Restricting Criminal Access to Redress Scheme a Denial of Human Rights
20 June 2018 at 1:41 pm
The Senate has passed legislation to establish a National Redress Scheme from 1 July, but the community and legal sectors have warned that the possible exclusion of people with criminal convictions is a denial of human rights.
The creation of a National Redress Scheme for child sex abuse survivors was a key recommendation from the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.
The Senate passed legislation to establish the scheme on Tuesday, with eligible abuse survivors now able to access a redress payment of up to $150,000, psychological counselling, and a direct personal response from the responsible institution if requested.
Minister for Social Services Dan Tehan, said the scheme was the product of extensive consultation with key stakeholders, including survivors, support groups and advocates.
“We stand united in support of the estimated 60,000 people who were abused by trusted organisations that should have protected them,” Tehan said.
“The establishment of a National Redress Scheme is a significant step in addressing the past wrongs and providing a just response to survivors.
“The Redress Scheme is a central part of the government’s response to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, which also includes a formal apology from the prime minister.”
Today the Australian Parliament passed legislation to establish a National #Redress Scheme for the survivors of child sexual abuse. I made a promise to the indomitable Leonie Sheedie from @CLAN_AU that when this happened I would cut my tie in half and send it to her. pic.twitter.com/dhtleQusUi
— Dan Tehan (@DanTehanWannon) June 19, 2018
Despite welcoming the successful passage of legislation, representatives from Australia’s legal, human rights and community services sectors have expressed concerns about a possible lack of access to the scheme for people with criminal convictions.
The National Redress Scheme bill which passed Parliament will make case-by-case decisions on access to the scheme for people who have received a custodial sentence of five or more years.
On Wednesday, an open letter from Jesuit Social Services was released, signed by organisations including the Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS), Australian Lawyers Alliance, Human Rights Law Centre and Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service.
The letter – sent to state and federal attorneys-generals and Dan Tehan – called for a change in the current parameters of the National Redress Scheme so that those with a custodial sentence of five or more years are not excluded.
“The exclusion of victims with criminal convictions contradicts the findings and recommendations of both the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse and the Senate Community Affairs Legislation Committee report on the bill,” the letter said.
“An overwhelming majority of those making submissions and witnesses to the Senate report recommended that survivors not be excluded from the Redress Scheme due to criminal offending or convictions.
“The federal government has agreed with the Senate report’s recommendation that the scheme has value as a tool for the rehabilitation of offenders, and that excluding this vulnerable cohort could have the unintended consequence of institutions responsible for child sexual abuse not being held liable.”
Jesuit Social Services CEO Julie Edwards, said while she supported the commencement of the scheme, restricting access to certain victims was not acceptable.
“Many people who have committed crimes are victims themselves, and evidence suggests survivors of sexual abuse are five times more likely to be charged with an offence than others,” Edwards said.
“Restricting access to the redress scheme for people who have been incarcerated for five or more years may leave victims of child sexual abuse without access to rightful compensation – even though the abuse suffered may be a major factor behind their offending later in life.
“This denies people who have spent time in prison of their human rights and also ignores the fact that many people who commit offences are themselves victims of abuse, trauma and neglect.”
The letter calls for an assurance there will be “no exclusions of individuals with criminal convictions from the National Redress Scheme”.
Edwards also noted that the attorneys-general of the Australian Capital Territory and Western Australia have publicly raised concerns that the scheme could exclude those with criminal convictions.
“This issue must continue to remain in the spotlight and it must be legislated that all victims of child sexual abuse have access to redress under this scheme – regardless of whether or not they have criminal convictions,” she said.
“We cannot deny people a chance to rehabilitate and heal.”
The Greens have also advocated for further reforms to the scheme to improve accessibility for survivors.
Senator Rachel Siewert said the scheme was currently not the best it could be.
“[I] have concerns around the scope for eligibility for the scheme, I don’t think certain groups should be excluded from the scheme, like those who have a criminal conviction, are in jail or are not an Australian citizen or permanent resident at the time they apply for redress,” Siewert said.
“These are just some of the remaining concerns the Greens and others share. Following commencement, we will continue to advocate and work for subsequent reforms to make the scheme the best it can be.”
Speaking to ABC Radio in February, Tehan said that “some people have committed crimes that are so heinous that it doesn’t warrant that they should be able to access the scheme”.
A delegation of representatives from signatories to the open letter have requested a meeting with officials, including Tehan, to discuss their concerns.