Sheila McHale

Sheila McHale

Minister for Disability Services; Tourism; Culture and the Arts; Consumer Protection

    Child protection screening to expose animal cruelty convictions

    15/01/2006 12:00 AM

    Strong evidence showing that people who are cruel to animals are more likely to abuse children is the latest weapon in the fight to better protect children from paedophiles.

    Community Development Minister Sheila McHale today announced that people convicted by the RSPCA for animal cruelty would have their offences detected under Western Australia’s tough new criminal screening laws.

    “There is strong evidence showing links between people who are cruel to animals and those who hurt humans and, in particular, children,” Ms McHale said.

    “Currently, convictions for animal cruelty offences are not prosecuted or recorded by the WA Police and therefore do not show up in a criminal record check.

    “Now, people with animal cruelty convictions will have their crimes recorded on CrimTrac and therefore detected, if they apply for a compulsory check to work or volunteer in child-related roles.

    “Depending on the seriousness of the offence, the individual may be prevented from working or volunteering around children.

    “Animal cruelty can be one of the earliest and clearest indicators of a person or family in trouble.”

    Ms McHale said the screening of cruelty offences would kick-in no later than February 2006 and be retrospective to April 2003.

    “This is a result of hard work undertaken by the Police, RSPCA and the screening unit,” she said.

    RSPCA Animal Care and Education Manager Lynn Smith said the link between animal abuse and potential harm to children highlighted that animal welfare was an issue for the whole community, not just the RSPCA.

    “These changes will ensure that people convicted of harming or torturing animals can no longer come in contact with children undetected, as their full criminal record will now be available,” Ms Smith said.

    Ms McHale said research and clinical evidence also suggested that:
    • people who committed acts of cruelty to animals were more likely to commit other impulsive crimes;
    • where serious animal cruelty occurred in a household, there was an increased likelihood that other family violence was occurring;
    • violence against pets could be used to coerce, control and intimidate adults and children;
    • violence or threats to animals could be used to make adults or child victims stay silent or do something against their will; and
    • children who were violent to animals might be experiencing child abuse or family violence.
    The Minister said the Working With Children laws, which came into effect on January 1, would be phased in over five years and would allow for national criminal convictions, spent convictions and charges to be assessed.

    “The first people screened will include volunteers who work with children up to seven years, self-employed people including babysitters, new paid workers including coaches and tutors, and ministers of religion,” she said.

    “In subsequent years, those checked would include volunteers working with older children and those where checking already exists, such as teachers, health staff, foster carers and child care workers.

    “The Working with Children card is not an endorsement of someone’s suitability to work with children, but it minimises the risk of children being placed in unsafe environments.

    “Although there is already screening within many parts of the community, this universal, high standard check will significantly strengthen child protection.

    “WA will be the only State which, in five years, will have checked all new and existing people in child-related work - be they volunteers or paid employees.

    “I am determined to use everything at our disposal to ensure our children are kept safe.”

    Ms McHale said Working With Children applications could be made through Australia Post outlets.

    Minister's office: 9213 6900