Photo: Bruce and Denise Morcombe attended the announcement of the NT’s public sex offender register. (ABC News: Ruby Jones)
Convicted sex offenders in the Northern Territory will soon have their name, image, physical description and whereabouts posted on a government website.
Legislation announced today has been named Daniel’s Law after Queensland teenager Daniel Morcombe, who was murdered in 2003 by a convicted sex offender on parole.
Although details have not been finalised, it was believed all of the information published about a sex offender would be publicly accessible.
The NT Criminal Lawyers Association slammed the idea, saying naming and shaming made it harder for offenders to rehabilitate without making anyone safer.
NT Attorney-General John Elferink said it would be the first website of its kind in Australia and it was expected to be launched next year.
Western Australia has an online sex register but access has several tiers of restrictions.
It is not yet clear how approximate the location information for the NT register will be. Mr Elferink said the website would include the “regional whereabouts”.
We truly hope that the introduction of Daniel’s Law will prevent another family going through the pain and grief we experienced following Daniel’s death.
Bruce and Denise Morcombe
“We’ll list them by geographical region reasonably close to where [people] live. It is not a system of exact addresses,” he said.
“They will be able to see who the sexual predators are in the community. They’ll be able to recognise the sexual predators and protect their children.
“We believe that the public’s right to know takes precedence over the privacy concerns for serious sex offenders.
“The initiative will allow individuals and families to familiarise themselves with important details and be more vigilant about named serious sex offenders living in and around the area.”
Daniel’s Law modelled on Megan’s Law in US
The NT chose to pursue its own legislation after a proposed national sex offenders register was knocked back at the recent Council of Australian Governments (COAG) meeting, according to Mr Elferink.
“From our perspective if it’s not done at a Commonwealth level then we’re going to do it in the NT and proudly so,” he said.
“Does a government make this information available or not? The answer from the NT is ‘yes, yes we do’.
“There is no guarantee a website would have protected Daniel. We know we should pull out all stops as a society and as a community to create for parents an environment to protect their children.”
He said the NT system would be modelled on Megan’s Law in the United States – the informal name for sex offender registration and community notification laws, which have been passed at US federal and state levels.
However, unlike Megan’s Law, Daniel’s Law will not list offenders’ exact address.
The Attorney-General said the Government had not yet decided on the definition of “serious sex offender”.
“We’ll create a definition which is appropriate and then have further flexible arrangements to make sure the right people are placed on our serious sex offenders website.”
He said parents were in a better position to protect their child when they were armed with detailed information.
“While the Northern Territory Police will continue to track and monitor around 200 sex offenders in the community, this tool is designed to deliver information to the community about the most serious offenders in an easy, user-friendly way,” he said.
‘You’d hate to be the last state to have a register’
Daniel’s parents Bruce and Denise Morcombe, who have been calling for the introduction of a national child sex offender register, said they hoped the NT register would spread across the country.
“Of course sometimes one can imagine the paedophiles and the predators on the NT sex offenders register may well not want to be in the NT any longer,” Mr Morcombe said.
“They may migrate to other states and territories.
“You’d hate to be the last state to have a sex offenders register up and running. You’re going to get truckloads of people you don’t want in your state.”
The couple, who were in Darwin for the announcement, said they commended the NT’s decision.
“The NT has taken a leadership step,” Mr Morcombe said. “They were the first to do so.
“This is for ordinary Australians. It is to get the good people at arms length from the predators.
“We want protection for our kids.
“Daniel’s Law we are confident will assist in the mission to make sure kids of Australia are safe.
“We think it is breathtakingly simple but at the end of the day will make a massive difference for children right around the country.
“I am sure the feedback from that will migrate to other states and they’ll say, ‘Why not us?'”
Daniel disappeared when he was 13 while waiting for a bus at Woombye on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast in 2003.
His remains were found in bushland eight years later.
His convicted killer, Brett Peter Cowan, had a long history of sexually abusing children.
He had been arrested and sentenced in 1989 for two years in jail after molesting a boy in a public toilets.
Four years later, while living in a caravan park in Darwin, Cowan attacked a six-year-old boy. He later pleaded guilty to gross indecency, grievous bodily harm and deprivation of liberty.
He was sentenced to seven years’ jail and released on parole four years later.
‘Terrible idea will turn people into vigilantes’
Public online sex registers make it harder for offenders to rehabilitate, increase the chance they will re-offend, and do not make anyone safer, according to NT Criminal Lawyers Association president Russell Goldflam.
He said the NT Government’s proposal was “terrible”.
From our perspective if it’s not done at a Commonwealth level then we’re going to do it in the NT and proudly so. Does a government make this information available or not? The answer from the NT is ‘yes, yes we do’.
John Elferink, NT Attorney-General
“Laws like this have been tried in the US, mainly over the last couple of decades,” he said. “They don’t result in anyone being safer or the level of recidivism being decreased.
“There are some real costs. They are expensive to run but more importantly is they can get in the way of people being rehabilitated.
“This can result in people going underground instead of engaging with those who can assist them to stop reoffending
“In a place like the the NT we expect anyone who is going to be put on the register will leave the NT and go somewhere else. That doesn’t help anybody. It just makes it harder to keep track of them.”
He said the system would further stigmatise, prejudice and stereotype convicted sex offenders.
“A very significant range of laws operate to protect the community from people who may be at risk of reoffending,” he said. “There is already a register, already a provision for for identifying offenders, already laws to detain serious repeat sex offenders.
“Where these laws have been passed in the US – and they have in some places included exact places where people live – vigilantes have murdered people on the list or people they believe are on the list, even if they weren’t child sex offenders.
“The Attorney-General says this will make people be more vigilant.
“Our concern is this will make more people into vigilantes.”