Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak in support of this Bill, which
introduces reforms to create an affirmative model of consent in the ACT.
I would firstly like to commend and thank Dr Paterson for her continued
work on this vital issue that impacts the entire Canberra community.
I also extend those thanks to all who have worked tirelessly within the
community, legal and government sectors to advocate for reform to
address the issue of consent.
Misconceptions and misinterpretations of consent across our community
and our laws, have contributed to cultural misunderstandings that
perpetuate and excuse sexual violence.
Recognising this, there have been increasing calls for the ACT to adopt an
‘affirmative communicative’ model of consent. Indeed, this was a key
recommendation of the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Program
I would like to commend Dr Paterson for working closely with the Sexual
Assault Prevention and Response Law Reform Working Group in the development of this Bill and for continuing to engage in discussions about
improvements to the Bill following its introduction in the Assembly.
Madam Speaker, an affirmative communicative model of consent is crucial
to upholding each person’s right to bodily and sexual autonomy.
The model legislated through this Bill clearly and affirmatively states that
consent means informed agreement to a sexual act, that is freely and
voluntarily given; and communicated.
This definition is essential to providing clarity in our community about what
consent is, and what it is not, and will be vital as we continue our efforts to
prevent and reduce sexual violence.
I also note and support the amendments Dr Paterson has proposed be
made to this Bill today. These amendments to the Bill and the explanatory
statement will provide greater clarity as to how the affirmative
communicative model of consent will operate in practice and will reduce
the likelihood that these changes will be misinterpreted. Proactively
managing the risk of interpretative difficulties is a critical action for us in our journey of law and cultural reform, and I thank Dr Paterson for
proposing these changes to this important Bill.
I note that the amendments will also enable a more comprehensive review
of the impact of the legislation to be undertaken, giving us a stronger
understanding of whether and what further work might be required to
implement the new law of consent.
Madam Speaker, the impact of this Bill will not be limited to legislative
Law is a significant and meaningful mechanism for community education
and cultural change. Reforming the law of consent, will support our efforts
in the ACT to address and dispel myths about consent and shift community
attitudes towards respectful and equal sexual relationships.
The evolution of these cultural norms is critical to the prevention and
reduction of sexual violence.
We know though, that while law reform is an important mechanism to
improve responses to sexual violence, this must be accompanied by wide ranging community education initiatives focused on achieving cultural
The legislative reforms in this Bill will support, and be supported by,
educative and social measures focused on primary prevention and cultural
change, explaining how the model of affirmative consent fits within a
framework of equal and respectful relationships.
The words of victim-survivors heard through the Sexual Assault Prevention
and Response Program Final Report also demonstrate the importance of
effective and targeted education on consent.
One victim survivor explained that while the message ‘no means no’ is
important, there should be a duty to recognise and respond to other verbal
and non-verbal forms of communication that also indicate ‘no’.
Another victim-survivor said “in high school I was never educated on
consent …. in my head I knew it [an assault] had happened, in my heart I
didn’t want to fully accept it”.
Working to improve our community’s understanding of consent through
law reform and education will support victim-survivors across the ACT as
they begin and continue their journeys of recovery from sexual violence.
Madam Speaker, this Bill is a critical part of our broader work as a
government and a community to respond to and prevent sexual violence.
I strongly support this Bill.