A bill to strengthen the ACT's consent laws, which has been labelled as a "moment of justice" for victim-survivors of sexual assault, is likely to pass the territory's Legislative Assembly this week.
Labor backbencher Marisa Paterson's bill to introduce an affirmative model for consent in the ACT is set to be debated in the chamber on Thursday.
The amendment bill seeks to clearly define what consent is and is not, with a statutory definition of consent to be included that is based on free and voluntary agreement.
"This is major reform and will make a real difference to sexual assault cases and prosecutions in the ACT," Dr Paterson said.
"I feel this is a moment of justice for victim-survivors, I do think this has been something that people working in the sector have advocated for for a really long time and it's just now at the point where I think there is broad support for it."
Dr Paterson released an exposure draft of the amendment to the Crimes Act last year and consulted with the sector and the community. The bill was introduced to the territory's parliament in February.
The bill was not sent to a formal committee inquiry, instead the government and the Justice and Community Safety Scrutiny Committee provided comment on the bill.
As part of that, the government recommended some technical amendments, including that the bill introduce a definition of a sexual act.
"That was just around more clarity around what the definition of a sexual act is ... it's word-for-word the same as NSW," Dr Paterson said.
A similar bill was introduced by former Greens member Caroline Le Couteur in 2018 but her attempt was halted following a committee inquiry. Dr Paterson said findings from that inquiry informed her bill.
"We had all that information from that previous inquiry to really go on with the same stakeholders, the same issues and we released an exposure draft to try and get that broad community consultation," she said.
"I feel very confident that we have engaged very broadly and widely with all the stakeholders in the ACT and also with victim-survivors."
Going forward, Dr Paterson said consent and sexual assault reforms needed to remain front-and-centre.
"I think we need to keep this on the radar and keep talking about this because this is not a case of just passing the law and it's done and dusted, this is really about cultural change and community education and it's about the law aligning with community expectations so I think there's plenty more work to be done after this as well," she said.
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There will be a review into the amendment act in two years time, which Dr Paterson said was to ensure there were no unintended consequences and to provide an opportunity for feedback in case any tweaks needed to be made.
"With something like this where it is quite a big change and a big shift, I think there's a lot of different moving part and so I think it is important that there is a lot of scrutiny over how it progresses and ensure we're getting the right outcomes," she said.
ACT Victims of Crime Commissioner Heidi Yates said this was an important reform.
"[It] reflects the need for consent to be actively demonstrated in respectful relationships, and which will help bring about justice for victim-survivors as part of a comprehensive suite of community and cultural changes to reduce sexual violence," Ms Yates said.
Canberra Rape Crisis Centre chief executive Chrystina Stanford said that law reform in relation to sexual assault was a crucial platform for cultural change in Australia.
"Consent within sexual assault has continued to be a problematic and at times devastating barrier for victims of sexual assault seeking justice through our legal systems," Ms Stanford said.
"Legislation needs to lay a foundation for accountability and a path for healing from harm so that the impacts of this type of trauma are reduced."
- Lifeline 13 11 14
- Canberra Rape Crisis Centre: (02) 6247 2525
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