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Australian passport ban cuts child-sex tourism in Asia and Pacific Islands

Hundreds of sex offenders from across Australia have had their passports cancelled since federal laws were enacted to prevent “child-sex tourism” to Southeast Asia and Pacific Islands.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) has confirmed the Australian passports of 234 registered sex offenders have been cancelled since the laws were introduced in December 2017. A further seven passports have been surrendered and anothe­r 29 offenders have been prevented from receiving them on application.

Spearheaded by former senat­or Derryn Hinch, the laws ­responded to data that showed more than 770 offenders had travelled overseas in contravention of their reporting conditions to authorities. The laws sought to tighten up these gaps and make passport cancellations significantly simpler — much like authorities had sought for terrorists and members of outlaw motorcycle gangs — by concentrating the decision power with the Foreign Minister. Decisions made to ­cancel passports were also deemed non-reviewable, under the enacted legislation.

Authorities have since praised the laws for drastically reducing the number of known sex offenders departing for poverty-stricken nations in Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands.

Registered sex offenders who retain their passports are now required to declare their travel plans with authorities if they wish to travel overseas — failing to do so can attract a five-year prison term.

The numbers emerged days after authorities arrested famed corporate raider Ron Brierley at Sydney Airport on six counts of possessing child pornography.

At the time of his arrest, Sir Ron was attempting to board a flight bound for Fiji. A search of his hand luggage allegedly yielded almost a quarter of a million photographs and videos of child-abuse material stored on a laptop and two USB devices.

Daniel Evans, Acting Commander of Child Protection for the Australian Federal Police, said the legislative changes had been a “very positive step” for law enforcem­ent.

“It’s a big problem,” he said of the child-sex tourism trade, which centres on Southeast Asia due to its socio-economic conditions, cultural factors and poverty.

“We know how many attempt to travel, but what they’re doing offshore is unknown. The biggest threat in child exploitation is that ‘unknown offender’,” he said, referrin­g to perpetrators who haven’t been previously flagged with authorities. “A regular sex ­offender is known. The unknown offenders pose a higher threat becaus­e they’re not known to securit­y,” he said.

The AFP received 14,285 referrals relating to child sexual abuse during the 2018-19 financial year, a spokeswoman said. Australia­n Border Force officials were unable to provide statistics by deadline on the number of sex offenders they had prevented from leaving points of departure.

Glen Hulley, the founder of Project Karma, a not-for-profit charity devoted to combating child sexual abuse and exploit­ation in Australia and Southeast Asia, said the next step was to convince foreign governments to sign up to Australia’s pioneering laws.

Hulley said prior to these laws, statistics showed that about 25 sex offenders travelled out of Australia each month to visit Bali. A further 250 sex offenders were known to be visiting The Philippines each year.

“This was world-first legislation. It’s made an impact — the new laws brought that figure down to zero,” he said, though he cautioned that those successful results only related to offenders who had been “caught before”.

“The more countries that get on board with it, the more children will be protected” as Pacific Islan­d nations were similarly notorious for child-sex tourism. “We hear of these crimes in Fiji and Samoa and some of the islands in those areas,” Hulley said.

The government has previously said there are more than 20,000 people listed on the Nation­al Child Offender Register, more than 3200 of them for life.


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