Government Announces Child Sexual Abuse Redress Scheme
4 November 2016 at 4:12 pm
The federal government has announced a 10-year redress scheme for survivors of institutional child sexual abuse, including access of up to $150,000 for each claimant.
Minister for Social Services Christian Porter released details of the Commonwealth Redress Scheme on Friday, which is based on recommendations from the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse from September last year.
The commission proposed a $4 billion national scheme to be up and running by July 2017, including a $200,000 maximum payment for claimants.
Porter said the scheme would commence early 2018 with the option to extend beyond the 10-year period if the government has not provided service to all of the people expected.
The commission estimated that there are likely to be 60,000 eligible survivors.
Porter said the scheme would be based on four principles and extend beyond monetary compensation.
“The first principle is that the Commonwealth redress scheme will not just be about facilitating individual monetary redress payments,” Porter said.
“Of equal importance… [is] ensuring that the scheme… provides emotional, mental and other supports to people who have been survivors of institutional abuse.”
“It will also allow for something that many redress schemes have not allowed for and that is personal and direct contact being available, if sought, by survivors, to responsible institutions.
“It will be open for any survivor, if they wish, to be able to tell directly and in person a very senior and appropriate individual located in the appropriate organisation, their story and what occurred to them.”
He said the second principle was to ensure the scheme has maximum reach to survivors, no matter where they suffered abuse.
State and territory jurisdictions, as well as churches, charities and other institutions who have a responsibility in this area, will be able to opt into the scheme and pay their share.
“Where an entity opts into the scheme that we are announcing today, whether they be a state or territory or non-government institution, they opt in on a basis… that they fund the cost of their own eligible redress claims in accordance with the requirements of the redress scheme operator,” Porter said.
“This is an opt-in scheme that is operated on a responsible-entity-pays basis.”
He also said the federal government would pay, when required, where it’s deemed to be a responsible entity.
“Where the Commonwealth is the responsible entity, so where there was a situation of shared responsibility between a government and an institution, say a church or charity, and the Commonwealth was the responsible entity, if the church or charity no longer exists or has no capacity to pay, the Commonwealth will step in and become the founder of last resort with respect to the monetary payment of redress,” he said.
Although the royal commission recommended the involvement of all government jurisdictions and responsible institutions, Porter said the Commonwealth could not legally compel states to join the scheme.
“We have spent the last several months trying to negotiate to get agreement around a development of a national scheme where everyone opted in, if you like, right here and now. We haven’t been able to achieve that,” he said.
“We will continue to encourage all states and territories to opt into the scheme, as we will be churches and charities, and those discussions and negotiations… have been ongoing and they have been fruitful but Commonwealth powers are such that states could not join this scheme.”
He said South Australia does not want to be part of the scheme, Western Australia had not provided a clear answer, and New South Wales and Victoria were yet to announce their plans.
He said the federal government would encourage cooperation from the ACT and Northern Territory, but did not rule out forcing the territories to join.
“In the event that the Northern Territory or the ACT, after proper consultation, ultimately declined to opt into this scheme, the Commonwealth is reserving its right to legislate to compel that joining of the scheme,” he said.
“As has been previously the case where the Commonwealth has exercised powers over the two territories, that is not a matter that will be without controversy in some quarters.
“But I want to offer it all to you as clear evidence of how serious the Commonwealth is in engaging in the absolute best efforts to do everything within its power to ensure that the scheme we have developed, which we consider will be absolute best practise will be joined by as many states, as many territories and as many non-government institutions as possible.”
The third principle is covers the scheme’s processes, established by the government based on best practice, which all opt-in bodies will be expected to follow.
“The opt-in scheme we are establishing today will represent the absolute best practice scheme in Australia,” Porter said.
“The scheme will be a low-hurdle scheme. It will be flexible, it will be as non-legal and as informal as all circumstances will allow.
“Redress payments will be exempted from any potential Commonwealth debt recoveries that may be going on or could in future go on with respect to the individual. Payments will be exempt from any income tests that are relevant to other government payments. So if there is an income test that’s relevant to a government welfare payment the redress amount will be exempt from that assessment.
“The application process will be supportive, it will be simple, it will be flexible and as much will be done on the papers as is reasonably possible to avoid that process of re traumatisation.”
The fourth principle details the assessment matrix for individual monetary payments, which Porter said would be to be designed in close consultation with an independent advisory committee.
He also said the Catholic Church and large charities were supportive of the scheme.
The Catholic Church’s Truth Justice and Healing Council welcomed the announcement.
“The Commonwealth and Prime Minister Turnbull should be applauded for taking a principled decision on this very important and difficult issue,” CEO of the council Francis Sullivan said.
“For more than three years the Catholic Church, survivors and others have been calling for an independent, Commonwealth-run redress scheme that has the potential to respond to the claims of survivors consistently.
“Today’s announcement, which is consistent with the Royal Commission recommendations and submissions by the Catholic Church, is the first step in delivery of such a scheme.”
He said it was the responsibility of all institutions in which abuse occurred, as well at state and territory governments, to become part of the scheme.
“This is by far the best chance we as a community, and particularly the institutions responsible for the abuse will have to do the right thing,” he said.
“This scheme will deliver a fair, simple, consistent and generous process for redress for survivors regardless of where abuse occurred, be it a church, a charity, a school, an orphanage or anywhere else.
“It will mean the scheme will determine redress payments and that payment will be met by the institution responsible for the abuse.
“It means that institutions such as the Catholic Church will now no longer be in the business of investigating and determining claims against themselves.”