SEX OFFENDER SITES. THE FACTS
After a brief digital hiccup, Western Australia this week went live, online, with Australia’s first government created sex offender register, open to the public.
Though not a world first, these registers are not common either.
Australia’s first government-created sex offenders register.
Only Canada, France, Ireland, Japan, Norway, South Korea, the UK and the USA have state sex offender registers. And only in South Korea and the United States is the public allowed to view the content or be notified about the personal information of some categories of offender held by state registers.
Australia too has a closed register – the National Child Offender Register which runs across all states and territories, carrying a fingerprint and DNA database. It’s there for use by authorised police, national government agencies and some church agencies, but not the public.
This system operates on a tier system with offenders remaining on the register for eight years, 15 years or the remainder of their lives, depending on the severity of their crimes. Some states created registers noting the name, date of birth, address, employment, motor car registration and intended travel arrangements, were created later to feed into this federal system and help law enforcement track offenders who move around the country. Offenders were compelled to register and some to report frequently to police.
But there was no appetite for a register open to the public because, as then Federal Minister for Justice and Customs, Senator Chris Ellison said in 2002 “in other countries public disclosure has led to attacks against offenders or innocent people being mistaken for offenders.”
This year, the Liberal-National Party government of Western Australia broke ranks and went its own way with legislation to establish its three-tiered register, open to the public – with restrictions.
The first tier is for sex offenders who have gone underground and failed to comply with their reporting requirements. They’ll have their name and aliases, photograph, date of birth, and physical descriptions on open display.
Between 40 and 50 repeat child sex offenders or those deemed dangerous will be listed in the second tier and any member of the public living in the locality of the sex offender are able to make application for a photograph.
In the third tier, a parent or guardian can ask the WA Police whether a person who has regular contact with their child is one of the 2,727 reportable offenders in Western Australia.
Whilst it’s an offence under the new laws to make a false application for information and the WA government is warning against vigilante action , the public record isn’t a proud one.
Think back to the case of Dennis Ferguson, sentenced in 1988 to 14 years in jail for kidnapping and sexually abusing three children in Queensland.
The sentencing judge said there was zero chance Ferguson could be rehabilitated. Soon after he was released from prison, he was found wandering around Parramatta Public School and was re-arrested for breaching his parole conditions. When he next walked free, Ferguson was run out of 4 suburbs – Bundaberg, Toowoomba and Murgon in Queensland and Ryde in Sydney.
The last occasion, in 2009, turned very nasty with groups of young, angry men pounding the streets around Ferguson’s housing commission apartment and a Molotov cocktail found nearby.
In 2010, police sought but failed to obtain an order banning Ferguson from public pools and parks after he’d been spotted at a Sydney CBD pool, frequented by children. Recently a newspaper reporter spotted the now 63 year old selling biscuits in an RSPCA charity drive.
Ferguson might not be in jail. But he is definitely not a free man.
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