A victim of clergy sexual abuse has called for immediate terms of imprisonment for clergy members who do not comply with mandatory reporting obligations.
The laws, introduced into parliament on Wednesday, will make religious ministries mandatory reporters of abuse suspicions, alongside police, teachers, medical practitioners and early childhood workers.
"It's pretty simple. If you think a child is being abused, you have to report it," Child Protection Minister Luke Donnellan said.
But a Department of Health and Human Services fact sheet says the penalty for failing to comply with mandatory reporting obligations is just 10 penalty units. A penalty unit is $161.19 so the maximum fine would be $1611. Under the Crimes Act the maximum penalty is three years' imprisonment.
A victim of defrocked pedophile priest Paul Ryan said there was no point fining clergy members.
"Imprisonment should be a starting point," he said.
"Penalties have to reflect crimes. There is no use in the government beating its chest about this issue and hitting those who fail to comply with a feather duster."
The victim said he previously told former Bishop of Ballarat Ronald Mulkearns he had been abused by former Father Ryan but to his knowledge no action was taken by the bishop.
Another victim told Monsignor Leo Fiscalini she was being sexually abused in 1972 and he accused her of "telling lies" and left her in the care of her abuser.
"Enabling sex abuse, or the risk of sex abuse, to continue is almost as bad as the crime itself," the victim said.
Attorney-General Jill Hennessy said the legislation's aim was clear.
"I don't think in contemporary and mainstream times, knowing what we know now, that we can do anything other than say the rights of children trump anyone's religious views," she said. "Ultimately this is about making sure that we start to right the wrongs of systemic abuse. I would expect anyone who is aware of a commission of a crime would have the wherewithal and the personal ethics to report that crime."
The state government's reforms would also allow survivors of institutional abuse to apply to the Supreme Court to overturn "unfair" compensation settlements.
But the Catholic Church has insisted priests would be obliged to defy the laws. In a letter when the laws were floated, Melbourne Archbishop Peter Comensoli wrote he was "strongly committed to reporting to the appropriate authorities" but "I am also strongly committed to upholding the seal of confession".