Childcare workers to report suspicions of sexual abuse of children

Childcare workers in Victoria will be legally obliged to report suspicions of sexual abuse of youngsters in their care as part of the state government's response to the child sex abuse royal commission.

The Andrews government may also make it a crime for priests to keep the secrets of child abusers who disclose their crimes in the confession box.

The planned new rules on day-care employees and other people working with children are part of a raft of government responses to the federal government’s Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, which was set-up in 2013 and published its final report in December 2017.

Victoria’s response includes new criminal offences to help prosecute adults who prey on children as well as those who protect offenders and changes to civil law to make it easier for victims to sue the institutions where they were abused.

School counsellors, psychologists, youth justice workers and “people in religious ministry” would also be subject to mandatory reporting requirements which the commission wanted as  “a minimum” from all state and territory governments and to which Victoria says it will adopt.

The state government’s official response, to be published on Wednesday, also says it is considering adopting a key recommendation of the royal commission, stripping priests of the protection of their faith’s traditional secrecy of the confessional.

“The Victorian government will give further consideration to the key recommendation that mandatory reporting laws should not exempt people in religious ministry from being required to report information disclosed in a religious confession,” the response states.

Attorney-General Martin Pakula will announce on Wednesday that the state government has accepted in full or in principle 293 of the recommendations that apply to Victoria, and will further consider another 24 recommendations.

Victoria will also commit to producing annual report cards on its progress for the next five years.

Mr Pakula said on Tuesday that the state had been active in reforming its sex crimes laws in recent years, including  closing the legal loophole preventing survivors from suing some organisations for their abuse.

The quashing of the so-called “Ellis Defence” closes the technical legal loophole that prevented the Catholic Church from being sued, marking a significant shift for survivors of clergy abuse who, until now, have been unable to sue unincorporated organisations.

A National Redress Scheme for survivors of institutional abuse began on July 1, and victims are now able to seek redress from Victorian government institutions and some non-government organisations.

The Victorian government also says it is talking to the Commonwealth and other states and territories about more than 50 recommendations from the royal commission that require national action.

“We have delivered a number of recommendations from the [royal commission] to make sure that survivors of institutional child sexual abuse receive the recognition, respect and support they deserve,” Mr Pakula said.

“Victoria was one of the first states to sign up to the National Redress Scheme and we will continue to work with the Commonwealth, states and territories to progress recommendations that require national action.”