House debates

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

4:31 pm

Photo of Linda BurneyLinda Burney (Barton, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Human Services) Share this | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the National Redress Scheme for Institutional Child Sex Abuse Bill 2018.

On 12 November 2012, Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced the appointment of a Royal Commission into Institutional Child Sex Abuse in Australia. She said at that time:

Any instance of child abuse is a vile and evil thing.

She continued:

… too many children have suffered child abuse.

We knew Prime Minister Gillard was correct. She continued:

They have also seen other adults let them down.

They’ve not only had their trust betrayed by the abuser, but other adults that could have acted to assist them have failed to do so.

Prime Minister Gillard and the Labor Caucus understood the importance of finally giving these people a voice:

There have been revelations of child abusers being moved from place to place rather than the nature of their abuse and their crimes being dealt with.

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

The commission received 41,770 calls, 25,770 letters and emails, held more than 8,000 private sessions and 57 public hearings, and made nearly 2,600 referrals to police and other authorities. Thousands of brave and courageous individuals shared thousands of brave and courageous conversations, many of them for the first time.

The sharing of these conversations, experiences and stories saved lives. The commission heard of experiences from over many decades from people with disabilities; from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people; from people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds; and from those who were in prison at the time of their abuse.

The inquiry lasted five years and was recorded in the 17 volumes of the final report. Many people, as I said, were speaking for the first time. The report produced a range of recommendations, including providing victims and survivors with access to the appropriate support and treatment; reducing the stigma of child sex abuse; encouraging victims to speak out and seek support and treatment; and promoting best practice in providing treatment and support services.

No amount of money can ever repair the pain and hurt inflicted. I know everyone has said that in this debate. But it is also clear that these crimes cannot go unacknowledged and uncompensated. Redress is a vital step in the journey towards healing, and everyone—every single member of this chamber and this House—understands that.

It was clear that many victims and survivors were in need of a great deal of support and treatment. However, it is also clear that victims and survivors were simply not accessing compensation. They were either reluctant or otherwise unlikely to pursue compensation through the courts system. Survivors were less inclined to want to relive their experiences and traumas in the public hearings. Furthermore, the prospects of a successful claim for compensation were also not guaranteed. In many instances and especially with the passage of time, there would be great difficulty in collecting evidence or making contact with witnesses, let alone perpetrators. It was a very, very brave thing for people to give evidence. The capacity for perpetrators to provide for compensation was uncertain, and the liability of institutional entities for perpetrators was also unclear. Without redress schemes, many victims would simply not have the opportunity to access monetary compensation in relation to their injuries, whether physical, emotional of, of course, psychological.

Today I rise to acknowledge the injustices and hurts committed on the watch of various state, territory and federal governments and many church and other institutions. I rise today to acknowledge the victims and survivors who participated in this inquiry. I rise to support them, and I rise to support this bill.

The scheme provides three elements of redress, in the form of a redress payment, counselling and psychological services, and a direct personal response from the institutions. Survivors will be provided with access to legal advice services. The scheme will cover sexual abuse and any related non-sexual abuse that occurred when the person was a child and where an institution is primarily or equally responsible for that abuse. The intention of this payment is to recognise the wrong that person suffered, to acknowledge that trauma and to listen to the truth. Access to counselling or psychological services is intended to enable survivors to access trauma-informed and culturally appropriate counselling or psychological services. Survivors will also have the opportunity, if they wish, to receive a direct personal response from the participating institution responsible for that abuse. The survivor will have the chance to have their abuse acknowledged and tell their personal story of the abuse they suffered and the impact on them. This, to me, is the most important aspect of this scheme.

I want to take a moment to briefly discuss the significance of the scheme for First Nations people. The disproportionate impact of abuse on First Nations peoples was explored by the inquiry in its final report. The inquiry found:

… Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are significantly overrepresented in out-of-home care and youth detention, exposing them to environments with greater risk. Racism and lack of cultural safety can also increase Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children's vulnerability and prevent them from speaking out.

It also said First Nations people were placed at significantly greater risk of abuse because of disproportionately greater prevalence of removal from family. It is clear that the consequences of abuse were compounded by, as the inquiry states, the impacts of colonisation, past social policies and the legacy of the stolen generations. First Nations people were placed at greater risk of abuse by reason of racism, denigration of identity and culture, and the destruction of language and intergenerational trauma. The stigma of sexual abuse further perpetuated the disconnection from family, community, cultural traditions and country. The inquiry found that widespread institutionalisation of children fractured whole communities, disrupting relationships and traditional ways of healing. The report also discussed the cultural base barriers inhibiting disclosure and seeking support. Survivors often said they tried to disclose during childhood but were ignored, dismissed or punished. These experiences meant that many First Nations survivors simply could not trust police, government and people in leadership positions. Many institutions simply did not respect, recognise or acknowledge Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures.

But the report also made a finding about the importance of culture and identity in the healing process. The royal commission found that being strong in culture is protective for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children's wellbeing because it can support strong identity, high self-esteem and strong attachments. Strong cultural identity, positive community connections and connections to culture are strong sources of resilience and healing. It is difficult to ignore how the issues of institutionalised child abuse and the removal of First Nations children are inextricably linked.

Before closing I, as have other members of this side of the House, will briefly reiterate our areas of concern, which have previously been outlined primarily by the member for Jagajaga but by other people making a contribution as well. Firstly, we want to make sure there are enough support services for all survivors of child sexual abuse and that they are accessible, no matter where the survivor lives. The bill also limits eligibility to the redress scheme to people who are living in Australia or 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.

Secondly, we want to make sure the survivors have sufficient time to decide whether or not to accept an offer of redress. Accepting an offer will also mean signing away any rights that survivors may have to pursue their claim for compensation through litigation. This is a very major decision. We are also concerned that the counselling provided is not adequate. The royal commission recommended, as other members have said, lifelong access to counselling, but this bill provides only $5,000 worth of counselling. We believe the government's placement of restrictions on the ability of survivors with a criminal history, primarily people in jail, to access the redress scheme is absolutely wrong. This ignores the evidence showing that people with a history of childhood abuse and trauma are more likely to be incarcerated later in life. This part of the bill must be changed.

In conclusion, I take a few moments to recall my personal involvement with people who have been brave enough to give their story. Almost a decade ago in the Royal Botanic Garden in Sydney as the then Minister for Community Services I led the state government's apology to the forgotten Australians. I also, along with many other people, was here in 2008 when Kevin Rudd gave his apology to the stolen generations. I was also here in the federal parliament when the apology was given to the forgotten Australians. You were in the presence of people that you knew had such a generosity, such a desire to heal and such a spirit that had been damaged as children, and you could see it in the faces of the people that participated in those apologies. You could also see resilience, pride and an absolute understanding that their stories, their experiences and their reality—their lives—were finally being acknowledged by all people in this country. They are extraordinarily powerful moments and things to do.

I thank the survivors for sharing their stories. I thank the tremendous staff of the royal commission, who assisted and supported survivors in what must have been an incredibly difficult process that I know many people thought long and hard about. I thank former Prime Minister Julia Gillard, former Attorney-General Nicola Roxon and the member for Jagajaga, as well as members of the government, for their tireless work in making redress a reality. All members from both sides of the House spoke with heart on this bill. The bill is the final product of many and will mean so much to many. We will continue to have discussions of the concerns we have outlined about this bill, but for now I commend this bill to the House, particularly on behalf of the many thousands of people who made submissions and gave testimony both in private and in public. It is their strength, their honesty and, above all, their bravery to share their stories that has lifted a lid on an incredibly ugly part of the Australian narrative. To them I dedicate the words that I say today.


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