Sex consent reform comes to NSW parliament

A bill before the NSW parliament requires people to actively seek a partner's consent before sex.
A bill before the NSW parliament requires people to actively seek a partner's consent before sex.

A historic overhaul of sexual consent laws in NSW is a step closer to reality as a bill introducing an affirmative model of consent is introduced to NSW parliament.

Under the reform, people will need to take active steps to to establish whether another person wants to have sex before engaging in the act.

Attorney-General Mark Speakman, who announced the change in May, says it's a common sense reform that will make sexual consent laws easier for everybody.

"If you want to have sex with someone, then you need to do or say something to find out if they want to have sex with you too - under our reforms, it's that simple," Mr Speakman said.

When the bill is introduced to NSW parliament on Wednesday, it will be the latest step in a long process of reform kickstarted when Saxon Mullins shared her story of a horrific sexual encounter on ABC TV in 2018.

Ms Mullins endured two criminal trials and appeals for four years after the 2013 incident in a Kings Cross laneway.

Eventually the accused, Luke Lazarus, walked free.

The state's law reform commission was instructed to review consent laws the day after Ms Mullins' story aired on Four Corners, reporting back in 2020.

In embracing the affirmative consent model, Mr Speakman's reforms departed from the law reform commission's 270-page report - a move Ms Mullins welcomed.

Ms Mullins, now Director of Rape & Sexual Assault Research & Advocacy, said that the introduction of the bill marked a momentous win for victim-survivors and experts who'd pushed for the reforms for years.

"These reforms mean so much to so many survivors who understand firsthand the difference this bill can make," Ms Mullins said in a statement.

"It has been three years since I came forward to share my own story, and while progress can feel slow, I know this bill is a huge leap forward and will see NSW leading the way in consent law around the country."

Mr Speakman said on Wednesday that the new model was not onerous, and wouldn't require sexual partners to get agreement in writing or anything that stifles spontaneity.

NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller, who controversially suggested a consent app earlier this year, welcomed the bill, which he said would provide police with greater clarity

The reform will make it easier to secure a conviction in sexual assault cases where a victim claims they were not consenting.

The government says it will address issues and grey areas that have arisen in criminal trial, over whether an accused's belief that consent existed was actually reasonable.

It's also designed to better accommodate victims' "freeze" response - where a person is frozen by fear and prevented from actively communicating a lack of consent.

Australian Associated Press