Religious and spiritual leaders in Victoria must report child abuse to the authorities, even if it was heard in the confessional, under historic new laws passed by the Andrews Labor Government.
The Labor Government’s Children Legislation Amendment Bill 2019 passed through the Victorian Parliament today, delivering on a key election commitment. The legislation means people in religious ministries are now mandated reporters to child protection and the confessional seal must be lifted for suspected sexual abuse of children.
Mandatory reporting refers to the legal requirement for nominated professional groups to report a reasonable belief of physical or sexual child abuse to authorities.
Priests and spiritual leaders in religious ministries will now join teachers, police, medical practitioners, nurses, school counsellors, early childhood and youth justice workers as mandated reporters.
In addition, the new laws ensure disclosures of abuse during religious confession are not exempt under the Failure to Disclose offence contained in the Crimes Act – meaning those who don’t report abuse face up to three years in prison.
The landmark reforms also allow survivors of sexual and non-sexual institutional abuse to apply to the courts to overturn unfair historical compensation payments.
Other reforms passed to strengthen the protection of children include:
- Limiting the right of appeal to VCAT for people whose Working With Children Check application is rejected if they have been charged with, convicted or found guilty of a Category A offence as an adult. These offences are the most serious offences and include murder and rape
- Allowing siblings where one is Aboriginal and the other is not, to both be a part of the Aboriginal Children in Aboriginal Care program, ensuring better connection to culture and community for children in care
- Clarifying that immunisation is part of routine medical care, guaranteeing vaccines for children in out-of-home care and protecting vulnerable children and adults across the entire community.
These reforms respond directly to recommendations from the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.
As stated by Minister for Child Protection Luke Donnellan
“Today we’ve made Victoria a safer place for children. The special treatment for churches has ended and child abuse must be reported.”
“I thank all the abuse survivors, their families and advocates who helped us deliver these reforms. We can’t undo the harm to so many children in the past, but this will help ensure it never happens again.”
As stated by Attorney-General Jill Hennessy
“We said we’d put the safety of children ahead of the secrecy of the confession and we’ve delivered.”
“This is a vital step in keeping our children safe. We’ve strengthened protections under the Working with Children Act by limiting the appeal rights of adults charged with or found guilty of the most serious offences.”