Tuesday, 29 May 2018
Matters of Public Importance
National Redress Scheme for Institutional Child Sexual Abuse Bill 2018, National Redress Scheme for Institutional Child Sexual Abuse (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2018; Second Reading
The implementation of a national redress scheme for survivors of institutional child sexual abuse has been a long time coming for this country, as the member for Moreton outlined in his powerful address to the House today. Survivors of child sexual abuse have been waiting their whole lives for redress for the horrific crimes that were perpetrated against them as children. For decades they have suffered in silence, tormented by the truly awful acts committed against them over many, many years. We've heard it's a long road to recovery for these victims, but hopefully the National Redress Scheme for Institutional Child Sexual Abuse will begin to heal the wounds that they have suffered.
I'm honoured to be a member of the joint select committee on the oversight of the implementation of redress-related recommendations of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, alongside my Labor colleagues the member for Newcastle and Queensland Senator Claire Moore and alongside other senators and members in this place. The national redress scheme is as a result of the royal commission into institutional responses, which the previous Labor government, as we heard, created in 2013. Over the subsequent five years, 16,953 people who were within the terms of reference contacted the royal commission. The commission heard from 7,981 survivors of child sexual abuse, in 8,013 private sessions. They received 1,344 written accounts and referred 2,562 matters to police. Every single one of those statistics matters because every single one of those people matters. These striking numbers only begin to scratch the surface, clearly, of just how big this issue is for thousands of Australians.
I want to sincerely thank each and every single survivor who shared their story. I can only imagine that this took an enormous amount of courage and composure. Words are simply not enough to describe the harrowing nature and the horror of the stories that came forward. The average age of victims when first abused was just 10 years old, with 85 per cent of survivors saying they'd experienced multiple episodes of abuse. But actions speak louder than words, and we now have an opportunity to address the many wrongs of the past.
The royal commissioners outlined a clear vision for what a national redress scheme would be in their final report on civil litigation and redress in 2015. Like many of the colleagues who have spoken in this debate already, I want to add my thanks to the commissioners and all of their staff—in particular their staff—for their careful and considered work over five years. I simply cannot imagine what it was like to be a staff member dealing with this important issue. We understand that they did not make these recommendations lightly.
I believe that the recommendations should be implemented faithfully and as much as possible. But, like my colleagues on this side of the House and as the Leader of the Opposition outlined last week, I do have a number of concerns with the legislation before the House—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—as it's drafted. It is critical that any scheme provides survivors with the genuine opportunity to access justice and that it takes into account and caters for the unique needs of this group.
As we've heard, the bills have been referred to a Senate inquiry so that the community can be consulted on the points of difference in these bills and the earlier Commonwealth legislation. In the light of the proposed start date of 1 July 2018, this inquiry is due to report before the Senate next sits so that the inquiry does not delay the commencement of the scheme. As a gesture of good faith in our ongoing discussions with the government to resolve Labor's concerns and an acknowledgement of our longstanding commitment to the establishment of a redress scheme, Labor will support the bills in the House today. But, as we have heard, there is more work to be done, and it starts by working together. We know that the Victorian and New South Wales governments have already signed up to the redress scheme, with Tasmania also announcing their intention to join this week. I was particularly pleased to hear recently of my home state of Queensland also signing up to the scheme. That decision opens the door for Queensland based non-government institutions to join the redress scheme. In announcing that the Queensland government will pay its share to survivors of sexual abuse in government-run institutions, Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said that it was an important milestone, acknowledging the suffering of those abused in care. As the Premier said, although no amount of money can return a lost childhood, it is important that we acknowledge what these victims have been through. Ten thousand Queenslanders are expected to be eligible: 5,000 abused in government institutions and another 5,000 in non-government institutions. It's certainly a step in the right direction, but, as I mentioned earlier and as other members of the opposition have indicated, we still have concerns with the bill as it stands.
As the redress scheme begins operation from 1 July this year, we must ensure there are enough support services for all survivors who are considering making an application for redress and that the services are accessible, no matter where the survivor lives or what language the survivor speaks. We simply can't be left in a situation where we have an unfunded and under-resourced scheme which has been such a long time coming. There can be no excuses that we did not know. We need to make sure that survivors have sufficient time to decide whether or not to accept an offer of redress. As we know, the bill gives applicants six months to make this decision, while the royal commission recommended a year. It's important that survivors have sufficient time to consider this decision, as only one application to the scheme is permitted. I think it's safe to say that for many this will be an emotional and overwhelming process and it will take time.
There's no policy rationale for rushing this process. Simply choosing to apply will mean many survivors will have to relive their horrific past as they recall the acts committed against them. This will no doubt have a heavy emotional burden and will result in some survivors needing extended time to make a decision. The bill places an upper limit, as we know, of $150,000 on the amount of redress that would be payable to any one survivor. The royal commission, as we have heard, recommended the maximum payment be $200,000, that the minimum payment be $10,000 and the average payment be around $65,000. Accepting an offer will also mean signing away any rights survivors may have to pursue their claim for compensation through litigation. There are heavy pressures we will be placing on already very vulnerable people.
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 the abuse of children has occurred in immigration detention. I am concerned these people will not have access to redress if they have returned to their country of birth, and today I call on the government to confirm that provision will be made for these groups of survivors to access the national redress scheme.
I am also concerned that the counselling provided to survivors through the scheme will not be adequate. The royal commission recommended that people accessing the scheme be allowed counselling for the rest of their life. The bill only provides access to state provided services for a length of the scheme or a payment of only up to $5,000 towards counselling. These arrangements are woefully inadequate and I call on the government to give assurances that this will be addressed. Survivors often consider the government is responsible for the abuse and do not wish to use state or institution-run services. I really do think this needs to be taken into account by states when delivering services. Survivors who are granted redress late in the life of the scheme could also be disadvantaged because they will not be 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 that this is taken into account in any future reviews. For survivors that receive the $5,000 payment, this amount of money will not provide adequate access to support.
The government has sought to place restrictions on survivors who themselves have a criminal history from accessing the redress scheme. We believe this is deeply unfair. This would require those who have been sentenced to a term of imprisonment of five years or more to request special permission from the scheme operator to access the scheme. The 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 facts on this matter cannot and should not be ignored. For many, the root of their problems will be an horrific experience they suffered as a child and which clearly led them to a life of crime. To punish them unfairly now would be only to further deepen their already traumatic wounds.
In closing, there is no excuse for any state government, church, institution or non-government organisation not to join the redress scheme. With only a matter of weeks until the proposed 1 July start date, Labor urges all states and institutions to sign up to the scheme as soon as possible. Survivors of institutional child sex abuse have been waiting for redress for decades. They shouldn't have to wait any longer.
Redress means so much more to the 60,000 survivors of institutional child sexual abuse. I understand that no 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. I believe it's incumbent upon all of us in this parliament to work together on further improvements to ensure we get the best possible redress scheme for survivors. I want to make it clear today that I will continue to work with the states and my colleagues towards making sure we address the issues of concern that I've identified today.
Once we've got the agreement in place and once all the states, churches and other institutions have signed up to an agreement, I believe only then may we have an opportunity in the future for us to build on this and for us to do much more as part of the healing process.