Catholic priests who obtain knowledge of child sexual abuse through the confessional and fail to report the information to police will be prosecuted under new laws to be introduced to the Legislative Assembly on Thursday (21 February).
The laws include a new offence for failing to report child sexual abuse to the police, that will apply to all adults, subject to limited exceptions.
Late last year, the ACT Government commissioned Justice Julie Dodds-Streeton to prepare a report on how to best implement Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse recommendations regarding the reporting of child sexual abuse that have implications for the confessional seal.
Attorney-General Gordon Ramsay said the ACT Government would be introducing a suite of criminal justice reforms on Thursday following the release of this report.
The report recommended that information disclosed in a religious confession should be subject to obligations to report.
It also recommended the maximum penalty for failing to report child sexual abuse should be two years’ imprisonment.
“The Government acknowledges its responsibility to ensure that children are properly cared for, and to protect them from violence, abuse and neglect by institutions who look after them,” Mr Ramsay said.
“Justice Dodds-Streeton’s comprehensive report is based on extensive consultation with key ACT stakeholders, including church groups, police, organisations representing survivors of child sexual abuse, and a broad range of government agencies.”
He said this consultation should ensure these amendments were effective and would not have any unintended consequences.
“Developing a culture of child safety in the ACT is a key priority, and the ACT Government is working with the local community, including organisations which provide services to children, to address each and every one of the 307 recommendations from the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse,” he said.
“The work we are doing will support our community to better understand what needs to be done to protect children from harm and when people need to act and make a report to police or other authorities if they believe a child is being abused.”
The full report is available at
Meanwhile, amendments have been passed in the Assembly to strengthen child safety laws in ACT schools and bring more clarity to the responsibilities of people caring for students.
The amendments stem from the recent Future of Education conversation, the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse and the Glanfield Review, which inquired into the ACT’s child protection system.
The amended ACT Teacher Quality Institute Act 2010 will require employers to provide more information about a teacher, including conduct and disciplinary action, to the Teacher Quality Institute before a teacher is registered.
Amendments to the Act also strengthen the requirements around Working with Vulnerable People registration as a condition of their teaching status, ensuring that teachers always maintain up-to-date registration if they wish to continue teaching.
The Education Act has been amended to require non-government schools to implement the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.
Education Minister Yvette Berry said that as part of the agreed Royal Commission recommendations, the Government would provide clarity on the criteria and conditions that non-government schools must meet to be registered as a non-government school in the ACT.
She said there would also be better sharing of information across jurisdictions about children and young people experiencing or at risk of family violence.
“If a child is unenrolled from school in the ACT and there are concerns for their wellbeing, the Education Directorate will confirm the move with the family and confirm enrolment in the new jurisdiction to make sure they stay connected,” she said.