced to protect young Australians online"(30 March 2017).

"Carly's Law: Bill to attempt to catch online predators grooming children to be reintroduced to Parliament," (1 September 2016). ABC News Online.

Sean Fewster, "Face of Carly Ryan's killer Garry Francis Newman revealed" (31 March, 2010), Herald Sun.

Criminal Code Amendment (Misrepresentation of Age to a Minor) Bill 2016, as reproduced on TimeBase LawOne.

Rani Chaleyer, "Carly's law: should it be a crime for adults to lie about their age to children online?" (11 January 2017), SBS News.

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