Wednesday, 1 September 2021
National Redress Scheme for Institutional Child Sexual Abuse Amendment Bill 2021; Second Reading
I rise to speak on the National Redress Scheme for Institutional Child Sexual Abuse Amendment Bill 2021. It's been almost a decade since the Gillard Labor government announced the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. Survivors waited a long time for that royal commission, and they're waiting a long time for redress. It's been a painful and long journey for so many. These delays are only compounding the trauma. These delays re-traumatise the victims.
The royal commission estimated that 60,000 survivors would be eligible for redress. As of 26 March 2021 the scheme had received 10,005 applications and finalised 5,266 applications, including 5,218 payments. It's processing 3,627 applications, and 765 applications are on hold. Compare that to the 60,000 survivors estimated by the royal commission, and it does indicate that the slow rate of applications points to difficulties for survivors navigating the scheme. Their sense is that it is inadequate and that redress is hard to find.
Survivors have spoken of the difficulty of preparing an application. The Joint Select Committee on Implementation of the National Redress Scheme heard that for one survivor it took 17 months to finalise their application. A Senate estimates hearing last year revealed that the average processing time was 12 to 13 months. That's just not good enough for survivors of institutional child sex abuse. The second-anniversary review also identified a number of issues inhibiting the operation of the scheme and the delivery of redress to survivors, as well as the difficulties faced by First Nations people, people from culturally or linguistically diverse background and people with a disability. The quality, scope and geographic spread of support services, including financial counselling, leave much to be wanted. We've heard of major privacy breaches, in which the details of survivors' applications have been sent to the wrong individuals, and in some instances, those details have been sent to the institutions themselves. The second-anniversary review identified IT systems and lack of staff as aspects of the scheme that need vast improvement. Too many are waiting—many are ill, many are dying and many have missed out altogether.
It wasn't meant to be this way. The scheme that was ultimately rolled out by the government didn't fully realise the recommendations of the royal commission. It didn't live up to the hard work that that royal commission had done. It is vital that Australia gets right the promise of redress for survivors, and it's clear this scheme isn't delivering the way it was supposed to. In February, Labor moved a comprehensive suite of amendments to overhaul the scheme and get it back on track, to end the delays and ensure survivors don't miss out. The government refused these on the basis that the second-anniversary review was yet to report. Now that report has been completed—months ago.
It is over three years since the commencement of the scheme, and the government has finally presented some modest amendments to the parliament. We won't stand in the way of these amendments, but they fall well short of what survivors have asked and what Labor has proposed. I should say that, in not wanting to hold up the passage of this bill, Labor won't be moving detailed amendments to the bill, but one could easily imagine that a government that was better at living up to what the royal commission demanded would be moving these amendments itself. I call on the government to give a hard thought to that question. During the course of this debate they have an opportunity to look at what the royal commission has asked for and what survivors have demanded, come back at the end of the debate and move their own detailed amendments.
We saw that process play out last night with another bill, a bill relating to parental leave access for people who are the victims of family or domestic violence. Labor had flagged detailed amendments to that bill, but by the end of the debate, the government had done the right thing. They brought forward their own detailed amendments and we withdrew ours. In this case, we don't want to hold up these modest changes, but we do want the government to do better, survivors want the government to do better, the royal commission wants the government to do better and the Australian people want the government to do better.
This process should ensure that survivors don't miss out. We're still seeing institutions not joining, institutions shielding their assets and institutions becoming defunct, and while we welcome the government's power to revoke the charity status of such institutions and the government's pledge to name and shame, that measure doesn't go far enough. I say this as the shadow assistant minister for charities, well aware of the implications on charities of withholding their charitable status. It should only be done under very exceptional circumstances, but an institution failing to sign up to the National Redress Scheme for Institutional Child Sexual Abuse for survivors is such an exceptional circumstance.
The government needs to be seeking financial contributions from institutions who don't sign up, through a levy or the tax system, so that redress can be paid to survivors. Where institutions are genuinely unable to pay or where institutions are defunct, the government needs to act as a funder of last resort. We know the government are considering this, but we need from them an ironclad guarantee that the government will act as the funder of last resort. We need that so as to provide certainty for survivors. Labor has called for the introduction of an early payment scheme to ensure the elderly or unwell don't miss out on redress. We're glad that the government has finally come to the table on this through the introduction of this bill. We been calling for this for years, and it should have happened by now. By definition, it would have helped those who have died while awaiting redress. It would have helped those who have become so ill and frail that they are limited in what they can do with any payment. It's especially sad how long this has taken, because it just brings payment forward. It doesn't involve paying more; it just involves timely payment.
There is an issue of lifting the cap and ending deductions, where survivors have criticised the scheme for caps on payments, for the indexation of prior payments and for the deduction of unrelated prior payments, including stolen generation payments. Labor is concerned this is pushing survivors to give up on the scheme or leading them to seek justice outside the scheme. When they do that, that means civil claims, which tend to be more difficult, costlier and lengthier. These are the very things the scheme was designed to avoid.
Currently some survivors are receiving payments of $5,000 or less. This bill will reduce the time frame over which prior payments are indexed before being deducted from a redress payment. It will do this by ceasing indexation when an application for redress is made and not at the time when the application is finalised. Labor believes that isn't good enough. Labor is again calling for the indexation of prior payments to cease completely. We are calling for the government to ensure that unrelated payments are not deducted, and this includes payments to stolen generation survivors for non-sexual abuse.
We're again calling on the government to lift the cap on payments from $150,000 to $200,000, following the royal commission's recommendation. The government should provide a guarantee that a review of an offer of redress won't lead to that offer being reduced. People shouldn't be scared to be asking for a review. They shouldn't be thinking that it's a roll of the dice. Survivors have been calling for such a change, Labor has been backing such a change, the royal commission recommended such a change, and that is what should be realised. I note that the second anniversary review also recommended the introduction of a minimum payment of $10,000, even where a prior payment would have otherwise reduced a payment to a lesser amount. We call on the government to respond to this.
This bill also fails to address major shortcomings in the government's arbitrary assessment matrix, which survivors have been calling to be reformed for years. The government's assessment matrix sets low and arbitrary payments for the impact of abuse based on the kind of abuse and not the scale of its impact on a survivor's life. Again, this is another marked deviation by the government from the original recommendations of the royal commission. That's why Labor has called on the minister to remake the redress amendment framework to properly recognise the impact of abuse when calculating redress payments. The term 'penetrative' should be removed, in acknowledgement that trauma is not caused only by penetrative abuse. The government should make the assessment guidelines public so survivors know how decisions are made.
The second anniversary review also called for a change in the internal review process so there is more information for survivors or applicants—a simpler template, as well as the provision of an initial payment that cannot be reduced by the review. That second anniversary review also called for amendment of the standard of proof to 'reasonable likelihood'. As I said before, the whole purpose of this scheme was to end the hurdles, the high barriers, that access to justice can entail when complainants, abuse survivors, are forced to go to civil litigation.
The bill also fails to provide the ongoing psychological support that not only survivors have been calling for but the royal commission originally recommended. We're concerned that in many cases people are being provided with as little as $1,250 to cover future counselling and psychological care. Survivors will likely need counselling and psychological care from time to time throughout their lives. As such, the system should provide it, and that's why Labor has called for the scheme to provide ongoing lifetime psychological support and counselling.
Often we hear a claim from this government that it cannot make a change to a scheme on its own, that it needs the support of the states and territories. Of course, agreement is needed for certain changes, but so is leadership, so is action from the Commonwealth. If states or territories are holding out on the Commonwealth in making the changes that Labor, the royal commission and survivors have called for, then there's a simple response the government can make: name those states and territories that are holding out, against the will of the royal commission and survivors of institutional child sexual abuse.
The Redress Scheme under this government falls short of the original recommendations of the royal commission. The improvements in this bill fall short of properly getting redress back on track and delivering redress for survivors—redress that is timely, redress that does not re-traumatise, redress that does not leave survivors missing out.
Finally, I would note that the member for Barton wished to be here delivering this speech in the second reading debate on behalf of the opposition but is prevented from doing so by technical issues today, so I'm speaking in her stead on this bill. I moved last night the second reading amendment that's been circulated in my name. Just for clarity, I'll move that again, and, naturally, that second reading amendment will need to be seconded. I move:
That all words after "That" be omitted with a view to substituting the following words: "whilst not declining to give the bill a second reading, the House:
(1) notes that the Government has not committed to implementing all the recommendations of the second anniversary review of the National Redress Scheme; and
(2) calls on the Government to listen to survivors and:
(a) increase the cap on payments to $200,000, as recommended by the Royal Commission;
(b) end the indexation of prior payments;
(c) fix the assessment matrix and properly recognise the impact of abuse;
(d) make sure funder of last resort arrangements are in place so survivors do not miss out;
(e) guarantee that offers of redress will not be reduced on review; and
(f) provide ongoing counselling and support".