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The Northern Myth

Oct 26, 2014

The NT’s “Daniel’s Law” – Alarmed But Not Alert

Make no mistake: on this issue, the Northern Territory Attorney-General has defied the collective wisdom of his fellow Attorneys of every political persuasion, in every other Australian jurisdiction.

This is a guest post by Russell Goldflam, President of the Criminal Lawyers Association of the NT.

The Northern Territory Sex Offender Public Website (Daniel’s Law) Act (“the NTSOPW Act”), as it will apparently be formally designated, sends so many wrong messages it is hard to know where to start. Of course, at the time of writing, no details have yet been provided.

As yet we have no definition of the “serious sex offenders” whose names, photographs, physical descriptions and regional locations will be published on the NTSOPW. Notably, Attorney-General John Elferink’s Media Release did not state that the reach of the NTSOPW would be restricted to child sex offenders.

An obvious starting point would be to place all reportable offenders pursuant to the existing Child Protection (Offender Reporting and Registration) Act (NT) on the NTSOPW, and then top it up with details of sex offenders convicted of similarly serious crimes against adults. That would include everything from rape to indecent assault.

The Attorney-General has assured us that to protect the identity of victims, details of the crimes committed by each person on the NTSOPW will not be published. This however raises the spectre that everyone on this “easy user-friendly” site will be indiscriminately branded as a dangerous sexual predator.

Similarly, the Attorney-General has been at pains to point out that, unlike the Derryn Hinch model for community-based DIY justice, the NTSOPW will not publish offenders’ full residential addresses, but merely “regional locations”, such as “Darwin”.

It is obvious, though, that any committed would-be vigilante armed with a Facebook account and a smartphone would have little difficulty in tracking down the whereabouts of the named and shamed offenders.

Even more disturbingly, in many cases, the victims will also become readily identifiable. A high proportion of sexual offending is intra-familial. In many such cases, to target the perpetrator will inevitably result in the exposure of the victim. It is also readily foreseeable that this state-facilitated vigantilism will result in the targeting of innocent people who have been mistaken for sex offenders identified on the website.

“Daniel’s Law” is modelled on its American cousin, “Megan’s Law” (versions of which have proliferated on a State-by-State basis across the USA over the last twenty years). There is now a significant corpus of research into the effectiveness of these laws, and the evidence is in: they do not reduce the incidence of sexual offending, the type of offending, or recidivism.1

This is, no doubt, why Megan’s Law has not been adopted in other similar countries, such as Canada, the UK or of course Australia.

Make no mistake: on this issue, the Northern Territory Attorney-General has defied the collective wisdom of his fellow Attorneys of every political persuasion, in every other Australian jurisdiction. It is trite to observe that in our Federal system, in which freedom of movement across State and Territory borders is constitutionally protected, such a scheme would only be effective if it were supported by a network of national legislation, as is the existing child sex offender reporting and registration scheme.

The NTSOPW will provoke alarm, by ramping up paranoia about and hatred towards sex offenders, who John Elferink wasted no time in comparing to the lepers of old. His proposed leper-colony solution is to make them social pariahs, and to exclude them from civil society.

Putting to one side the odiousness of inciting odium, this approach has another, more insidious effect: it reinforces the stranger-danger stereotype that sex offenders are “out there”, when, as is now so well-recognised, children are at far greater risk from those they know and trust than from some rain-coated monster hiding in the shrubbery.

Ironically, although the NTSOPW will undoubtedly make us more alarmed, it may well also make us less alert.

1 – For example, see: Zgoba, Witt, Dalessandro and Veysey, “Megan’s Law: Assessing the Practical and Monetary Efficacy” (New Jersey Department of Corrections, 2008; abstract at https://www.ncjrs.gov/App/Publications/abstract.aspx?ID=247350); Fitch, “Megan’s Law: Does it Protect Children?” (National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, UK, 2006); “Is notification of sex offenders in local communities effective?” (Australian Institute of Criminology Factsheet No. 56, 2007).

This article was originally published in Balance, the journal of the Law Society of the Northern Territory.

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9 thoughts on “The NT’s “Daniel’s Law” – Alarmed But Not Alert

  1. eric hardcastle

    The answer given by JUSTICE Minister Elferink above demonstrates that politicians who jump on bandwagons are possibly the real danger to society.

    While the crime described sounds horrendous the sad reality is such a crime can be committed within minutes and the fact that an offender appears on a website guarantees nothing except again that it may provide a false sense of security.

    It also ignores the horrible reality of child abuse : 5% is done by strangers while in 95% of cases it is a family relative or friend.

  2. Bob Gosford

    This is from yesterday’s Question Time Hansard in the NT Legislative Assembly. A Dorothy Dixer from FINOCCHIARO to ATTORNEY-GENERAL and JUSTICE Minister Elferink.

    Daniel’s Law – Sex Offender Register

    Mrs FINOCCHIARO to ATTORNEY-GENERAL and JUSTICE

    This month you announced the Northern Territory would introduce Daniel’s Law and become the first jurisdiction in the country to introduce an online public sex-offender register. Can you please update the House on some of the feedback you have received since making this ground-breaking announcement? I have received positive feedback from my constituents, who welcome the courage of this government to be the first jurisdiction to have a public sex-offender register.

    ANSWER

    Madam Speaker, in the early 1990s in Queensland Brett Peter Cowan coaxed a child into a lavatory and raped that child. Upon his release from gaol he moved to the Northern Territory and, whilst living in the area of the Palms Caravan Park, coaxed another child away and raped that child so profoundly and intrusively the child was lucky to escape. Brett Peter Cowan returned upon his release from gaol to Queensland where he then abducted and murdered Daniel Morcombe.

    These monsters, unfortunately, exist in our community. They are the lowest of the low and they strike fear into the hearts of women and parents everywhere. As a parent, I certainly fear them and fear for the welfare of my own child. The Northern Territory government has determined, after the Attorney’s-General National stepped away from a national public online sex offenders register, to go in alone and introduce a public online sex offender’s register here in the Northern Territory so that parents and women will be able to find out who these monsters are and where they live in the community.

    They will be named, photographed and there will be identifying material so that parents and women in our community know who these people are. I understand there are many people who feel that this is a retrograde or negative step, but there are 40 000 people who have placed their names against the Daniel Morecombe website announcement, people who have passed on that announcement by way of forwarding or sharing those entries on the website, in the number of ten thousand and there are 3100 comments that have been made, almost exclusively positive, in relation to the Northern Territory’s steps in this direction.

    This government is committed to protecting, as far as we possibly can, the women and children that live in our community and on balance we believe that the public identification of these people will enable, in particular parents, to take the steps that are necessary to protect their children. It has become a habit amongst some of these paedophiles in the community to target single mothers for their children.

    This website will enable single mothers to look at a potential match on the website and determine for themselves as to whether or not they want a person in their life if they appear on that website. The Northern Territory government stands proud in relation to this matter.

  3. Gavin Moodie

    Thanx for your most informative contribution eric.

    Can’t the Australian Government rescind any law of a Territory, as the Howard Government rescinded the Northern Territory’s right to die legislation? It might be worth at least asking the Abbott Government whether it would consider overturning this nonsense from the NT or perhaps Bandt could be asked to move a private member’s Bill.

  4. eric hardcastle

    Not sure how Norman Hanscombe has come to the conclusion that the ‘legal profession’ has made it difficult to prosecute perpetrators when the complete opposite has happened : the rights of the accused in sex matters has been chipped away by various AGs over the years.
    With the ‘lumping’ of charges in one case with similar fact ‘evidence’ and previous convictions now allowed to be heard, hearsay now being allowed, the anonymity of claimants who are described as ‘victims’ long before it they are legally found to be such, those accused have an uphill battle in court where they really do have to prove innocence these days.
    The most disturbing things about these ridiculous registers is that they demonstrate the vacuousness of the politicians introducing them, cause extra work for the police for no gain and provide a false sense of security.
    The police do not want these registers except in the way they are administered in NSW & Victoria where they are administered by special police who regularly check on registants which is done in total secrecy even in the police station for a very good reason : to encourage offenders to not go underground.

    It’s only a matter of time before these retrograde fools of politicians who listed=n to convicted criminals like Derryn Hinch and begin to impose living restrictions on those register and we end up with encampments that are now proliferating outside US towns.

    Meanwhile the saner US states are contemplating returning to confidential registers only accessible by police while our pollies bereft on any original thought and led by shock jocks or gutter tabloids make all the mistakes the US have.
    # Registers in the UK are confidential and can only be accessed by certain police officers for certain reasons

  5. Hugh (Charlie) McColl

    Yeah, right Norman, had the legal profession done a better job in 1788 there would have been no criminals to stock up the new penal settlement and ultimately no white fellas ruining the geography of Terra Australis. As if.

  6. Norman Hanscombe

    Had the legal profession not done such an enthusiastic job making the successful prosecution of perpetrators increasingly more difficult, perhaps the planet could have been a safer place for many who have become victims?

  7. Grover Jones

    Hi Bob,
    WA has a “Community Protection” website, similar to Daniel’s Law. It’s been in place for 4 or 5 years now, and is a complete waste of time, much like Megan’s Law is or Daniel’s will be.
    http://www.communityprotection.wa.gov.au
    You can stick in your suburb and it’ll give you all of the “sex offenders” in your local area, and surrounding suburbs. Every time I try, though, it’s always empty. I don’t think it’s encouraged vigilantism, yet, but I don’t read the local rag, so who knows?
    Neil

  8. Hector Lung

    Outstanding article. I’d like to toss in some lesser points. Firstly this insertion of a victim’s name into the title of the legislation. Will the next family of a young person who is the victim of a serious crime look to enshrine their child in statute? I’m not for one moment casting assertions on the depth of the emotional trauma suffered by the family, but where does this stop? Will it become the badge of true grief? Doesn’t this put even more pressure on politicians to tailor legislation loaded with harsher penalties and more fuel for Judge Dredds? The CLP…happy to open selected cans of worms.