When the Wood Royal Commission into the New South Wales Police Service released its final Report on the Paedophile Inquiry in August 1997, its recommendation to remove the distinction between heterosexual and female homosexual sex and male homosexual sex by lowering the age currently set for the latter category surprised many citizens. There was concern, firstly, about the fact that the lack of satisfactory protective mechanisms in the prevailing laws would escape investigation and, secondly, that acts previously understood to be paedophilia and pederasty would be de-criminalised, thereby increasing the vulnerability of young Australians to sexual predators.
The Crimes Amendment (Sexual Offences) Bill, introduced into the New South Wales Parliament in October 1997, and reintroduced in 1999, suggests a firm determination to implement the Royal Commission recommendation on consent, notwithstanding the fact that such change would be implemented in the absence of community debate and without addressing the implications of de-criminalisation. Although the Bill was rejected in the Upper House on both occasions, it is believed that further attempts will be made in the near future and, again, it will be in the absence of broad community debate. It is also widely believed that, should a change of this nature be implemented in New South Wales, it will have implications for children in other states across Australia.
This paper explores the implications of equalising at a lower rather than higher minimum age of consent.