People in positions of responsibility in churches, schools, sporting clubs, youth clubs or the government who fail to report potential paedophiles to the police will face up to five years in prison.
New laws being introduced to Parliament on Tuesday will also make it an offence, carrying a maximum three-year jail term, for a person who fails to provide relevant information to police if they know or believe a child has been sexually abused.
But under the tough new laws, which stem from the Victorian Parliament’s Betrayal of Trust report on child sexual abuse, priests will be shielded if information comes to light during confession.
Premier Denis Napthine said the new laws would make it clear that people who know or believe that a child has been sexually abused cannot stay silent.
"This sends a clear, unambiguous message to the Victorian community: if you are aware of child sexual abuse you must speak up, you must report it to the police," Dr Napthine said. "The era of cover up and silence is over."
"The despicable actions of the past of moving alleged or known offenders to different positions in organisations will be forbidden. That behaviour is totally and utterly despicable and unacceptable and under this legislation it will be a criminal offence."
Attorney General Robert Clark said last year’s Parliamentary inquiry had concluded it could be counter-productive to include the confessional in the new laws, although priests would be required to report any allegations or knowledge made outside of the confessional.
Dr Napthine said his belief was that priests would have a moral and ethical responsibility to talk to the child outside of the confessional and then report it.
"I don’t think any priest, any person, could live with themselves if they didn’t do that."
Under the changes, it will not be an offence to fail to report information from victims seeking medical help or counselling if the information is provided by a victim after they have reached the age of 16 and the victim requests the information remain confidential or there are fears about safety being compromised.
Josh Gordon is The Age's state political editor. After a brief period in the Sydney banking world and the federal bureaucracy, Josh spent six years working as The Age's economics correspondent at Parliament House in Canberra. After cutting himself adrift to travel the world, he was lured back to reporting early in 2007. Most recently he has worked as The Sunday Age's politcal editor, based in Canberra, and The Age's state economics correspondent in Melbourne.
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