What an Australian sex offender registry would look like
IMAGINE if finding out whether or not a dangerous, convicted sex offender was living next door or down the street was as simple as the click of a mouse.
At your fingertips would be a photo, name, address, physical description, known aliases and details of the crimes committed by the criminal. Each listed offender might be ranked by the level of danger they pose to the community with individual risk assessments on their profiles.
It's a concept that has already come to fruition in the United States and that might soon become a reality in Australia if Senator Derryn Hinch and justice campaigners Bruce and Denise Morcombe - whose 13-year-old son Daniel was abducted and murdered by convicted sex offender Brett Cowan - get their way.
The dynamic trio today urged Australians to support 'Daniel's Law' by signing a relaunched petition for a public sex offender register in Australia.
The proposed legislation would mimic 'Megan's Law' in the US, which includes a publicly accessible website that reveals the personal details and residential addresses of convicted sex offenders who have been released from jail in the state of California.
It was named after seven-year-old Megan Kanka, who was raped and killed by a known child molester who had moved across the street from the family without their knowledge.
The register allows users to search by name or address.
There are more than 3300 convicted sex offenders registered on the site just in downtown Los Angeles, California, alone.
"Sexually violent predator," the profile of Samuel Kevin Shovor reads when a pin pointing to his address is clicked at random on the map.
"Lewd or lascivious acts with a child under 14 years of age or by force or fear."
Other US states have their own laws and subsequent versions of the register.
The US Department of Justice operates a free national sex offender public website (NSOPW) and mobile app in 35 of the 50 states.
A random search of the site by news.com.au brings up a map with convicted sex offender Andrew Walter Smith's address in Twin Falls County, Idaho. The information is provided along with a photo of Smith, the details of his crimes, his date of birth, height, weight and eye colour.
But Shovor and Smith are only two of almost one million convicted sex offenders living in the US.
Mr Hinch said he first became aware of the system when former Hey Dad actor Sarah Monahan pulled out her phone and typed in the words "sex offender" and showed him what came up.
"We got in the car and drove past one of their houses and people weren't throwing molotov cocktails at it," Mr Hinch said on Tuesday about his experience with the victim of actor Robert Hughes.
"It was an ordinary looking house with a flag on the front porch, a well-cut lawn and a pick-up truck in the driveway.
People in the area just knew not to let children go doorknocking at the house and if their ball went over the fence, dad would go in and fetch it, according to the senator.
Mr Hinch wants the same to happen in Australia so has teamed up with the Morcombes to relaunch his petition for a national public register of convicted sex offenders.
It would be called Daniel's Law, in honour of the Morcombes' son, who was abducted and murdered by child sex offender Brett Peter Cowan.
Mr Hinch, who recently secured government support for new laws to cancel the passports of Australian paedophiles, hopes the states will agree to the new federal register.
He expects it would take two years to get it up and running once approved. And to the civil libertarians, who he anticipates will "bleat on" about it, he has one message: "When you rape a child, you lose your civil rights".
Mr Morcombe told news.com.au every parent has the right to know if there is a dangerous predator living in their neighbourhood.
Please sign the petition and share https://t.co/cVLLRwYNjf— Denise Morcombe (@DeniseMorcombe) June 13, 2017
"We think it's breathtakingly simple but at the end of the day will make a massive difference for children right around the country; for parents to educate their children on what these predators get up to, the numbers of these predators and where indeed they live by geographically area," Mr Morcombe said.
He said a public register would ideally act as a deterrent.
"If you are a person that has a warped interest in young children you need to seek help," Mr Morcombe said.
"They're not going to get a slap on the wrist through the courts, their name has the potential to be listed on this website forever and surely as a human being you don't want to go there."
Daniel Morcombe Foundation chief executive Holly Brennan said parents were sometimes complacent and "wrongly assume that this is an issue for other suburbs and other streets".
"Parents think that sexual abuse happens to other children in someone else's family," Ms Brennan said.
"Daniel's Law, sadly, will remind all of us that we need to talk with our children about being safe. Laws alone do not protect our children. Laws with education, support and evidence will help.
Critics say the unintended consequences of the a public sex offender register - including the offender's families being unfairly targeted by vigilantes, and economic consequences such as driving down the value of homes in a community with sex offenders - need to be considered before passing the proposed bill.
THE GREATEST TRAGEDY
Daniel Morcombe, 13, was waiting to catch a bus to do Christmas shopping when he vanished without a trace on December 7, 2003.
It would be years until Daniel's grief-stricken family and the rest of the world would learn that a cold-blooded killer named Brett Peter Cowan was responsible for their son's death.
The cunning predator had previously spent time in jail for raping and bashing two young boys within an inch of their lives, one in Darwin and the other interstate. He should never have been on the streets, according to then Northern Territory Attorney-General John Elferink, who told of Cowan's disturbing history in October 2014.
"In 1987 Brett Peter Cowan teased or tempted a little boy away from a child care centre and took that boy into a toilet and then raped that little boy," Mr Elferink said.
"He went to jail for that. And then upon his release from jail he drifted to the Northern Territory.
"Here at the Northern Territory at the (BP) Palms Caravan Park he teased another little boy away and raped and tortured that little boy, leaving that little boy for dead.
"The kid was lucky to survive. He went to jail for that. During his time in custody in the NT he was then transferred to Queensland where he served out his sentence and was released. And sadly again he abducted a boy and, in similar circumstances, took that boy away and ultimately Daniel Morcombe died."
It was not until March 2014 that Cowan was sentenced to life in jail with a non parole period of 20 years for the murder of Daniel.
Later that year, Mr Elferink and the Morcombes announced new NT Sex Offender Public website (NTSOPW) legislation to be named 'Daniel's Law' in memory of Daniel.
The NT was to become the first jurisdiction in Australia to make photos, regional locations and other details of convicted 'serious sex offenders' available to the public online, with a new website to be launched the following year.
Unlike the US version, the exact address of offenders was not going be revealed on the site.
But Elferink was soon ousted from his role and the plan never saw the light of day.
The Morcombes, with the help of Mr Hinch, have continued their fight to have the register introduced nationwide.
For more information and to receive free educational safety resource packs, visit dayfordaniel.com.au or danielmorcombe.com.au.