House debates

Wednesday, 1 September 2021


National Redress Scheme for Institutional Child Sexual Abuse Amendment Bill 2021; Second Reading

11:45 am

Photo of Katie AllenKatie Allen (Higgins, Liberal Party) Share this | Hansard source

I rise in support of the National Redress Scheme for Institutional Child Sexual Abuse Amendment Bill 2021. It forms part of the initial response our government is taking to the Final report:second year review of the National Redress Scheme, undertaken by Ms Robyn Kruk AO. At the outset, I want to put on record my sincere thanks to the minister in the other place, Senator Anne Ruston, for bringing this bill before the House and introducing it as the first tranche of amendments to the National Redress Scheme for Institutional Child Sexual Abuse Act 2018. The measures we are discussing in this bill will ensure the scheme is survivor focused and trauma informed, and, ultimately, it will enable fairer outcomes for survivors and enhance the access of a survivor to redress. The changes in this bill align with findings of the independent review led by Ms Kruk, which heard directly from survivors, advocates and other stakeholders. I thank them all for their engagement in the review process.

Recently, I attended a dedication and memorial commemoration at De La Salle College in Malvern, in my seat of Higgins. It was an incredibly moving service, dedicated to the lives of those who've experienced historical child sexual abuse and recognising forever the harm inflicted upon them. I'd like to thank De La Salle College for acknowledging and leading the way to ensuring victims of institutional child sexual abuse have been heard and respected. At that ceremony, we honoured and remembered those students who were victims of historical sexual abuse during their time at the college. It was incredibly difficult for the victims to be there, and they're incredibly brave souls to be there, but we also need to equally understand that De La Salle College has shown bravery in stepping forward to do the right thing by paying reparations for harms of the past.

As a parent and as a paediatrician, it's appalling to think of children put into a situation where those that they are supposed to trust and respect have that stripped from them. They're essentially having their childhood stripped from them. And to listen to the events at the service was an incredibly touching and moving experience. Recognising the past practices that put these students in harm's way is the first step in the process towards healing, and I commend principal Peter Houlihan and the wider De La Salle College community for their efforts in this regard. The victims have been traumatised, and the National Redress Scheme is one small way to help redress what has been a wrong of the past.

As a federal government, we are responding to these past injustices and want to ensure that the National Redress Scheme meets its goals to provide redress to these survivors of institutional child sexual abuse in a timely and effective way. Approximately $490 million has been provided to survivors, with more offers being made each day. A total of 10,665 applications have been received as of June, with 5,700 being finalised. The average payment amount is $84,743 per survivor. Importantly, 500 institutions have so far joined the scheme. As a member of the Joint Select Committee on Implementation of the National Redress Scheme, I've heard firsthand the harrowing stories from survivors of institutional abuse. I'd like to thank the chair of this committee, Dean Smith, for so sensitively holding the inquiry and providing a space for victims and advocates to safely express their experiences and what they would like to see change with regard to the redress scheme.

As a government, we understand the enduring pain and trauma that survivors have had to experience and know how much more work needs to be done to ensure the success of this scheme. I would like to say that for so many it can be incredibly retraumatising to have to re-experience and talk about these past experiences. We're committed to continual improvement of the scheme to ensure it is survivor focused. This includes naming those organisations which have failed in their obligations to those survivors by not joining the scheme. Our federal minister responsible for this scheme, Minister Anne Ruston, has named these organisations publicly in order to get them onboard. This is the right course of action and highlights her determination to put survivors of abuse first. We've already committed to stripping recalcitrant institutions of their charitable status and denying them eligibility for Commonwealth grant funding until they join the scheme. This is right and proper.

The redress scheme was established in 2018 in response to the royal commission and has fulfilled a promise to survivors seeking redress for the wrongs committed against them historically—a shameful blight on the history of our country. We're committed to redress for survivors and improving the scheme over the 10-year life span of it, as evidenced in this bill and the measures we're introducing to improve it. The bill gives effect to several key recommendations that are straightforward to implement from the second-year review and that have universal agreement from the state and territory governments, so these are changes that will happen very swiftly. I'd also like to thank those governments of all political persuasions for working so well together to see this scheme implemented and continually improved for survivors. The review made 38 recommendations to increase access to redress and to improve the scheme's operation, and the government is prioritising initial action on 25 of these recommendations either in full or in part, and it is, importantly, investing over $80 million over four years in this most recent budget to support implementation of these recommendations. The government plans to produce a final response to the review in early 2022, following further consultation with stakeholders, institutions, survivors and governments of state and territory denominations before final decisions are made.

There are a number of amendments contained in this bill, and I'd like to point out a couple that I think are incredibly important. The first is the $10,000 advance payment for applicants who are elderly or terminally ill. Certainly, in our redress committee, we did hear of those who were finding it difficult at the end of their life to access the redress scheme, so I'm very pleased that through engagement with survivors and stakeholders it's become apparent that this is an important thing to redress. We know that the nature of institutional child sex abuse means that survivors may not come forward to seek redress for some time. I know this, as someone very close to me who grow up in the UK took many, many years to understand that what he had experienced had actually been criminal. He'd been keeping it secret for so many years and it was only at a school reunion, upon returning to the UK, that he found that his teacher had been jailed for 25 years. The shock for that person was enormous. To know that he was carrying an experience that had not been redressed and had not been acknowledged was extraordinary. So it is important that we recognise that these childhood traumas can take decades to come to the surface, and it only seems fair to introduce amendments that make providing advance payment of $10,000 possible, which will provide applicants with a form of recognition of their abuse early in their application process while they wait for the redress scheme outcome.

Another key change to the bill that was identified is to the way indexation is applied to a survivor's payment. Currently, indexation on a relevant prior payment is calculated from when the prior payment was made until the date a determination on the application is made. This will be changed so that the indexation is calculated up to the point a person submits their application, ensuring applicants are not unfairly impacted by the time it takes for their application to be processed. This processing time is obviously varied for each applicant, so this change will apply to both future and past applicants, acknowledging the need to ensure no survivor is disadvantaged. Importantly, this measure is being covered by the Commonwealth government, meaning no change to institutions' liability. Flexibility will be introduced to the scheme to ensure a survivor can extend the period they have to consider whether or not to accept an offer or seek a review.

Removing the requirement for applications to include a statutory declaration will also make it easier for survivors to apply for redress. This is another key feature of this bill and will ensure survivors will no longer be required to submit a statutory declaration, which can be difficult to obtain for some elderly or vulnerable people. We are in rolling lockdowns in my home state of Victoria at the moment. Moving about and getting this extra documentation is particularly onerous, which many survivors question when they are undertaking this task. This measure is consistent with other social security payments which do not require applicants to complete a stat dec, and brings uniformity. Consequences will still be in place for people who provide false or misleading information. I think this approach is a sensible one.

The other key change is the flexibility of payments, providing survivors the choice of receiving the payment in instalments rather than as a lump sum. We heard in our redress committee hearings that survivors would like to have this change made. This will give survivors control over their management of their finances. Financial autonomy is incredibly important to those who may have had controlling and difficult relationships in their younger and formative years.

I would like to express my gratitude to Ms Kruk and the Ministers Redress Scheme Governance Board, which comprises ministers from states and territories who have carriage of the Redress Scheme, for their support of the scheme. The board have agreed to the changes contained in the bill, and I thank them for their ongoing advocacy to improve the scheme for survivors of institutional child sex abuse.

Lastly, I would like to pay tribute to the survivors. Yours is a hurt that cannot ever fully be redressed. Your childhood has been robbed. I'm deeply sorry. I know everyone in this House is very sorry for those who have suffered at the hands of institutions and perpetrators. I'm very proud of the fact that this government and those in in this House have supported the changes to make sure we can go some way towards redressing the wrongs of the past.

I commend this bill to the House.


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