Wednesday, 1 September 2021
National Redress Scheme for Institutional Child Sexual Abuse Amendment Bill 2021; Second Reading
I rise to address the National Redress Scheme for Institutional Child Sexual Abuse Amendment Bill 2021 and to commend the member for Bass for her strong support for victims. I know, like all members of the House, that the work of the Joint Select Committee on Implementation of the National Redress Scheme, which I was a member of in the last parliament and have been a member of in this parliament, is, I think it would be fair to say, a constructive and well-resourced use of this parliament's time. Members from both sides of the chamber and from both houses of parliament have given voice and allowed the voices of many survivors to be heard regarding their experience of the Redress Scheme, which has not been as it was designed to be nor what survivors had anticipated. Today we will be dealing with some legislation to improve the scheme. This also enables me to speak to the chamber about the serious issue of redress that Australia has been grappling with for some time. I wouldn't say Australia now is delivering. I would say that that is underway, but more work needs to be done. We know how important this scheme is to the survivors of institutional child sex abuse. The scheme was a long time coming when it was first introduced, and these steps are a step towards ensuring that it does right by those who access it.
I want to start my remarks today by expressing my disappointment that, while the bill goes some way towards fixing the issues with our existing redress program, it fails to address many of the recommendations of the second anniversary review of the Redress Scheme by Robyn Kruk AO, an eminent Australian who I think has done a remarkable job. I'll touch on some of the recommendations that I think should be supported and that I think survivors also want supported. That's why I'm a strong supporter of the bill today and want to speak on it, in particular the second reading amendment that the member for Fenner, in lieu of the member for Barton, has moved today.
Survivors of child sexual abuse have been waiting their whole lives for redress for the horrific crimes that were perpetrated against them as children. For decades they have suffered in silence, tormented by the truly awful acts committed against them over many years. Being on the redress committee for a number of year has enabled me to learn and to understand but also to hear the tragic stories of so many people. Growing up on the south side of Brisbane in a loving family with an older brother and sister and with two parents who did everything they could to make sure that their children would be protected and loved but also given every opportunity in the world, I had, I would say, a very idyllic and happy childhood. It really has shown me what a privilege I've had in my life. When I was just a child, I had no understanding of the horrific abuse that was happening in my home city, my state and my country. It puts everything into perspective. Now serving in the parliament, representing my own community—meeting with survivors, talking to them, hearing their stories—and, of course, having the absolute honour of serving on the joint committee has made me a better member of parliament and also, I would go so far as to say, a better person. I have been able to look into the eyes of people who have gone through things that, as a child, I could never have understood would have happened in my life. I have heard witness statements through hours and hours and days and days of evidence and read some of the worst stories that you could ever imagine. The Parliament of Australia needs to hear this as well.
We need only look at the numbers from the previous Labor government's Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse to see the scope of the impact that child sexual abuse has had. Over the five years of the commission, 16,953 people who were within the terms of reference contacted the royal commission. The commission heard from 7,981 survivors of child sexual abuse in 8,013 private sessions. It received 1,344 written accounts and referred 2½ thousand plus matters to police.
These striking numbers only begin to scratch the surface of just how big the issues were for thousands of Australians, and this speaks to how important it is that we get the redress right. The bill today makes five key changes to the scheme. It establishes an advance payment scheme, reduces the time frame over which prior payments are indexed, allows the time a person has to accept an offer of redress to be extended, removes the requirement for applications to include a statutory declaration and allows redress payments to be made in instalments.
I want to focus on the first one today, and that's the establishment of the advance payment mechanism. This is something that we have been calling for, and in this part of my remarks I want to acknowledge the outstanding work of the member for Newcastle and the work that she has done as the deputy chair. And I also want to acknowledge the current chair, Senator Dean Smith, who has acted in a very collaborative and collegiate way. But the member for Newcastle, Ms Claydon, has really been at the forefront of this, from the experience of her own community and also in being a powerful advocate. I like to say that she is the voice for the voiceless. The bill will establish an advance payment, providing $10,000 to people aged over 70, to First Nations people over 50 or to terminally ill or vulnerable people. Although this is a minor amount, it is a significant amount and we can imagine the recognition that comes with it in helping the mental wellbeing of survivors by being acknowledged, their voice being heard and also a public acknowledgement.
Secondly, the passage of the bill will reduce the time frame for which prior payments are indexed before being deducted from a redress payment. Indexation will now cease when an application for redress is made, not at the time of a decision when a redress application is finalised. We've been calling for the indexation of prior payments to cease completely, and we will have more to say about that. The bill will also allow the Department of Social Services to extend the time a person has to accept an offer of redress. Currently, that period is six months. This is an important change, as a person can only apply for redress once and if an offer is not accepted within the allowed time it's taken to be refused.
The bill also seeks to reduce the trauma of applying for redress by removing the requirement for applications to include a statutory declaration, and the member for Newcastle, in her remarks, made crystal clear why that's such an important provision which needs to be introduced. And, of course, if payment by instalments are requested by an applicant that's not only common sense but I think it's best practice. These changes are important and they will help to ensure that the redress scheme functions in the interests of survivors.
I want to touch on the recommendations in the second anniversary review which the government has so far refused to act on. As I mentioned in my earlier remarks, Ms Kruk delivered her report to the minister at the end of March this year. In conducting her review, Ms Kruk met with 81 survivors and with support services and government agencies, and she received around 226 submissions on top of the commissioned feedback study, in which 503 survivor support groups and institutions participated. Now, not all groups were happy with the way that process was undertaken. I particularly want to place on record the concerns that CLAN raised when we had public hearings. I pay tribute to all those advocates, but particularly to CLAN. It has been leading the fight for justice for survivors for so long.
Labor has also made repeated calls for significant changes to be made to the scheme, and that's what we're doing with the second reading amendment today: increasing the minimum payment to $200,000, which was a key recommendation of the royal commission; ensuring that payments are not indexed when calculating a redress payment; ensuring that prior payments which do not relate to institutional child sex abuse are not deducted from redress; introducing an advance payment scheme for elderly and the ill; ensuring that governments act as funders of last resort for all institutions; guaranteeing that the review of an offer of redress will not result in the offer being reduced; and providing necessary ongoing psychological counselling and support for recipients of redress.
That's a big issue I want to place on record today that the government needs to do more on. They need to be working more constructively with organisations, support groups and the survivors themselves. We know that there is a huge list of recommendations that are not included in this bill. I want to support and trust what the government is saying on this but, so far, their record in delivering a redress scheme that meets expectations has not lived up to that. As someone who's been following this for a number of years, I really want to make sure that the government hears this message today. They have to do better with the implementation and management of the Redress Scheme in this country.
We have a duty and obligation to those survivors. We have a duty of care to ensure not only that those people's voices are heard but that the scheme is simple and easy to navigate. All the evidence that we've heard is that that is not the case. To be fair to the government, they have tried; but they need to do better. That is not from the member for Oxley or the Labor opposition; it is the voice of so many in Australia saying this scheme needs to work—the families of survivors, the people who have been caught up in this system, the people that haven't come forward yet because of their fears or concerns around accessing the scheme and the difficulties they're having to navigate with the Commonwealth government, their fear of government and their misunderstanding of what's happened. Ms Kruk's report is a really vital and important one. I'm hopeful that the government will look at all those recommendations, and I will take them at their word they will be working through them. While the bill today deals with some of the modifications to the scheme, there is still a huge amount of work to be done in terms of giving justice to survivors.
I will finish my remarks today by paying tribute to the survivors. Understanding their pain and trauma is one thing, but delivering justice for them is another. I commit myself today to making sure that I keep learning from, listening to and hearing their experiences, bringing their voices to the parliament to ensure that justice for the pain and trauma they have gone through their entire lives is not only seen to be done but is delivered.