Tuesday 18 November, 2014

Mr TARZIA (Hartley) (11:18): I rise today to speak in favour of the Criminal Law Consolidation (Sexual Offences—Cognitive Impairment) Amendment Bill 2014. I commend the Attorney for bringing this bill to the house. It is a difficult and complex issue, and an issue that has been widely discussed for some time.

Everyone should be treated equally before the law. It goes without saying that everyone should be treated equally, but there is overwhelming evidence that people of the class we are talking about, who have a cognitive impairment, are particularly vulnerable to sexual exploitation and other forms of abuse, especially when those who prey on them are in a position of trust, power or authority.

We have seen many examples over many years in the civil arena: parent and child, guardian and ward; trustee and cestui que trust; solicitor and client, physician and patient, and also in cases of religious influence as well. This area of the law has been around for a long time and it is ample and apt that the Attorney seeks to update this part of the law to affect people in this case.

The Criminal Law Consolidation (Sexual Offences—Cognitive Impairment) Amendment Bill, I understand, is intended to operate with other forthcoming reforms by the government. We seek guidance and direction as to what those reforms will be into not only operational issues but also, I think more importantly, in terms of cultural and training issues as part of their disability justice plan, because it is important that we improve the position of people with disabilities not only in the justice system but also in other areas.

The aim of the bill, of course, is to better protect the vulnerable in society but also to respect the sexual autonomy of persons with such cognitive impairment. This balance was discussed in several papers but, as the Attorney alluded to, and the member for Bragg alluded to, the need to find this balance was highlighted in the Model Criminal Code Officers Committee in 2001. This was a committee of experts from a wide array of areas, so you had judges, prosecutors, defence lawyers, academics and lawyers from various attorneys-general departments.

I also note that the committee received many submissions from several parties and especially from the disability sector. So they certainly went out and the consultation was far and wide reaching, and this has not happened overnight; it has happened with much discussion and community consultation. I note that the bill amends the act by introducing two new offences: one of obtaining intercourse or indecent contact through undue influence between a service provider and a person with a disability (or a cognitive impairment in this case) and, two, the performance of an indecent act without the consent of the person with such impairment.

I understand that New South Wales follows a prescriptive model which identifies various professions such as carers and doctors and, after consulting with many disability advocates, including the Hon. Kelly Vincent from the other place, I see that the government has decided to adopt the undue influence model. In terms of consultation, as the member for Bragg pointed out, this has gone out to consultation, and it is fitting to do so. It is extremely important with this sort of complex issue that you have to get it right, that is for sure.

It is fitting that it has gone to wide consultation, and I appreciate the feedback from the Hon. Kelly Vincent from the other place on what is an extremely complex and difficult issue. I also note that Robbi Williams from the Julia Farr Association supports the bill as well. I will be happy to support any bill that goes to ensure that everyone should be treated equally before the law. This is clearly an area where people with disability are extremely vulnerable and, I think that at the end of the day, the bill goes to that mischief and aims to prevent that from happening. I commend the bill to the house and I will support it.