Sexual Assault Housing Strategy

(Question Without Notice, 15 May 2018, Legislative Assembly, NSW Parliament)

My question is directed to the Minister for Family and Community Services, Minister for Social Housing, and Minister for the Prevention of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault. With significant numbers of survivors of institutional child sex abuse suffering mental illness, addiction, self-harm and other factors that can lead to homelessness, will the Minister ensure that survivors of institutional child sex abuse who need access to social housing will get priority housing?

Response from Minister for Family and Community Services, Minister for Social Housing, and Minister for the Prevention of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault: 

I thank the member for Sydney for his question and for his strong support for child sexual abuse survivors. The member has previously written to me on this issue and I acknowledge his strong commitment to working with the Government to make the lives of the most vulnerable people in his electorate that much better.

As the member for Sydney knows, survivors of child sexual abuse can often face an array of complex issues—some of which have been mentioned—that makes it difficult to find safe and secure housing for themselves. Whilst those complexities often will mean that these survivors already will be approved for priority housing on other grounds, the Government recognises that there may be occasions when a child sexual abuse survivor may not be eligible for public housing due to their age, circumstance and capacity. That is why I advise the House that the Government's upcoming Sexual Assault Strategy will include the creation of a priority housing category for victims of child sexual abuse. All applicants would still be required to meet other existing priority housing eligibility criteria.

This change will mean that child sexual abuse survivors will be better able to secure affordable housing, so they can work on getting their lives back on track and fully participate in the community. The new priority housing category builds on the significant progress that New South Wales already has made on the recommendations and findings of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, and highlights the importance that the Government places on this matter. In April, the Government announced that offenders convicted of persistent child sex abuse will face a maximum penalty of life in jail under extensive reforms implementing the criminal justice recommendations of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sex Abuse.

I am proud that the Government has accepted the overwhelming majority of the royal commission's criminal justice recommendations. Some of the key changes the Government will make include: introducing new offences for failure to report and failure to protect against child abuse; requiring courts sentencing historic child sexual assault offences to apply current sentencing standards and the present understanding about the lifelong effects of sexual abuse on children; requiring courts not to take into account an offender's good character when sentencing for historic offences when their reputation facilitated the offending; and introducing a new offence of grooming an adult to access a child and strengthening the grooming offence to include providing a child with gifts or money. Legislation implementing these changes will be introduced to Parliament in the coming months.

Whilst I am on my feet I will update the House on what the Government is doing more broadly to tackle sexual assault. The Sexual Assault Strategy, a first for New South Wales, has taken time to develop. Broad consultation has been undertaken and local and international evidence has been considered. A strategy is needed that is holistic and responsive. Fundamental to any Sexual Assault Strategy must be an understanding of the importance of consent—and that will certainly be a focus of our strategy.

Last week the Attorney-General and I announced that the NSW Law Reform Commission will review the current laws around consent in sexual assault trials. The review is the first priority action of the Sexual Assault Strategy. It is vital survivors feel confident that the justice system is working effectively to keep them safe. The Government has invested $50 million in 2017-18 for sexual assault responses across the family and community services, health and justice clusters. The investment includes: $10 million in new funding for NSW Health to strengthen responses for adult and child victims of sexual assault and other violence, abuse and neglect; $20 million to continue 55 NSW Health sexual assault services providing integrated psychosocial, medical and forensic services; $7.4 million for the NSW Department of Justice child sexual offences evidence pilot; $5 million for New Street therapeutic services for children and young people aged 10-17 years with sexually harmful behaviours; $1.8 million for rural and remote local health districts, and $1.6 million for non-government organisations delivering child and adolescent assault counselling services.

That funding is in addition to the Government's ongoing investment in other services, such as NSW Police, child protection, the Joint Investigative Response Teams and Victims Services. I am proud that this Government is delivering better lives for the most vulnerable people in this State.