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

4:56 pm

Photo of Emma HusarEmma Husar (Lindsay, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

Finally we are taking a fundamental step towards justice for the victims of child sexual abuse. These are abhorrent crimes committed on defenceless children like Stan, who we just heard about from the member for Blaxland. I'm saddened, though, that it has taken us this long. The time to act is long overdue. If we consider that children are our most vulnerable members of our communities, we as adults should be taking every measure to ensure that our kids grow up safe and secure, regardless of who's looking after them.

Labor has always been supportive of this national redress scheme for survivors of institutional child sexual abuse. The sexual abuse of children is a terrible crime, and we are committed to providing survivors with the genuine opportunity to access justice for the crimes that were committed against them as defenceless little children. It has taken far too long for this government to get this far in the redress scheme, and it is sorely overdue.

I'd like to thank the member for Jagajaga, Jenny Macklin, for her leadership and her advocacy—in fact, not just on this but on many of the things that she's done in this place that have made a real difference in peoples' lives.

On 12 November 2012, the then Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, announced the decision to establish the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. I, along with many on this side of the House, will be forever grateful for that decision. Whilst it will always be a blight on our nation's character to hear the stories of those children who suffered, their stories deserve to be aired, to have the daylight shone on them and grown-ups to be held to account. She stated:

The allegations that have come to light recently about child sexual abuse have been heartbreaking …

… These are insidious, evil acts to which no child should be subject. The individuals concerned deserve the most thorough of investigations into the wrongs that have been committed …

… They deserve to have their voices heard and their claims investigated.

Prime Minister Gillard believed that a royal commission was the best way to do this. It was the Gillard Labor government that created the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in 2013. This is the exact kind of thing that a royal commission ought to be used for.

The royal commission gave the victims of child sexual abuse hope that they could have a future in which they can move on from the past where they were wronged. The royal commission held 56 public hearings over 444 days across a five-year period. Well over 1,600 individuals contacted the Royal Commission, with evidence coming from more than 1,300 witnesses. The commissioners, six in all, held almost 8,000 private sessions to listen to the personal accounts of survivors. More than 1,000 survivors provided a written account of their experience. More than 680 people worked for the royal commission during its life, and I'd like to thank everybody involved, the commissioners and their staff, for their careful and considered work over their five-year period. Those figures, those numbers, are simply staggering.

I'd like to thank also the thousands of courageous survivors who shared their stories with the royal commission. They stood up and they told their story, which took great courage and determination. I thank them all. And I thank all those people involved, because hearing those stories would not have been easy.

Institutional child sexual abuse has been occurring for generations, across many decades, and has affected the lives of far too many people. Survivors of child sexual abuse have been waiting their whole lives for someone to take accountability for what was done. To provide redress for the horrific crimes that were perpetrated against them is only one part of the story. We know how important it is for more than 60,000 victims to access the redress scheme. We understand, though, that no amount of money can make up for the pain and the trauma they have experienced. However, redress is an important step along the road to healing.

In 2015 the royal commission made an interim recommendations that a national redress scheme be operational by July last year, with Labor being the first major party to support the national redress scheme. Sadly, the Liberals did not commit to the redress scheme until 2016. The commissioners outlined a very clear vision for what a national redress scheme should be in their final report on civil litigation and redress in 2015. The commissioners called for justice for victims. They said:

A process for redress must provide equal access and equal treatment for survivors—regardless of the location, operator, type, continued existence or assets of the institution in which they were abused—if it is to be regarded by survivors as being capable of delivering—

some kind of justice, however overdue. We understand they did not make these recommendations lightly. Labor believes that these recommendations should be implemented faithfully as much as is possible. For too long, society has turned a blind eye to the survivors' daily struggle, and this is to our collective and immense shame.

We recognise that establishing a national redress scheme is a complex task. This redress scheme will be managed by the Secretary of the Department of Social Services as the scheme operator. The elements of redress under this scheme are the monetary payment, access to counselling and psychological services, and the opportunity to receive an apology from a representative of the institution responsible for the abuse. To be eligible to receive redress, applicants must have suffered sexual address as a child that is within the scope of the scheme before the scheme's start date.

We do, however, have a number of concerns with the legislation as it is drafted, and it is critical that these issues be addressed urgently. As a result of these concerns, we have referred these bills to a Senate inquiry so the community can be consulted on the points of difference in these bills and the earlier Commonwealth legislation. As the proposed state date of the scheme is 1 July, this inquiry is due to report before the Senate next sits, as the inquiry should not delay the commencement of the scheme at all.

The commissioners recommended that the appropriate level of monetary payments under a redress should be a minimum payment of $10,000, a maximum of $200,000 for the most severe cases, and an average payment of $65,000. This bill places an upper limit of $150,000 on the amount of redress that will be payable to a survivor. This cap is not what the royal commission, after five years, had recommended.

This bill gives the applicants only six months to make a decision, while the royal commission has recommended a year, after five years of work. We cannot see a policy rationale for rushing the decision of survivors and victims. We need to make sure that survivors have sufficient time to decide whether or not to accept an offer of redress. Accepting an offer will mean signing a deed of release and waiving their civil rights against the responsible institution, and this is not a decision that we should ask people to take lightly, especially the victims and the survivors. Applicants who accept an offer of redress will also receive financial advice.

We are very 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 lives. Imagine having an abhorrent sex crime committed against you as a child and then being told that you have a time limit in which you should get over it. The bill only provides access to counselling services for the length of the scheme or a payment to the amount of $5,000. These arrangements are inadequate and need to be addressed. We need to make sure that there are enough services to support the survivors who are considering making an application for redress and that they are accessible no matter where the survivor lives or what language the survivor speaks.

Furthermore, the bill limits eligibility for the redress scheme for people who are living outside Australia or not Australian citizens. We are very concerned that people who were abused as child migrants in immigration detention will not be able to access redress if they have returned to their country of birth. We call on the government to confirm that provision will be made for these groups of survivors to access the national Redress Scheme, because what kind of a cruel lot are they to determine that a sex crime against a child migrant be treated any differently to that of a non-migrant child? To me, that sounds like blatant discrimination. You're either admitting there was a wrong and you are committed to fixing it, or you are not; you cannot pick and choose. The children didn't have a choice and this government shouldn't either. It is critical that the national Redress Scheme provides survivors with a genuine opportunity to access justice and that it takes into account and caters for the unique needs of this group.

The Senate Community Affairs Legislation Committee conducted an inquiry into the two bills that were before the Senate to establish the Commonwealth Redress Scheme for Survivors of Institutional Child Sexual Abuse, and their report was delivered earlier this year. Additional comments were made by Labor Party senators, including recommendations that the bill be amended to restore the maximum cap to $200,000 and to specify that survivors be given a year to decide whether to accept the offer of redress, and that survivors of institutional child sex abuse be eligible for redress, including those who do not live in Australia and those with criminal convictions, as recommended by the royal commission.

This last recommendation points to another area of concern that we have with this bill. The government has sought to place restrictions on accessing the redress scheme for survivors who themselves have a criminal history. I believe, and Labor believes, that this is deeply unfair. 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. Where does this government get off? As a child, if you lived through having a trusted adult who perpetrated horrific crimes against you, would you somehow grow up into a nice, normal, well-rounded individual without any issues? We know that this is simply not the case, as the member for Barton already pointed out. The statistics that back this up are well-known and well published, but, more than that, it is common sense.

This government's version of redress says that those victims who have been sentenced to a term of imprisonment of five years or more have to have special permission from the scheme operator to access the scheme. We believe that this policy should be changed. The royal commission has made clear that sexual abuse of children is not just a problem from the past; it has a hangover that goes well into generation after generation. It has devastating, life-long consequences, including interactions with the justice system.

It is now, though, encouraging to see that Victoria, New South Wales, the ACT, the Northern Territory and Queensland have publicly announced that they will participate in the national Redress Scheme. We call on the states and territories, churches, charities and other institutions and ask them to now opt into the Redress Scheme.

Whilst we look back and thank the victims of these crime for their courage in telling their stories, we must also look to the future, something I believe the survivors would strongly agree with. We must never allow the abuse of children to be covered up or for people to hide in places of plain sight. Changes are needed in the culture, the structure and the governance practices of many institutions. Our task is to now bring about change so that every Australian child can enjoy a safe childhood free of abuse. Survivors now, though, need justice and they need redress, and we need to ensure the safety of our children for future generations.

It is incumbent on all in this parliament to work together on further improvement to ensure we get the best possible redress scheme for survivors whilst ensuring that we learn from the past and change practices for the future. The Commonwealth must work with the states and institutes to complete the national redress. For too long, the survivors of institutional child sexual abuse weren't believed, for too long they've waited for justice, and we must do everything we can to ensure that what has happened in the past is never allowed to happen again. I dedicate my words here today to the future generations, and during my time here I commit to doing all I can to ensure that this isn't repeated. I again thank those who bravely and courageously opened old wounds, opened boxes of buried memories, and told their stories.


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