Major change to state's sexual consent laws 'close to done'

·4-min read

NSW is likely days away from a historic reform to sexual assault laws that will introduce a consent requirement, to be communicated by words or actions.

Debate on the government's bill to reform the Crimes Act will begin in the upper house of the NSW parliament on Friday after the lower house signed off on the change on Wednesday.

Saxon Mullins, the young woman whose traumatic experience was the catalyst for the reform process, told AAP watching the debate unfold has been "almost indescribable".

"I'm just so pleased, of course, that this has gone through," she said.

Saxon Mullins posing for a photo. Her story of alleged rape as an 18-year-old has shaped the new laws. Source: AAP
Saxon Mullins posing for a photo. Her story of alleged rape as an 18-year-old has shaped the new laws. Source: AAP

"It's a bit overwhelming. In a way (I'm) shocked that it's finally ... close to done. It feels really nice to know that it had so much support in the parliament."

Ms Mullins' horrific sexual encounter in 2013 in a Kings Cross laneway, followed by two criminal trials and appeals that resulted in the man accused of assaulting her walking free, prompted NSW Attorney-General Mark Speakman to order a review into the state's laws.

In May, he announced he would go a step further than the NSW Law Reform Commission recommended and introduce the "affirmative consent" model.

Ms Mullins, who is now a director of the Rape and Sexual Assault Research and Advocacy Initiative, supports the affirmative consent approach.

"Hearing affirmative consent referred to as a common sense reform in the NSW parliament - it's amazing," she said.

The bill has the support of the government, Labor and the Greens, all but assuring its passage through the upper house.

The new sexual consent laws are set to pass state parliament. Source: Getty
The new sexual consent laws are set to pass state parliament. Source: Getty

However, the Greens will be proposing an amendment to narrow the bill's exception for people with mental health impairments, which it says could let people with conditions like anxiety off the hook.

The Greens also want the laws reviewed after three years, with further reviews every five years after that. As drafted, the legislation would be reviewed five years after becoming law.

Similar amendments failed in the lower house, but Greens spokesperson for women Jenny Leong hopes with some adjustments they will be supported in the upper house.

"We are very keen to see that this legislation is passed through both houses within this sitting," she said.

"We want to end the year knowing that we have affirmative consent laws in NSW."

Debate set to begin on NSW euthanasia bill

Separately, a bill that would give terminally ill people in NSW access to voluntary assisted dying will be debated in NSW parliament.

A "respectful" debate on the Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill 2021 will take place in the lower house today, its proponent Alex Greenwich says.

"Following a year of consultation and many months after the public release of the legislation, I'm pleased that debate can finally begin on Friday on this compassionate and conservative bill," the independent Sydney MP said in a statement.

NSW is the only state that is yet to pass voluntary assisted dying laws.

Mr Greenwich is trying to change that with his bill, which has a record 28 co-sponsors from across the political spectrum.

Both Labor and the coalition have indicated they will allow a conscience vote on the issue. However, Premier Dominic Perrottet and Opposition Leader Chris Minns say they'll vote against it.

NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet will vote against the assisted dying law. Source: AAP
NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet will vote against the assisted dying law. Source: AAP

Mr Greenwich introduced the bill on October 12, but debate won't finish before 2022 after the government and Labor agreed to refer it to an upper house inquiry.

The inquiry will hold hearings throughout December, with a report due back on the first sitting day of 2022.

Mr Greenwich has accused his parliamentary colleagues of stalling on the bill.

The lower house debate is expected to begin around 11am on Friday, after a vote on a religious vilification bill introduced by Labor.

Extra debate time was allocated on Thursday to allow that debate to wrap up by Friday morning.

Mr Greenwich said the debate would begin before lunchtime on Friday "assuming no further procedural games".

"I call on opponents of voluntary assisted dying to bring their arguments to the floor of parliament and stop hiding in the corridors playing games with people's suffering," he said.

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