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Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration (Change of Name) Amendment Bill 2015

Adjourned debate on second reading.

(Continued from 10 September 2015.)

The Hon. A.L. McLACHLAN ( 12:31 ): I rise to speak on the Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration (Change of Name) Amendment Bill 2015. I indicate to the chamber that the Liberal opposition will be supporting the bill and will not be seeking any amendments.

This bill was introduced by the Attorney-General on 8 September in the other place and comes before us following a meeting of the commonwealth and state attorneys. We understand that reform in this area was raised at that meeting after convicted paedophile Brian Jones attempted to change his name in Victoria in order to mock his victims. The bill also follows an election promise made by the government at the 2014 election that it would stop serious sex offenders and serious violent offenders from changing their name without permission.

The current system is vulnerable to being abused by convicted offenders, who can apply to change their name in order to further an unlawful activity, such as avoiding supervision while on parole or obtaining a firearms licence in another jurisdiction. The registrar currently has the power to refuse an application for a change of name if it is sought for an improper or fraudulent purpose. However, there are inadequacies in the current system. For example, if the registrar is not aware of the criminal history of an applicant and the circumstances of any offending, it is difficult for the registrar to determine whether an application for a change of name is being sought for an improper purpose.

This bill introduces two major changes to the Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Act. Firstly, it amends section 24 of the act, that a person can only apply for a change of name in South Australia if the person was either born in South Australia or, if the person was born overseas, they have been residing in South Australia for the past 12 months. The registrar will have the discretionary power to waive the residency requirements and approve a change of name if it is sought for the protection of an applicant or is related to a marriage or divorce of the applicant.

The second amendment inserts a new division into the act that requires certain categories of offenders to obtain permission from their supervising authority before they can apply for a name change. Under the current provisions, offenders who are registrable under the Child Sex Offenders Registration Act 2006 are required to obtain written permission from the Commissioner of Police before changing, or applying to change, his or her name. The bill expands on this provision by introducing a category of restricted persons who must obtain permission from their supervising authority before they can apply to make an application. A failure to do so would be a criminal offence.

‘A restricted person’ is defined in the bill as a prisoner, a parolee, a person released on licence under section 24 of the Criminal Law (Sentencing) Act 1988, or a class of persons declared by the regulations to be a restricted person. The maximum penalty prescribed for the offence is a fine of $10,000 or two years’ imprisonment.

As inmates, parolees and persons released on licence are strictly monitored groups, it is appropriate that the chief executive of the Department for Correctional Services should be required to approve an application for a change of name before it is submitted to the registrar for, as the law currently stands, the department could be conceivably placed into a situation that it is attempting to monitor such individuals without knowing their real name.

It is anticipated by the government that this mechanism will enable greater oversight of any name changes of restricted persons which will make it easier to monitor convicted violent and sex offenders, both in prison and within the community. There is an additional safeguard contained in the bill that the supervising authority must not approve an application unless satisfied that the change of name is necessary or reasonable. This could include, for example, if a name change is sought for religious reasons or because the offender is a victim of crime and seeking to escape their perpetrator.

The bill also introduces a requirement for applicants to declare on the application form whether he or she is a restricted person or a registrable offender within the meaning of the Child Sex Offenders Registration Act. It is intended that this amendment will assist the registrar in being able to easily identify restricted persons. There is an additional provision for the exchange of information between the registrar and the supervising authority to facilitate the workings of this bill.

Finally, the bill also makes some consequential amendments to the Child Sex Offenders Registration Act to ensure that the requirements for restricted persons and registrable offenders are consistent. It is the view of the Liberal opposition that these proposed amendments strike an appropriate balance between facilitating the effective supervision of offenders in custody and in the community, protecting the interests of victims of crime and allowing offenders to change their name for legitimate reasons where this is appropriate. I commend the bill to the chamber.

Debate adjourned on motion of Hon. G.A. Kandelaars.

See full session on Hansard