ROYAL COMMISSION INTO THE NEW SOUTH WALES POLICE SERVICE PAEDOPHILE INVESTIGATION
The Hon. ANN SYMONDS [6.46]: Over the last few months I have become increasingly concerned about the debate surrounding that aspect of the Royal Commission into the New South Wales Police Service which deals with paedophilia. I believe that the current perception in some people's minds that paedophilia is linked to homosexuality is not only flawed but offensive and is detrimental to the investigative process of the royal commission. No-one can deny the importance of that part of the royal commission which is investigating allegations of paedophilia and of the need to expose and address police corruption in paedophilic activities. Any form of abuse and exploitation of children is abhorrent; so too is any activity that aims to protect perpetrators, for whatever reason. Sometimes that protection is systemic.
As honourable members may be aware, prior to and since entering the Legislative Council I have endeavoured to advocate for disadvantaged, abused and neglected children. I have served on many committees and task forces that have investigated issues affecting such children. The last of such committees on which I served before entering Parliament was the Alternative Care Committee, which was established in 1980. The objectives of that committee were to set standards of care for children and the selection and training of staff employed in substitute care services. I only wish those objectives had been fully pursued and given effect. I have also lobbied governments at both State and Federal levels, Labor and coalition, about the need to increase preventative services against the abuse and neglect of children and to enhance support services for those who have been abused or neglected.
My experience in this area has taught me many things. Whilst the abuse of children crosses gender, girls are at greater risk of abuse and are abused at a greater rate than boys. Moreover, the abuse is normally perpetrated by someone known to the child, and in 75 per cent to 80 per cent of cases occurs in the child's home. The 1985 Child Sexual Assault Task Force revealed the truth about levels of this kind of child abuse. These facts are in no way meant to diminish the gravity of the abuse of any child, be that child male or female, nor are they meant to lessen the criminality of child abuse in whatever circumstance. What these facts tell us is that we must be vigilant against drawing assumptions about abuses of children. The fact that girls are more commonly abused sexually than boys indicates that there is no link between homosexuality and paedophilia. Further, the sexual abuse of children is not commonly perpetrated by strangers.
I am very distressed that part of the debate surrounding the royal commission is being interpreted as a reaction against homosexuals. Homosexuality is not a crime; child sexual assault is. I am equally distressed that, in my support for the terms of reference of the royal commission dealing with police corruption and as an advocate for children, I may be perceived as being in some way associated with those who are essentially homophobic. I believe that distortion of the royal commission's agenda is serving to undermine its credibility.
I have long been a staunch and active supporter of gay rights, beginning in the early 1980s when I campaigned for homosexual law reform. I have launched books dealing with homosexual issues and have pledged my support for the Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras; I have also attended church services at the Metropolitan Community Church. I will not tolerate the stereotyping, scapegoating or persecution of any group in our society, and I will not be silenced as an advocate for children by being accused of lending myself to a homophobic witch-hunt. Let people who would rather portray the royal commission as a witch-hunt on gay men, thus avoiding the seriousness of child sexual abuse, be very clear: children are being sexually abused; little girls and little boys are being sexually exploited.
Children who disclose sexual abuse must be believed and their assailants and those who protect them must be vigorously pursued.
The Royal Commission into the New South Wales Police Service must be able to work effectively within the terms of reference which guide it, that is, to investigate police corruption. If those investigations lead to the apprehension of offenders within the Police Service and action against real and not perceived paedophiles in the community at large, then the royal commission will be doing its job. If that also has the effect of helping to heal abused children, it will be a success. Let the commission get on with its job. We must ensure that flawed and damaging misconceptions, such as those relating to the homosexual community, cease and that we work to restore the credibility of and community faith in the royal commission. I hope that the royal commission will propose equity of age of consent for homosexual and heterosexual consensual sexual relationships, for I believe that will clear up the issue about who is perpetrating the abuse of children. We must not have this constant discussion about the age of the children, whether they were 16, 17 or 18; I am talking about children who are two, four, five and six years of age. I call on all people, homosexual, heterosexual or celibate, to support child protection.