States Urged to Support Child Sexual Abuse Redress Scheme
30 October 2017 at 4:30 pm
Social advocates have warned that the Commonwealth redress scheme for survivors of child sexual abuse will only provide compensation to a fraction of victims, unless the federal government can secure the support of states and territories.
Legislation to establish a Commonwealth redress scheme for survivors of child sexual abuse was introduced to Parliament last Thursday, based on recommendations from the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.
The scheme aims to alleviate the impact of past institutional child sexual abuse by offering eligible survivors a redress payment of up to $150,000, access to psychological counselling, and a direct personal response from the responsible institution, if requested by the survivor.
Social Services Minister Christian Porter said the Turnbull government had taken an historic and critical step towards providing justice to victims.
“Through this legislation the Turnbull government is demonstrating national leadership by providing redress to its survivors of institutional child sexual abuse and providing the framework for all states, territories and non-government institutions which are also committed to providing redress to their own survivors of sexual abuse,” Porter said.
“The redress scheme outlined in the bill includes all Commonwealth institutions and makes them accountable for the terrible wrongs done to some of the most vulnerable people in our community – young children in their care. The bill also covers territory institutions, once the two territories have joined the scheme.”
While this announcement has garnered a positive reaction, concerns have been raised around the participation of states and territories in the scheme.
While the Royal Commission estimated that 60,000 children were sexually abused in Australia’s institutions, only about 1,000 were abused in Commonwealth institutions.
The Truth Justice and Healing Council (TJHC), which is coordinating the Catholic Church’s response to the royal commission, said this means many victims risk being ineligible for compensation.
Francis Sullivan, the CEO of the TJHC, said it was vital that the federal government secures the support of all states, territories and institutions into the scheme.
“Without state and territory support, according to the minister, it is constitutionally impossible for state-based institutions to be part of the scheme,” Sullivan said.
“As it stands the proposed legislation can only cover those abused in Commonwealth institutions, which is about 1,000 of an estimated 60,000 survivors.
“What is now very clear is that the bill in its current form does not allow institutions which operate with state borders to be part of the scheme.
“This is a huge issue for the tens of thousands of people who were abused as children in institutions not run by the Commonwealth including Catholic schools, orphanages and parishes.
“The federal government now has to put in the hard work to get the states to come on board and play their part in delivering justice for all survivors, not just a relative handful abused in Commonwealth institutions.”
The shadow minister for social services, Jenny Macklin, also raised concerns about the legislation, and called on Porter to “urgently secure” the support of states and institutions.
“It is clear that Mr Porter has introduced this legislation without securing the agreement of the states and territories,” Macklin said.
“All organisations, including the states and territories responsible for horrific child sexual abuse must meet their obligations as part of the proposed national redress scheme.
“Survivors of abuse are still no closer to knowing whether they will get redress, and from whom.
“Mr Porter must urgently secure the agreement of all the states and institutions for a national redress scheme, and provide certainty to survivors that they will get the redress that they deserve.”
The challenge of securing the support of state governments has been highlighted by recent comments from Western Australian premier Mark McGowan.
The West Australian reported that McGowan felt the federal government failed to provide adequate information about the scheme, which was preventing WA from opting in.
“From what we know of the scheme, it contains a number of critical problems and disincentives for entities to opt in,” McGowan said.
But Porter said the legislation was developed “in close consultation with the states, territories and non-government institutions”, and that he was confident the scheme would secure support from these key stakeholders.
“After the introduction of the bill in federal Parliament, given the limits of the Commonwealth’s constitutional powers, the next key step will be the receipt of a referral of power from a state to allow the redress scheme to be broadened and able to deliver a national redress scheme,” he said.
“That is why I have been undertaking extensive consultations and negotiations with state and territory governments and non-government institutions, such as churches and charities, to ensure the redress scheme provides comprehensive coverage for survivors across Australia.
“With the introduction of this critical legislation, the Turnbull government renews it call to all states and non-government institutions to commit to opt in to the scheme as soon as possible and so provide certainty for their survivors.”
Porter maintained that “states, territories and non-government institutions [were] in the final stages” of joining the scheme, which is forecast to begin accepting applications from July next year.
“By joining the redress scheme, all state and territory governments and non-government institutions would be providing equal access for survivors to all three redress elements on a ‘responsible-entity pays’ basis, in accordance with the Royal Commission’s recommendations,” Porter said.
“It is essential that all government and non-government institutions are held accountable and take responsibility for providing redress to those people who were harmed in their care.”