Monday, September 23, 2013

AUSTRALIA - Spot-check laws under fire from rights groups

Cameron Murphy
Cameron Murphy
Original Article


By Georgina Mitchell

Civil liberties groups have expressed alarm at tough new legislation which allows NSW police to conduct spot-checks on the homes of child sex offenders without warning.

The legislation, introduced in the lower house of NSW Parliament last week, gives police the power to inspect homes and computers of known sex offenders without notice once every 12 months and force the offenders to hand over passwords and login information.

If they refuse, they can be jailed for a maximum of five years or be given a $55,000 fine for non-compliance.

"This is a reasonable and balanced amendment, which should make any registered sex offender think twice about not complying with their reporting obligations," NSW Attorney General Greg Smith said when introducing the bill.

But Cameron Murphy, president of the NSW Council for Civil Liberties, said although sex offenders should be stopped, lessening police accountability was not the way to go about it. "This is deja vu. Isn't it just last week we had legislation that would allow police to search houses and vehicles of people on the banned firearms register?" Mr Murphy said.

He said the legislation had potential to make search warrants redundant as police had the power to randomly inspect homes of criminals across the state.

"I worry about the accountability - what exactly is going to happen here?" he said.

"Is it limited just to the person who is the sex offender, or other people in the house?"

"Does this mean search warrants will become worthless, because there's hundreds of thousands of people on registers who can be randomly searched?"

The bill also prohibits known sex offenders from working in vocational training, or as a volunteer or self-employed contractor where they may come in contact with children.

Dr Cathy Kezelman, president of advocacy group Adults Surviving Child Abuse, said managing sex offenders in the community was important as the impact of child sexual abuse became more widely recognized.

"It is crucial that anyone registered as a sex offender is prohibited from working in a broader range of roles that may expose them to children," she said.

"The proposed additional amendments, including random inspections of a sex offender's home and computers, should they be passed, will provide some information regarding online predatory behaviour and other activity. However they do not detract from the need for sentencing to be commensurate with the impacts of the crime, additional monitoring considerations and offender programs."

A spokesperson for NSW Police Minister Michael Gallacher said the penalty of $55,000 or five years in prison would be reserved for the worst offenders.

"This would be for a multiple non-compliance, high-risk offender, someone who was more of a risk to the community," the spokesperson said.

The bill is expected to pass when NSW Parliament sits in October.

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