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4e - Sex crime penalty increase 'nothing to do with Henson'

ABC Net (Australia), October 26, 2008 

The Law Society of New South Wales has rejected claims that the NSW Government's plan to change penalties for sex offenders was prompted by the artist Bill Henson.

Changes include an increased penalty for possessing child pornography, which can now attract 10 years in jail, up from five. There will also be a maximum 25-year sentence for having sex with a child. 

Henson's work has sparked much public debate since police seized photographs featuring a naked 13-year-old girl from an exhibition at a Sydney gallery in May. 

But the Law Society's president, Hugh Macken, says the proposed new penalties were being discussed long before the controversy surrounding Henson's work began.

"It's got absolutely nothing to do with Henson," he said.

"The Sentencing Council was commissioned to prepare this report some lengthy period of time ago, last year, well before Henson.

"It doesn't particularly address any of the matters raised in Henson, other than so far as it looks to watering down the defence of artistic intention in the Crimes Act.

"What the report recommends is the removal from the artistic purposes defence of child pornography that depicts children of torture, cruelty, or physical abuse, or engaged in sexual activity.

"That would not affect Henson. Those works of art never depicted children being tortured physically, abused or engaged in sexual activity. Nudity is not sexual activity."

NSW Attorney-General John Hatzistergos says the laws have been updated to represent modern times, including the use of technology in committing crimes.

"We're also changing a wide range of laws including creating a new offence of voyeurism and aggravated voyeurism similar to the United Kingdom laws, with penalties ranging from six months to two years to replace the outdated people and prying laws," he said. 

Mr Hatzistergos says the legislation will be introduced at the next session of Parliament.

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