The new Queensland Attorney-General has responded to concerns that the upcoming, February sittings will be used to push forward with the controversial recommendations from the state’s Law Reform Commission on existing, ineffective consent laws.
In August 2020, the Queensland government quietly released a long-awaited report in response to calls for stronger consent laws and was met with frustrations from activists that the recommendations would “make no real difference”. With concerns that sittings in February would be used to debate legislation, activists have made a fresh appeal.
Bond University law professor Jonathan Crowe and author Bri Lee – who both spearheaded the initial calls for legislation change, along with other organisations and individuals – have called on others to send an email to A-G Shannon Fentiman before the sittings to insist that the legislation will make “no substantive changes”. At the time of writing, over 1,000 emails had been sent.
In response to a tweet from Mr Crowe, Ms Fentiman said she acknowledges the voices of “many victims and stakeholders that the current bill does not go far enough”.
“That is why last year I announced a comprehensive review into women’s experiences in the criminal justice system,” Ms Fentiman added. “We will be consulting broadly with stakeholders in the coming months to identify future areas of reform, including change in attitude, prevention, early intervention, service response and amendments.”
Of the many concerns is that the legislation fails to address the “mistake of fact” excuse in rape cases, which many believe is a “loophole” that allows defendants to walk away. These defendants often argue that they “honestly and reasonably” believed the victim had consented to sexual activity, even if the person did not. The excuse has been part of Queensland law since 1899 and has been extensively campaigned against.
Another reform would allow juries to consider anything a defendant did or said to come to the conclusion that consent was given, which “does not change anything”. The laws mean defendants could identify anything done by the victim, no matter how small.