Wednesday, 1 September 2021
National Redress Scheme for Institutional Child Sexual Abuse Amendment Bill 2021; Second Reading
I believe that the government is absolutely committed to survivors of institutional child sex abuse, and the Redress Scheme has been an important step in addressing the shameful history of institutional abuse in Australia, but there is no doubt that for survivors the pace of change has been frustrating. The Redress Scheme is complex and relies on collaboration with the states, and I don't think that we have always got it right. The government recognises this and is committed to continuing to improve the scheme, and the National Redress Scheme for Institutional Child Sexual Abuse Amendment Bill 2021 adds to that improvement.
There is not enough money in the world that can take away the pain and suffering that so many survivors have carried with them their entire life. While some survivors have gone on to build a life that has brought them joy, many have been unable to sustain meaningful relationships or employment, and many have struggled with addiction and ongoing trauma. Redress can help both in a tangible way and by recognising the intrinsic pain of survivors. People who have experienced institutional child sex abuse have waited too long for redress, and we must continue to listen to their voices and improve this scheme. While the purpose of this bill is to implement recommendations that are reasonably straightforward and aim to improve the survivor experience while seeking redress, it's important to note that this bill is not the extent of action that the government will seek to undertake, with a number of recommendations made in the recent review still under consideration and consultation.
The review found that the redress process was traumatising, bureaucratic and too slow, and these amendments are a step in the right direction to addressing these issues. It's common to hear of survivors who have been brave enough to come forward and tell their painful stories to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, or through the media, being put through further heartache when seeking redress. I recall some time ago listening to an older gentleman, who had called in to ABC talkback radio, telling his story of the horrific abuse he suffered as a child in institutional care and the terrible, enduring effect it had on his whole life, a life of pain and loneliness and trauma. Redress would make his final years a little easier, but he said that the wait was so long he feared he would die waiting. It's not good enough.
It's to people like that man that we owe these amendments so that the Redress Scheme, first established in 2018, will introduce a range of new measures that will make the process, which is already so painful, a bit less so to navigate and far easier to access. The amendments include establishing a $10,000 advance payment for applicants who are elderly—in this case, classified as those over the age of 70 or, for Indigenous Australians, over the age of 55—or who are terminally ill; changing the date from which indexation of a prior payment is calculated so that it is when a survivor submits an application to the scheme rather than the date that their application is determined; and introducing the ability to make redress payments in instalments, giving survivors choice and control over how they receive a payment.
Every individual has their own, unique story, and for some the wounds exist to this day, with some elderly survivors only coming forward with their stories for the first time. We mustn't forget that, while a necessary part of seeking redress, the process involves retelling their life history and telling what brings them to seek redress, which may re-traumatise people. I recognise the scheme has been complex to navigate and can be confronting to survivors. We must seek every means necessary to ensure that this process is as simple as it can be.
I've spoken many times in this place of the need to ensure that there is a trauma informed response within government policy, and I'm pleased that, at least in this situation, these amendments begin to address this issue. One of the proposed amendments before us today is the introduction of flexibility to ensure a survivor can extend the period they have to consider and accept an offer of redress or to seek review of their redress offer. This amendment addresses technical issues in the operation of the legislation but creates a more trauma informed approach, ensuring applicants do not lose the ability to access redress or procedural fairness due to the restricted and disconnected drafting of current provisions.
Of course, the scheme can only seek to appropriately compensate survivors if those institutions which were responsible for the horrific acts of child abuse, many of which came to light during the royal commission, actually join the scheme. I thank Minister Ruston for her dedication to getting the scheme right and for working with the institutions—sadly, far too many of them—to ensure they sign up to the scheme. While many of these institutions have taken responsibility for the abuse that occurred in their school, club, organisation or church, it both saddens and, frankly, enrages me to hear of some who are still refusing to be held to account for the pain and hurt they have caused. Just recently I learned that the Devonport Community Church, in Tasmania, are refusing to join the scheme, as they believe, 'The scheme could be misused by those seeking easy money.' I cannot even begin to properly describe just how offensive this reasoning is. It is completely devoid of any compassion or care. As Minister Ruston has said, it is completely unacceptable that they have failed to meet their moral obligations.
Sadly, the church is one of three institutions that have failed to sign up to the scheme. The minister also said:
These are institutions which know they have been named in applications and yet they have chosen to shirk their responsibility to finally do the right thing by these survivors.
Let there be no doubt that I wholeheartedly support the minister's words.
Unfortunately, seven institutions which did take steps to join have not been found to meet the legislative requirements of the scheme and are therefore unable to join. As such, I commend the government for its commitment to supporting the expansion of funder-of-last-resort provisions to cover institutions that do not meet the legislative requirements of the scheme to join, providing $22.8 million over four years in the 2021-22 budget for the Commonwealth share of expanded funder-of-last-resort costs.
Lastly, this is an opportunity for me to say thank you to every single survivor who has told their story to the royal commission, which has led to the Redress Scheme, and to those who gave input to the scheme and contributed to the more than 450 submissions, surveys and consultations that informed the outcomes of the review. To you, and to all the survivors that have come forward in the years following the royal commission: we must, and we will, do right by you. To all silent survivors of abuse: I hope you can one day find your voice and speak your truth.
In closing, I repeat what I've said before in this place: as important as the National Redress Scheme is, we must also acknowledge that child sexual abuse is not only historic in nature; it happens now, every day, in Australia. Our responses to the issue of child sexual abuse must go further. We must make greater efforts to prevent abuse happening in the first place, and we must have a more holistic approach to recognising and addressing trauma to mitigate the lifelong damage caused to victim-survivors.