NATIONAL REDRESS SCHEME FOR INSTITUTIONAL CHILD SEXUAL ABUSE BILL 2018

May 24, 2018


The 14th of December 2017 is a day that I will never forget.

It was the final hearing of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

As I approached the building I could see the unmistakable blue and yellow shirts of the CLANNIES standing out against the grey suits of downtown Sydney.

The CLANNIES are of course the Care Leavers Australasia Network, a support group of survivors of child abuse.

They were there with the irrepressible Leonie Sheedy.

Kind, determined and resilient.

Leonie is one of the most remarkable people I’ve ever had the good fortune to meet.

There are so many people who have made an enormous contribution to the cause of justice for survivors of child sexual abuse.

Leonie and everyone at CLAN.

Caroline Carroll and everyone from the Alliance of Forgotten Australians.

Pamella Vernon.

The late Anthony Foster and his wife Chrissie. 

Chrissie and Anthony Foster discovered in the 1990s that two of their daughters, Emma and Katie, were raped by their local priest.

Emma began harming herself after the trauma she experienced.

In her teens Katie was hit by a car, leaving her permanently disabled.

In 2008, Emma died of an overdose.

And so began Chrissie and Anthony's tireless fight for justice - taking on the Catholic Church and eventually suing the Church, personally giving counsel and support to hundreds of survivors.  

To this day Chrissie continues to be a powerful advocate for survivors, particularly on the issue of redress.

I remember Chrissie saying to me that day that we must implement the recommendations from the Royal Commissioners.

These Commissioners, she said to me, were the people who had listened to the experiences of the survivors of child sexual abuse.

The Commissioners had spent five years considering their recommendations and they must not be ignored.

The Hearing Room was packed and as the Commissioners very formally filed in, there was a loud cheer. So many people had been heard, so many people had finally been believed.

The people in that room on that day and all the others who have been so badly abused, are now relying on us to establish a national redress scheme for survivors of institutional child sexual abuse.

We must not fail them. 

As the Hon. Justice Peter McClellan AM, Chair of the Royal Commission stated in his final address that day last December.

“The primary responsibility for the sexual abuse of a child lies with the abuser and the institution of which they were part, we cannot avoid the conclusion that the problems faced by many people who have been abused are the responsibility of our entire society.”

We as law-makers must uphold our responsibilities to the survivors.

We must not fail them as a society.

We must not fail them again. 

We must establish a national redress scheme.

And we must make sure that we get it right.

THE ROYAL COMMISSION & REDRESS

On the day Prime Minister Gillard announced the establishment of the Royal Commission in 2013, she said: 

"There have been too many revelations of adults who have averted their eyes from this evil.

"I believe in these circumstances that it's appropriate for there to be a national response through a royal commission."

And she was right.

Over the five years of the Commission, there have been 57 public hearings held over 444 days.

The Commission heard evidence from more than 1,300 witnesses.

Commissioners held almost 8,000 private sessions to listen to the personal accounts of survivors.

There have been more than 2,500 referrals to authorities, including the police.

The Royal Commission estimates that around 20,000 survivors were sexually abused in state and territory government institutions.

It found that there were more than 4,000 institutions where sexual abuse took place.

Thousands of vulnerable children were subjected to truly horrific sexual abuse in institutions right across Australia.

Think about that, 20,000 people in 4,000 institutions.

So widespread.

So devastating.

I want to thank the survivors who gave evidence to the Commission.

I want so say to the survivors directly:

Without your extraordinary courage to give evidence the realities and extent of child sexual abuse would not have been truly realised.

Nor would the failure of institutions to respond to that abuse be fully known.

And I want to say loud and clear: that I believe you, we believe you, the Parliament of Australia believes you.

I say this so sharply because for years these survivors were not believed.

Your personal stories greatly contributed to the Royal Commission’s recommendations.

Labor will not allow those recommendations to sit on a shelf and be ignored.

A national redress scheme was recommended in the Royal Commission’s interim Redress and Civil Litigation Report released in June 2015.

The Royal Commission’s case studies and private sessions made clear that many people, while children, were subjected to terrible sexual abuse in institutions.

As the Royal Commission said many of the injuries were severe and long lasting.

Many people have been and continue to be affected by injuries for the rest of their lives.

It is the case that many survivors have not had the opportunity to seek compensation for their injuries.

The Royal Commission acknowledged that it: “cannot be made feasible for many of those who have experienced institutional child sexual abuse to seek common law damages, there is a clear need to provide avenues for survivors to obtain effective redress for this past abuse”.

The establishment of a national redress scheme will acknowledge the abuse that occurred.

Labor understands that no amount of money can make up for the pain and trauma experienced by survivors.

However, redress is a vital step along the path to healing for survivors of child sexual abuse.

It’s also important that under this legislation, survivors will have the opportunity to receive a direct personal response from the participating institution or institutions responsible for the abuse.

A direct personal response is a statement of acknowledgement, regret or apology and will be delivered to survivors by the relevant participating institution after the survivor has accepted the offer of redress.

Labor was the first to announce support for a National Redress Scheme in October of 2015.

The Liberals eventually announced their commitment to a Redress Scheme in late 2016.

We of course welcome the recent significant recent progress that has seen the majority of states and territories sign up to the redress and we strongly urge the states and institutions that are yet to sign up to do so as soon as possible.

Access to redress must not depend on where you live.

The Royal Commission recommended that the Australian Government announce a willingness to establish a single national redress scheme by the end of 2015, and that the redress scheme should begin accepting applications no later than 1 July 2017.

It is very disappointing that this legislation is being debated nearly a year after the Royal Commission’s recommended start date for a redress scheme.

REDRESS LEGISLATION

The National Redress Scheme for Institutional Child Sexual Abuse Bill 2018 and the National Redress Scheme for Institutional Child Sexual Abuse (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2018 (the National Bills) that we are debating here today supersede the Commonwealth Redress Scheme for Institutional Child Sexual Abuse Bill 2017 (the Commonwealth Bill).

That original 2017 Bill would have created a Redress Scheme only for the few Survivors whose abuse occurred in the Territories, and in Commonwealth institutions.

Following the announcement that New South Wales and Victoria would join the Scheme, the National Bills that we are debating today were drafted.

On 17th May the New South Wales Parliament passed redress legislation.

Earlier this month legislation was also introduced into the Victorian Parliament that will refer powers to the Commonwealth.

And on April 30, the Queensland Government announced that it would opt-in to redress.

The ACT and the NT have also indicated their support and just today the Tasmanian Government announced that it would opt-in to the scheme.

It is hoped the other states will follow quickly.

Labor has referred the National Redress Scheme for Institutional Child Sexual Abuse Bill 2018 and the National Redress Scheme for Institutional Child Sexual Abuse (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2018 (the National Bills) to a short Senate Inquiry to ensure that Survivors of child sexual abuse get a Redress Scheme that is appropriate and fair.

It is due to report by 15 June.

Labor wants to see the National Redress Scheme established without further delay.

As a gesture of good faith in our ongoing discussions with the Government to resolve Labor’s concerns, Labor will support this Bill in the House today.

AREAS OF CONCERN

I do however want to outline some of the continuing issues that Labor has with respect to the proposed redress scheme.

First, we want to make sure that there are enough support services for all survivors of child sexual abuse and that they are accessible no matter where the survivor lives.

Second, we want to make sure that Survivors have sufficient time to decide whether or not to accept an Offer of Redress.

This Bill gives applicants at least 6 months to make this decision, while the Royal Commission recommended a year.

It is very important that survivors have sufficient time to consider this decision, as only one application to the Scheme is permitted.

For many people, this will be an emotional, and an overwhelming process.

We must do what we can to ensure that people have a reasonable amount of time to work through their claims.

Third, is the concern over the compensation amount.

This Bill places an upper limit of $150,000 on the amount of redress that would be payable to any one survivor.

The Royal Commission recommended that the maximum payment be $200,000.

Accepting an Offer will also mean signing away any rights that survivor may have to pursue their claim for compensation through litigation.

This is why it is so important that the amount of Redress available under the Scheme is adequate.

FUNDER OF LAST RESORT

We want everyone who is eligible for the scheme to be able to get the redress they deserve.

We are very concerned that it could be possible for a person whose abuse was not deemed the responsibility of Government, and for which there is no remaining institution responsible, that they could be left with no avenue to seek redress.

This outcome is unacceptable.

We have sought urgent clarification from the Minister and a guarantee that no one will be left without any avenue to seek redress – either through the redress scheme or civil litigation.

This is an absolutely critical issue.

INDEXATION

The indexation of past payments is a matter particularly close to the heart of many survivors, who have fought long and hard for compensation.

The National Bill sets the rate of this adjustment, specifying that an earlier amount received as compensation, would be multiplied by 1.019 for each full year since the receipt of the original amount.

The Care Leavers Australasia Network (CLAN) has been campaigning for indexation to be dropped from the scheme.

For many people, past compensation amounts were small.

And legal fees often ate up a significant proportion of what people received.

As a result, CLAN argue that it is unfair for the past redress amount to be indexed.

I fear that some survivors’ who are eligible for redress will end up with nothing after indexation is applied to because of previous compensation payments.

Survivors have been waiting for redress for so many years – we know that.

In the event that someone gets no redress because of indexation that could have a devastating effect on that survivor.

Redress is about more than just money, it’s a tangible recognition of the suffering experienced by survivors. 

Labor does not believe that past redress amounts should be indexed.

LIMITS ON ELIGIBILITY

The Bill also limits eligibility to the Redress Scheme to people who are living in Australia or are Australian citizens.

We know that horrific abuse occurred in institutions that cared for child migrants, and that abuse of children has occurred in immigration detention.

We are concerned that these people will not be able to access Redress if they have returned to their country of birth.

We also want to see the Minister take the steps that are available under this proposed legislation to include former child migrants and immigration detainees who no longer live in Australia.

It is an important issue of justice – and Labor is seeking a clear commitment from the Government that these people will have access to the scheme.

COUNSELLING

I’m sure all Members agree that providing counselling to survivors is a top priority.

We understand that no amount of money can make up for the pain and suffering endured by survivors.

And that access to good quality counselling is vital if we are to mend lives.

Labor is concerned that the counselling provided to survivors through the Redress Scheme will not be adequate.

The Royal Commission recommended that recipients of Redress be able to access counselling for the rest of their life.

This Bill only provides access to state provided services for the length of the Scheme, or a payment of up to $5,000 to be put towards counselling.

These arrangements are woefully inadequate.

We therefore call on the Government to give assurances this will be addressed.

Survivors often consider that Government is responsible for their abuse, and do not wish to use State or institution run services. This needs to be taken into account when delivering services.

Labor also holds concerns that survivors who are granted redress late in the life of the Scheme could also be disadvantaged, if they are not able to access services for the same length of time as Survivors who are granted redress early in the life of the Scheme. It’s important this is taken into account in future reviews.

For Survivors that receive the $5,000 payment for counselling, this amount of money is unlikley provide adequate access to support.

It is critical that these issues are addressed urgently.

CRIMINAL HISTORY

The Government has sought to place restrictions on Survivors from accessing the Redress Scheme who themselves have a criminal history

Labor believes this is unfair.

The Bill requires that those who have been sentenced to a term of imprisonment of five years or more have special permission from the Scheme Operator to access the Scheme.

This rule ignores strong evidence that shows that people with a history of childhood abuse and trauma are more likely to be incarcerated later in life.

The first Senate Inquiry was inundated with evidence from a variety of witnesses and submitters that this rule is cruel, and likely to increase recidivism.

Labor believes that this policy should be changed.  

We do recognise that establishing a national redress scheme is a complex task.

And I acknowledge the Minister for Social Services, Dan Tehan for his diligence in getting an outcome for survivors.

It is very encouraging to see Victoria, New South Wales, the Northern Territory, Queensland and the Australian Capital Territory have publicly announced that they will participate in the National Redress Scheme.

We understand other jurisdictions are working with the Government, and we want to see universal sign up to the scheme as soon as possible.

It is imperative that those institutions responsible for abuse of children sign up and pay redress.

No institution should back out of its responsibility for the abuse of children that took place where they had responsibility to care for those children.

There is still time to get this right and I call on the Government to consider the issues I have raised today.

LABOR’S COMMITMENT TO GOVERNMENT

And I want to make clear today that if we are successful at the next election a Labor Government will seek to work with the states towards addressing the issues of concern that we have identified.

CONCLUSION

I want to finish by again thanking the courageous survivors who shared their own personal stories of abuse at the Royal Commission.

It was their evidence that enabled the Royal Commissioners and the Australian people to understand in some way the extent of their suffering.

And it’s also why we are here today debating this very important piece of legislation – to establish a national redress scheme.

I also thank the Royal Commissioners and all the staff who have supported survivors to tell their accounts of abuse over the many years of hearings.

I also want to thank Julia Gillard for establishing this Royal Commission.

Nicola Roxon and I worked with Prime Minister Gillard to get this done. 

The evidence presented to this Royal Commission shocked and appalled all Australians. 

It exposed heinous crimes.

Listened to the forgotten.

Believed those who for so long were not believed.

We understand that the Royal Commissioners did not make their recommendations lightly.

We believe that their recommendations should be implemented faithfully.

The task for us all now is to deliver a fair national redress scheme for survivors.

I commend the Bill to the House.

ENDS

Authorised by Noah Carroll ALP Canberra