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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Oz offender ban may be felt in Cambodia

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Prime Minister Hun Sen (left) greets Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop in Phnom Penh in 2014. Tang Chhin Sothy/Afp

Oz offender ban may be felt in Cambodia

The Australian government yesterday announced plans to ban those listed on the country’s national sex offender registry from travelling abroad – a plan that would nullify the passports of 20,000 offenders, including those who may be living or travelling in Cambodia.

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said at a press conference in Canberra that 800 of the country’s registered sex offenders travelled abroad last year, and nearly half went to Southeast Asia. Many of those flouted requirements to notify authorities before leaving the country, she said. Cambodia, meanwhile, has long been a magnet for sex tourists, and Australian nationals have been arrested in the Kingdom on child sex charges in the past.

Before coming into effect, the new law would have to be approved by the Senate, where the government does not hold a majority, but Bishop told reporters that she expected the other parties in the upper house to support the effort to curb international sex tourism involving minors.

“No country has ever taken such decisive and strong action to stop its citizens from going overseas, often to vulnerable countries, to abuse kids, so this is absolutely a world first,” Justice Minister Michael Keenan told reporters yesterday.

Under the plan, the foreign minister would be given the power to nullify the passports of any offenders on the national registry. Over time, most sex offenders become eligible for removal from the registry, at which point they would be eligible to apply for a new passport.

However, more than 3,000 people are currently subject to indefinite monitoring by authorities, and they would be permanently banned from applying for a passport.

The new law would also apply to those Australian sex offenders already abroad. Their passports would be revoked and temporary travel documents to return to Australia would be supplied, Bishop said, adding the law was within the bounds of international law.

“What this legislation does is provide me with the power to cancel their passport, so if they seek to return to Australia we can issue time limited travel documents ... but they won’t have a passport to return.”

Cambodia’s Foreign Ministry could not be reached for comment. However, Jim McCabe, the head of the Child Protection Unit, which collaborates with Cambodian police to investigate crimes against minors, praised the new legislation. “I think it’s a great step forward,” he said.

“I would be encouraging countries like the UK and the US and Germany and European countries to closely examine the legislation and consider the implementation of it.”

Australian Senator Derryn Hinch, a former radio host and the chief proponent of the legislation, took to Facebook to applaud the measure.

Saying he was motivated to address the issue by a letter from the actor Rachel Griffith in which she decried Australian sex tourists, he said his own visits to Phnom Penh and Siem Reap had corroborated her accounts. “And to those civil libertarians who will, inevitably, complain, I say: ‘When you rape a child you forfeit some of your civil rights.’”

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