Not many people would think a pastor would be the most popular man at the pub.
But when that pastor is pushing for stronger penalties for people who conceal child sex abuse, it makes a lot more sense.
Maitland Christian Church pastor Bob Cotton has started a petition calling for the maximum penalty for concealing child abuse to be increased.
It comes after the NSW Government recently passed law reforms in response to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sex Abuse.
The reforms included new offences of failing to report child abuse and failing to protect against child abuse, both of which carry a maximum penalty of two years imprisonment.
Pastor Cotton wants that maximum penalty increased to five years, which would make the act a serious crime rather than a summary offence.
He has hit the streets of Maitland trying to collect the 10,000 signatures necessary for the matter to be tabled in parliament.
It seems to be an absolute no brainer for the average person.Pastor Bob Cotton
Pastor Cotton has gone to hotels, cafes and other businesses with the petition in the past three weeks.
And while the initial sight of a man in a pub wearing a tidy suit holding a clipboard might seem odd to some, Pastor Cotton said when he tells patrons what he’s doing they can’t sign quick enough.
“People grab the clipboard with both hands,” he said. “It seems to be an absolute no brainer for the average person. Many of them see concealing as the same as perpetrating.”
Pastor Cotton said the topic of Archbishop Philip Wilson often came up in discussion, as Wilson was convicted of concealing abuse and sentenced to 12 months imprisonment – likely to be served via home detention.
“People say ‘what the hell is wrong with the courts’,” Pastor Cotton said. “I say ‘the magistrate didn’t have the power to give a longer sentence’.
“Politicians need to pass the laws to give police and the courts the tools to get the job done.”
Pastor Cotton said while about 99 per cent of people he has approached have signed the petition, he needs help increasing the volume of signatures.
“We need more boots on the ground, an army of people who care about protecting kids,” he said.
Petitions can be downloaded from: http://petitionnsw.org.au/ and returned to Petition NSW, C/- PO Box 20, Maitland NSW 2320.