Tasmanian state law must change to ensure that religious officials are prosecuted if they do not report sexual abuse, Tasmanian Law Reform Institute director Terese Henning says.
State law mandates that medical health workers, police officers, teachers and child care workers are required to report known sexual abuse under threat of prosecution, however religious officials are exempt from this list.
“Religious officials, Catholic priests in particular, are exempt from reporting abuse because of religious reasons which have traditionally been respected,” Mrs Henning said.
“[These reasons] were given priority over the safety of children, but I don’t think in the modern age that it is suitable.
“We should prioritise children’s safety over people’s personal religious beliefs.”
She said this was particular salient considering 2016 census data indicated that 38 per cent of Tasmanian residents were reported to follow no religion – a 10 per cent increase from 2011.
Acting Tasmanian attorney-general Matthew Groom has not committed to reforming current sexual abuse legislation.
However in a statement, Mr Groom said the government were considering the recommendations of the royal commission into child sexual abuse.
“The government is committed to better protecting our vulnerable children and we have been actively co-operating with the royal commission to consider areas where the criminal justice system may be strengthened to support these vulnerable victims,” the statement read.
“The government will consider all of the recommendations in the report.”
Independent MHR Andrew Wilkie said it was imperative that reporting laws were updated in Tasmania.
“We can always do more to combat child sexual abuse, and it’s the responsibility of all governments to ensure that we are always vigilant and that services, including the child protection system, are appropriately resourced to deal with this problem,” he said.
“Religious officials should not be exempt from these laws because a robust mandatory reporting scheme should apply across the board.”