Nsw Child Abuse Laws Pass, Clergy Exempt
By Tom Rabe
Australian Associated Press
June 21, 2018
New laws that could see people jailed for failing to report child sex abuse have passed NSW parliament but religious clergy remain exempt.
The bill passed the NSW upper house late on Wednesday night strengthening state laws surrounding child sex abuse - but Greens MP David Shoebridge said the legislation doesn't go far enough.
The new laws provide an exemption for lawyers, health professionals and religious clergy, unless the attorney-general provides special permission to prosecute.
Mr Shoebridge moved an amendment in the Legislative Council to scrap exemptions for church figures but neither the coalition nor Labor supported it.
"When it comes to the confessional the coalition and Labor both put the interests of the church ahead of the safety of children," Mr Shoebridge said in a statement after the bill was passed.
Despite upper house Nationals not voting for Mr Shoebridge's amendment, their party voted last week to introduce such measures at its annual general conference in Cowra.
Police minister and former Nationals leader Troy Grant said he thought the amendment to expose priests to the laws could garner support from his colleagues.
"I absolutely could see them supporting that, particularly because they gave support to that at conference," Mr Grant told AAP.
But Australia's Catholic bishops have already rejected moves by other states to force priests to break the seal of confession to reveal child abuse.
The South Australian church has declared its priests will defy new mandatory reporting laws in that state, while the Archbishop of Hobart Julian Porteous on Wednesday said he backs mandatory reporting but not when it means breaking the seal of confession.
Under canon law, a priest who breaks the seal of confession would be excommunicated from the church.
The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference has told Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull that breaking the seal wouldn't make children safer because "perpetrators of this terrible sin very rarely seek out confession".
The NSW laws will also see a person found guilty of persistent sexual abuse of a child be jailed for life.