Government put on notice to move fast to protect young people from working with sexual predators
One of the state’s most powerful unions and a prominent crossbench politician have joined forces to put the State Government on notice to work expeditiously to introduce laws to better protect young people from working with sexual predators.
The Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association (SDA) and SA-BEST MLC, Connie Bonaros, today criticised the Labor Government and Liberal Opposition for failing to act faster to do so – and pointed at legislation introduced by the Attorney-General earlier this month which they believe was the “perfect vehicle” to include tough new laws making it harder for people convicted of, or charged with, sex offences against young people from working with that cohort.
They also pointed to an anomaly in current laws where people charged or convicted of child-related offences are banned from working in volunteer-type settings and other forms of employment - but can continue to work with children in the retail and fast food industries.
Connie said: “The Attorney is on notice to move quickly to introduce legislation that improves the safety of young workers – particularly in the retail and fast food space – against working with convicted paedophiles, or people charged with sex offences against children.
“The law is an ass sometimes – as is the case here – as it is completely and utterly unacceptable to have laws that protect young workers against sexual predators in some environments and not others,” she said.
“We are not creating anything new. In every other setting - except for employment settings where there is a child present - there are protections in our law.
“Those very same protections do not exist in a young person’s employment environment and that is completely unacceptable.
“Many people in the community - including parents of working teenagers - would be horrified to learn this loophole even exists and why it still exists when we tried to close it.
“Protections exist for children in schools, at sporting clubs and in a big list of other settings – as the community would expect.
“Children and young people are safeguarded in volunteer settings, in kindergartens and schools, in juvenile justice settings —they are safeguarded in every other setting except for work.
“Once the work uniform goes on, it seems that child workers are no longer considered children except, of course, for the purposes of their pay rate.
“The very same person who has been charged with a child sex offence - who is prevented from coaching a child at a swimming pool - would be able to put on a Macca's uniform, or any other uniform for that matter, and supervise the very same child at work.
“That is entirely inconsistent with other laws.”
SDA State Secretary, Josh Peak – who has led the charge in calling out the lack of protections for children in workplaces - said: “We have strong protocols to protect children at school and other education settings, but nothing to protect them when they’re at work.”
“Our laws are failing to recognise and mitigate the risks underage workers face in this area and ensure their safety,” he said.
“It's leaving underage workers in vulnerable and potentially dangerous situations.
“Any parent would be shocked and appalled to learn that people who have been charged with child-related offences are freely allowed to work with their children.”
Connie and Josh pointed to a number of recent examples of people on outstanding child sex offence charges slipping through the cracks and being able to continue or commence work with children.
In July last year, Brendan Nazer faced court - still wearing his Coles uniform - charged with three counts of possessing child exploitation material.
He had been working as a night-fill worker while on the register of child sex offenders, having been convicted of almost identical charges just 14 months earlier.
Nazer was able to continue to work as a McDonald's manager for 12 months while facing the original charges unbeknown to his employer - the employer of many young people – who had no idea he was on charges until his conviction was made public.
Connie and Josh said legislation passed by Parliament earlier this month would have been the “perfect vehicle” to fix the current loophole.
The Statutes (Sexual Offences) Bill amended the various loopholes in the Bail Act, the Child Sex Offenders Registration Act, the Criminal Law Consolidation Act and the Sentencing Act in part to increase the severity of offence directed at exploiting or harming children.
Connie and Josh saw this as an opportunity to tighten laws to better protect young people from working with sexual predators – but Connie’s amendments were not supported by the government or the Liberal Opposition.
Connie said: “The government is on notice – we are watching and waiting.”
Josh said: “The SDA supports SA-BEST's proposed amendments to keep young workers safe in their workplaces from predators.”
“It's disappointing to see the government and Opposition did not support this common-sense amendment to keep young workers safe at this time.”