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Keating govt outlawed child sex tourism

AAP logoAAP 31/12/2016 Max Blenkin

Australians have always been enthusiastic travellers but for some there had been a sinister and abhorrent purpose - having sex with children in third-world countries.

As more and more Australians engaged in the practice there was a groundswell of national and international condemnation of western pedophiles exploiting the laws of impoverished nations and their vulnerable minors.

Cabinet papers for 1992 and 1993, released by the National Archives of Australia, show the then Labor government took firm action.

It wasn't just the sex tourists - it was groups which organised and profited from their travel.

Justice Minister Duncan Kerr argued primary responsibility for prosecuting Australian child-sex tourists should rest with the country where the chidlren were exploited.

"Should Australians engaging in these unacceptable practices not be detected and prosecuted in those countries (and others), the federal government should enact the necessary legislation to outlaw child sex tourism by Australians, and to criminalise the participation in, and profiting from, that activity," he said in a submission to cabinet in October 1993.

Kerr said prosecutions could be successful.

But in some countries sex with children as young as 12 or 13 was legal, as was marriage. Even Australian states had different standards for the age of consent, mostly commonly 16.

Kerr settled on two classes of offences: where children were under 16 and an aggravated offence where the victim was under 12.

Proof of valid marriage would be a defence, although the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet said this would require close monitoring to ensure sham marriage did not become a means of avoiding prosecution.

There were challenges. In most cases, the federal police would need to obtain evidence overseas and have key witnesses testify, either through satellite link or by travelling to Australia.

In a contested case, the legal defence would almost certain to take the form of an attack on credibility of the alleged victim, possibly the sole material witness.

The Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions agreed the practical difficulties in enforcing the new laws would be considerable where the necessary evidence was located overseas.

"The DPP considers that the existence of the proposed offences would of itself operate as a deterrent to the participation by Australians in child sex tourism," its submission said.

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