Wednesday, 3 February 2021
National Redress Scheme for Institutional Child Sexual Abuse Amendment (Technical Amendments) Bill 2020; Second Reading
I rise on behalf of the Labor Party to talk about this extremely important issue, the National Redress Scheme for Institutional Child Sexual Abuse. Labor will be moving a number of very sensible amendments, and I will speak to them in some detail in a moment. But it's true to say that survivors of institutional child sexual abuse wait too long for redress. It's been two years since the national apology to survivors and almost a decade since the announcement of the royal commission by the Gillard government in November 2012. We asked people to bear their souls, to dig up old and painful memories, and they did. We said to them, 'We hear you and we believe you.' We also made a commitment that our words would be backed with action, a commitment to deliver redress.
Survivors have been through so much that it is unimaginable. We had a commitment to deliver redress that was timely, redress that does not retraumatise and redress that does not leave survivors missing out. It's been 31 months since the commencement of the scheme and a fraction of the projected numbers of survivors have received redress, and I will outline that in a moment. There are still too many waiting. Many are ill, many are old and many are dying. In fact, we know that some have passed. Many have missed out altogether.
It is time for us, in this parliament, to get the redress to deliver on its promise to survivors. I seek to make it better with amendments. Labor will introduce a series of amendments to address the longstanding structural and emerging issues with the National Redress Scheme. The scheme that was ultimately rolled out by the government did not fully realise the recommendations of the royal commission, but I hasten to say that I do believe that everyone in this chamber, on both sides of the House, are absolutely committed to redress. There is no question about that.
Labor's amendments will better reflect the reality of survivors and the spirit of the original recommendations. I ask that the government carefully consider these amendments. I am genuine in putting them forward. The minister knows that, and I respect the minister very much. I have met with her to talk through Labor's amendments.
Fixing the National Redress Scheme should not be put in a too-hard basket, and changes do not need to jeopardise any aspects of the scheme. This gives the government—and I stress this—latitude and flexibility to work constructively. We will work constructively with the government to get the scheme working and delivering to survivors, as was originally intended.
The bill makes largely administrative amendments to the operation of the National Redress Scheme, and we welcome those administrative amendments. They include making the process of identifying related groups of institutions more straightforward by simplifying the minister's power to declare related institutions. This will mean large institutions can be referred to by a single name rather than as many legal entities—for example, 'the Anglican church'. The bill clarifies that the amount for which a funder of last resort is liable is based on the number of funders of last resort for a defunct institution—and we saw during the summer break the issues that arose from the Retta Dixon Home in the Northern Territory. The amendments allow senior executives of the department, rather than the minister, to appoint independent decision-makers, allowing for faster appointments. The administrative amendments will protect the names and symbols associated with the National Redress Scheme which are being misused for commercial purposes by some lawyers and organisations, and I say that those organisations and those lawyers need to have a good hard look at themselves. The bill permits a redress payment to be made to a person who's been legally appointed to manage the financial affairs of an applicant for redress—for example, a court appointed guardian. The amendments allow the National Redress Scheme operator to extend the time institutions have to make payments to the scheme—and this is important. The bill authorises the disclosure of protected information about a non-participating institution for the purpose of encouraging the institution to join the scheme. It also corrects typographical errors. Labor very much support these amendments, but we also believe that this is an opportunity for the parliament to address major structural shortcomings in the scheme.
The original royal commission estimated some 65,000 survivors would be eligible for redress. That's a lot of people. As of 15 January 2021, the scheme had received 9,232 applications, had made 5,487 decisions and had finalised 4,060 applications, including 4,620 payments totalling approximately $385.2 million. In June, we know, there were 512 applications on hold, waiting on institutions to join the scheme. These delays cause further trauma to the people who are waiting, and those institutions that still have not signed up should get their skates on. The anxiety many survivors are experiencing at the possibility of missing out altogether due to their age or due to illness is also a further form of trauma.
The slow rate of applications indicates that the scheme is difficult to navigate, inadequate and hard to find. This is certainly what we have been told by people who are trying to navigate the scheme. Survivors have spoken of the difficulty in preparing an application. The Joint Select Committee on Implementation of the National Redress Scheme heard that, for one survivor, it was 17 months to finalise their application. Given their age and the fact that many of these people are extremely vulnerable, that is just too long. The application processing time by the scheme itself is a separate matter. For example, for applications received in the first half of 2019, the Department of Social Services said the average processing time was about eight months. At estimates in October the department advised that the average processing time was actually between 12 and 13 months.
Institutions simply not signing up to the scheme, despite being named in applications for redress, is another major reason survivors are waiting in limbo for their application to be processed. I do acknowledge that prior to Christmas the minister very much named six of those recalcitrant providers or institutions. There is currently no mechanism, other than through civil claims, to compel institutions to join the scheme so that they can be held to account.
Labor supports the changes the government made to charity law last year, as I just indicated, to prevent organisations getting government grants and to remove their charitable tax deductibility status if they refuse to join the scheme within six months of an application being received. However, these changes will not guarantee that people will get access if an institution remains recalcitrant and refuses to join or if it deliberately restructures its affairs and hides assets to avoid its obligations. I find absolutely abhorrent that institutions that have responsibility for past trauma are going about restructuring themselves so that they cannot be accountable to this scheme. I have had concerns raised with me—for the chamber to understand—that Jehovah's Witnesses are doing this at the moment. It is absolutely reprehensible.
In these rare cases we are calling on the government to consider placing a levy on such institutions in order to cover the cost of redress and collect funds from these institutions through the tax system if need be. Survivors should not miss out on the opportunity to get redress because an institution refuses to take responsibility. It might seem unbelievable to us in the chamber that there are such institutions, but I can assure you that there are. I am sure that people in this chamber would be very aware of some of those institutions. I know the member for Lingiari is going to address that issue in his comments.
Many applications are in limbo because institutions that are the subject of applications are now defunct or have no present-day links or entities. In other cases, application for redress cannot be progressed because the institution itself does not have the financial capacity to meet obligations under the scheme. A notable example is the Retta Dixon Home in the Northern Territory, as I said earlier. This is where governments need to step up and provide a guarantee that they will act as funders of last resort. We don't think there are going to be many cases like this, but they do exist and people in the terrible situation of having suffered abuse at the hands of that institution, which is no longer viable, should not miss out on redress. That is why having a funder of last resort is so important.
No-one should miss out on access to the Redress Scheme because the institution responsible for their abuse has folded or simply cannot afford to pay. Labor's amendments will seek to ensure governments act as funders of last resort when people would otherwise miss out because institutions are defunct or do not have the capacity to join the scheme. I know that the government has done some work on this. We don't see that there are hundreds and hundreds of these cases, but these cases certainly exist in the community.
Labor's amendments are calling on the government to establish an advance payment scheme for people who are elderly or ill. This is very important. We've based this amendment on a model that exists in Scotland. There is capacity in that model for government to make an advance payment to those people who are incredibly ill or getting very old. This could be similar to the scheme which is currently used in Scotland, which has been well received by survivors there. So there is a working model that the government could actually look at in relation to an advance payment scheme. It wouldn't cost any more, because the advance payment would be considered in the final calculation of the person's redress. It would have no financial implications, but it would be an incredibly important process to put in place, given the advanced age and illness of some of the people we're talking about. Given the decades and years that many survivors have waited for a chance at redress and justice, it is vital that people do not die waiting. People deserve to see that institutions who have done them so much harm are held to account. They deserve to know that they are believed, they have been seen and they have been taken seriously.
Another major issue with the design and implementation of the scheme is the inadequacy of redress payments. Inadequate payments—in particular, the $150,000 cap on payments—are pushing people towards civil processes and away from or outside the scheme. We're hearing that survivors can get a more generous payment and are receiving these payments in similar time frames to the scheme. This issue is undermining the fundamental purpose of the scheme, which is to make it easier and quicker for survivors to access payments and support. Redress payments are also being significantly reduced because of prior payments, and I know the minister is very aware of this. The joint select committee heard of an instance in which a payment was reduced by $50,000 to $20,000, all because the survivor was awarded a payment of $15,000 years earlier. For example, it might be that prior payments to stolen generations survivors—a separate issue from institutional child sexual abuse—are being used to reduce payments. We know that, and I urge the government to look carefully at it.
The indexation of prior modest payments has also seen redress payments reduced. According to the interim report of the joint select committee, the Department of Social Services advised that as at February this year 449 payments had been adjusted due to prior payments, with the average value of the adjustment being about $34½ thousand. DSS also confirmed that the maximum adjustment made was $150,000, which reduced the redress award to zero. That is just not right. To that end, Labor's amendments would lift the cap on redress payments from $150,000 to $200,000, as recommended by the royal commission. Labor's amendments would also ensure that prior payments are not indexed when calculating a redress payment and that prior payments which do not relate to institutional child sexual abuse—for example, payments to members of the stolen generations—are not deducted from redress payments.
The redress assessment matrix has also been widely criticised, particularly by care leavers. As the joint committee found, the assessment matrix arbitrarily links the amount of redress awarded to the physical type of abuse perpetrated. It fails to recognise the lifelong harm that any sexual abuse has on survivors. Of great concern is the decision to limit the payment of exceptional circumstances to penetrative abuse. This approach fails to acknowledge the harm caused by other types of sexual abuse and is a noted departure from the original recommendations of the royal commission. One survivor stated, 'I don't know how they came up with the matrix.'
Labor's amendments will require the minister to remake the redress assessment framework to properly recognise the impact of abuse when calculating redress payments, as recommended by the royal commission. The limited one-off payments for psychological counselling and support are contrary to the recommendations of the royal commission. We are concerned that, in many cases, people are being provided with as little as $1,250 to cover future counselling and psychological care. Originally, the royal commission recommended that ongoing support be provided, not one-off payments. It said, 'Many survivors will need counselling and psychological care from time to time throughout their lives.' Counselling is not necessarily needed continuously throughout a survivor's life, but it should be available throughout a survivor's life. It should be available on an episodic basis, and I know people in this chamber understand that. To that end, Labor's amendments will ensure that necessary ongoing psychological counselling and support will be provided to survivors.
Often we hear a claim from the government that they can't make changes to the scheme on their own, and that's a very true statement. They need the support of states and territories, and I acknowledge this. Of course agreement is needed for certain changes, but so is leadership and so is action from the Commonwealth, which is incredibly powerful within that process. Improvements will not happen in a vacuum, just as this scheme and the royal commission that was asked to make recommendations on it did not happen in a vacuum. They happened because there was leadership from the top, leadership from Prime Minister Julia Gillard. The legislated two-year review of the scheme is due to report soon, and we know, from talking to survivors, that the issue reflected in Labor's amendments has also been raised as part of that review.
Only the government—and I'm pleased to see Minister Fletcher at the table—can move amendments that have a financial impact. That is why Labor has put forward a series of amendments that will require the minister to investigate change and report back to the parliament. This is a sensible and flexible approach for the government. There is absolutely no reason why the government should not support these amendments. They afford the minister and the Prime Minister the time to talk to jurisdictions and institutions, consider the two-year review and report back to the parliament on what they will do to fix problems with the scheme. As I said, I am very genuine in putting forward these amendments.
The scheme, as it currently stands, fails to deliver on the promise of redress for everyone—timely redress, redress that does not retraumatise, redress that does not leave survivors missing out. The reality is that the Redress Scheme, as rolled out, does not reflect—and in fact falls short of—the original recommendations of the royal commission. The amendments Labor has put forward seek to address major structural shortcomings in the scheme by bringing the scheme back in line with those original recommendations. We want to end the delays caused by institutions not doing the right thing and not joining the scheme. We want to ensure no-one misses out, through strengthening funder-of-last-resort provisions and the introduction of an advance payment scheme. We want to deliver full redress to survivors by lifting the cap on payments, as prescribed by the royal commission, and making sure prior payments are not indexed to take away from a redress payment, including for members of the stolen generations; scrapping the existing misguided and arbitrary assessment matrix and delivering one that is fair and that properly recognises the full impact of sexual abuse, particularly psychological and lifelong impacts; and ensuring ongoing psychological support for survivors throughout their lives. After so long, it is time that we in this chamber delivered on the promise of redress for survivors.
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 the deficiencies in the bill as drafted; and
(2) urges the Government to respond to calls from survivors to improve the National Redress Scheme and deliver quicker, fairer and better outcomes for recipients, as recommended by the Royal Commission".
It's important to me to rise here today and speak in relation to the National Redress Scheme. Whilst the bill before us deals with technical and administrative amendments, I take any opportunity to stand in this place to highlight these issues. It is also a fitting opportunity to acknowledge an amazing young Tasmanian woman whose name I have spoken in this place several times in the past year and whom most of the country now knows: Grace Tame, survivor, fearless advocate and now Tasmania's first ever Australian of the Year. This esteemed award is in recognition of Grace's courageous work through her Let Her Speak campaign, which led to the Tasmanian government finally overturning outdated laws barring survivors of sexual abuse from telling their own story. Grace delivered a fierce and frank speech upon receiving her award. Using a national platform to tell her story is incredibly powerful. Importantly, voices like Grace's speak to why the National Redress Scheme is so important. For the information of the House, I'd like to share an extract from her speech:
All survivors of child sexual abuse, this is for us. I lost my virginity to a paedophile. I was 15, anorexic; he was 58. He was my teacher. For months he groomed me and then abused me almost every day. Before school, after school, in my uniform, on the floor. I didn't know who I was. Publicly he described his crimes as 'awesome' and 'enviable'. Publicly I was silenced by law. Not anymore.
Australia, we've come a long way, but there's still more work to do in a lot of areas. Child sexual abuse and cultures that enable it still exist. Grooming and its lasting impacts are not widely understood. Predators manipulate all of us: family, friends, colleagues, strangers; in every class, culture and community. They thrive when we fight amongst ourselves and weaponise all of our vulnerabilities. Trauma does not discriminate, nor does it end when the abuse itself does. First Nations people, people with disabilities, the LGBTQI community and other marginalised groups face even greater barriers to justice. Every voice matters.
Just as the impacts of evil are borne by all of us, so too are solutions borne of all of us.
Grace's words are so important. As a survivor of child sexual abuse myself, I can attest to the empowerment that comes from hearing the stories of other survivors: the hope for a future beyond what happened to you, and the relief in the realisation that the shame is not yours to carry.
It's because of survivors like Grace and thousands and thousands of other brave Australians who have come forward in recent years—be it through the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse or by perpetrators being taken to court or by survivors telling someone for the very first time about the abuse they suffered—that we are starting to lift the cloak of secrecy and silence that has protected perpetrators for so long. Some 17,000 survivors came forward to the royal commission, and nearly 8,000 of these survivors recounted their abuse in the commission's private sessions. It's an astounding statistic. But there are so many more who still suffer in silence. So much work has been done over the past few years to begin to bring these stories out of the shadows, but, as Grace herself said, there is still so much more to be done; this is just the beginning.
Those in positions of trust were protected and enabled to abuse children by the level of trust that families and communities had in these institutions. The government has worked tirelessly to ensure that these institutions are held accountable. Over the past two years, the scheme has secured the participation of all states and territories, and, as at 18 September 2020, 272 non-government institutions are participating in the scheme. This means that the scheme now covers over 52,000 sites across Australia. In addition, over 3,600 payments totalling approximately $298 million have been paid to survivors to date.
But I acknowledge that the road has not been smooth, and I want to acknowledge the pain felt by survivors who have faced further difficulty and distress in accessing the scheme, which first rolled out in 2018. I know that Minister Ruston has worked incredibly hard to ensure improvements are made to assist a smoother process for survivors. Our government is committed to supporting survivors of institutional child sexual abuse, and the amendments contained in the bill will address the minor and technical issues, including potential unintended barriers to scheme efficiency with the current redress operation. The changes will enhance the operational efficiency of the scheme, which will be beneficial for survivors but, importantly, do not adversely impact redress outcomes for survivors. The amendments play an integral role in ensuring that there is a clearer path to appropriately compensating survivors, who have suffered unimaginable horrors in our many institutions for far too long. Compensation does not take away the pain a survivor has suffered. It does, however, send a message that what happened matters. We recognise your pain. We hear you and we believe you.
To the institutions yet to join the scheme: shame on you. As Minister Ruston has said, it is completely unacceptable for named institutions to refuse to accept their moral obligation and responsibility to acknowledge the wrongs committed. I fully support our government's plans to strip organisations of their charitable status if they fail to join the scheme. You have been protected for far too long, and your days of avoiding consequences are coming to an end.
In closing, I'd like to say that, as important as the National Redress Scheme is, it's not the only thing we could do and it's not the only thing we should do. Our responses to the issue of child sexual abuse must go further. We must make greater efforts to prevent abuse from 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.
I'd also like to take the opportunity to acknowledge that, when we talk about these things, as we so often do, and as has been highlighted by Grace Tame becoming Australian of the Year, it can be very difficult for survivors and it speaks to the ongoing trauma that the member for Barton acknowledged in her words. To anybody who's feeling that way, I would encourage you to reach out to a sexual assault support service in your state for some help.
I'm very pleased to rise to make a contribution to the debate today on the National Redress Scheme for Institutional Child Sexual Abuse Amendment (Technical Amendments) Bill 2020 and to strongly support the amendments moved by the member for Barton to really help set the Redress Scheme back on path to deliver on its promise to actually be a survivor centred and focused scheme.
The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse was indeed a necessary and essential response to one of the darkest chapters in Australia's history. We remain forever grateful to the then Prime Minister Julia Gillard for having the courage to launch this royal commission. It uncovered some of the most heinous abuse of innocent children, often inflicted by the very people who were charged with their care. There is no greater betrayal of trust than what occurred under the watch of people who were charged with a duty of care.
The National Redress Scheme was launched in 2018, and it was one of the key recommendations of the royal commission. The commissioners saw it as a very necessary pathway whereby survivors could seek redress for the injustices against them without having to go through the time, trauma and expense of legal action. The legislation before us today makes a number of largely technical amendments. Regrettably, these changes won't solve many of the serious structural issues and deficiencies that we know exist within the scheme. We know that because survivors tell us so every day.
As the deputy chair of the Joint Select Committee on Implementation of the National Redress Scheme, as well as the deputy chair of the former committee that inquired into the same matter in the last parliament, I've been following the rollout of this scheme very closely, as have my Labor colleagues, since 2018. These are committees of parliament that have always operated in a multipartisan manner. Regrettably, the take-home message from the work of both these committees has been that the National Redress Scheme is not delivering on its promise to be survivor focussed and to be trauma informed. There are still too many examples where that is simply not the case, and we have taken extensive evidence from survivors, from experts, from community organisations and from government agencies that this scheme is slow, is difficult to navigate and, as I've said, is not sufficiently survivor focused. One of the key issues of the scheme is the take-up. I think it is deeply worrying that, even though it has been operating since 2018, only a fraction of the eligible survivors have signed up. Indeed, the royal commission estimated 60,000 survivors would be eligible, but as of last month only 4,620 payments had been made following 9,232 applications. That has to be ringing some alarm bells for government. That is an appalling participation rate by any measure. Indeed, at that rate you would be looking at 32 years for all 60,000 survivors to receive redress. Clearly that is untenable.
I believe that one of the fundamental problems is that the scheme that was ultimately rolled out by the government did not ever fully realise the recommendations of the royal commission, and each and every time we have deviated from those recommendations it has been to the detriment of survivors. As a parliament, we have stepped away from survivor needs, and it has to stop. That's why Labor has proposed a number of amendments to the bill before us today to bring the scheme back in line with what the royal commission envisaged. The amendments include increasing the maximum payment to $200,000, which is what the royal commission said and what survivors deserve and expect; removing indexation of prior payments when calculating the redress payments; removing consideration of any other payments that don't relate to abuse that are currently being caught up in those assessments; ensuring that the government acts as a funder of last resort for institutions that aren't eligible to take part. This is a very real and live issue before the parliament today.
Other amendments go to the provision of ongoing psychological counselling and support. I'm the member for Newcastle, an epicentre for this kind of child sexual abuse in the religious institutions. It is a shameful part of our history. I work with many, many survivors on a very regular basis, and it is the issue of ongoing access to psychological counselling and support that they feel utterly betrayed by. The royal commission couldn't have been clearer: 'You need to provide ongoing psychological and counselling support. It needs to recognise the episodic nature of abuse and trauma.' We do this for veterans in Australia. It is unforgivable that we have not been able to deliver the same kind of psychological and counselling services to survivors of child sexual abuse. I cannot fathom why we have a situation where different jurisdictions have different kinds of caps and access issues. It is untenable and unforgivable.
Labor's other amendments are to improve the framework to better recognise the impacts of abuse. We have an appalling system of an assessment matrix that exists at the moment that failed to learn the lesson of the royal commission—that is, you must put an emphasis on the impact of the abuse as opposed to the strict definitional nature of the abuse that took place; it is the impact that we need to be mindful of.
Labor will move amendments to create an advance payment scheme for the elderly and very unwell survivors. This is a system that the parliament in Scotland has been able to roll out very successfully. We, in Australia, absolutely should be delivering a similar scheme here. People should not be dying whilst waiting for redress but that's what's happening, and I don't think anyone in this parliament should be kidding themselves otherwise.
So those are Labor's amendments. I know the member for Barton has gone to great length articulating the detail of those amendments. I thank her for that and for her tireless work on behalf of survivors to try to get this redress scheme working again.
Labor are seeking to ensure that the amount of redress won't decrease if survivors request a review of their offer—another shameful consequence, perhaps unintended, but it is a consequence of what is in place now. If you seek a review of a decision you could end up with even less redress than you did before. Let's not forget, the redress that is being offered to people is extremely modest, considering the lifelong trauma that has been experienced.
These amendments go to the heart of the core problems that have been identified in the parliamentary committee's work. Indeed, many of them have been recommended by one or both of the committees in various reports that have been handed down before this Australian parliament. So it really is time for some action. Labor has also extended a very genuine offer to the government to work together in good faith on making the redress scheme the very best it can be. We are committed, and I have no doubt there are many members opposite on the government benches who are deeply committed to ensuring that this redress scheme is improved and delivers on its promise. We just need to ensure that everyone, in fact, is onboard and does the necessary heavy lifting when it comes to legislative reform and, indeed, those negotiations with various state and territory jurisdictions that need to take place.
There is limited time left in the debate. I would like to look at some of the detail of the amendments, the first one being around the maximum payment amount. It remains a thorn in the side of survivors that we are unable to explain to them why we deviated from the royal commission's recommendation that the cap would be at $200,000 yet, by the time the legislation came to this parliament to pass, that cap was reduced to $150,000 and there are all sorts of conditions attached to who can receive that maximum payment. This goes to the problem of the assessment matrix as it currently exists. To be very blunt, without penetration, you cannot receive the maximum amount of redress. That is an insult and it flies in the face of the recommendation of the royal commission around the way that that assessment matrix should work. It flies in the face of all the research that we know around impacts of child sexual abuse and it remains an absolute insult to people that they would be assessed through this matrix that defies all of the best research. Really, the way that this is now structured, it prevents people who have been profoundly impacted, who have lifelong trauma, from ever receiving a maximum payment in the National Redress Scheme because of the way that matrix currently works.
I have often explored the issue around indexation in this parliament in previous debates. It is not okay to be capturing payments that were made under other schemes or other capacities to provide some redress whilst royal commissions were underway or this parliament was sorting out what the National Redress Scheme would look like here. As I said, people are getting quite modest and sometimes very small payments out of redress. It's not okay to have them further reduced by these other payments, some of which are not even directly related to the redress issue. I know the member for Barton has raised before that survivors from stolen generations are having payments—payments resulting from the trauma they experienced due to the stolen generations—taken into consideration to reduce their redress payment. Those two should not be counting each other out in any way, shape or form. It is obscene that, when an offer is put on the table and you seek to have a review, you could actually come back with an even smaller offer at the end of the day. We need to make sure that survivors aren't afraid to seek a review of decisions because they are fearful that they would have money taken away from them.
I will go straight to this issue of funder of last resort, because I think it is a very significant issue that this government has to get its head around, and it has to resolve the problems sooner rather than later. There is an urgent need now. There is a huge problem in the National Redress Scheme around the lack of an adequate funder of last resort provision. There are currently 11 organisations that, despite wanting to join the National Redress Scheme—we can't blame these organisations for not wanting to join—are unable to do so because they do not meet the eligibility requirements. An example of this that is on the public record—I am not breaching any confidence here—involves the Retta Dixon Home in Darwin, where many children, many of whom were from the stolen generation, were horrendously abused over three decades. That organisation is unable to join this scheme, because it cannot assure the scheme that it is financially secure enough to pay redress to the victims, both current and future.
Labor believes that the federal government, as the deliverer of the National Redress Scheme, has a moral obligation to step in as the funder of last resort in these areas, and we have submitted an amendment to that effect. I hope the government looks very seriously at that. We need to have a system where we can make sure there aren't further injustices against survivors. We have a lot to say around how you might improve measures on tax deductibility and levy schemes for organisations that might try to dodge and avoid tax constraints. I would bring the House's attention back to the Scottish incentive around an advanced payment scheme. The Australian parliament could well adopt a similar scheme.
I stand here to speak on the National Redress Scheme for Institutionalised Child Sexual Abuse Amendment (Technical Amendments) Bill 2020. Each of us in this place has a duty to confront the history of institutionalised child sexual abuse that haunts many Australians to this day. As a psychologist, I have worked with some of the most vulnerable members of our community. I know their stories. I have seen firsthand the ongoing trauma that child sexual abuse survivors live with: significant mental health issues that translate to a range of social, emotional, behavioural and interpersonal difficulties that are lifelong. Psychological treatment is imperative, and there is no doubt that the National Redress Scheme for institutionalised child sexual abuse plays an important role in rectifying past injustice and pain. It ensures that abusers are held to account, that institutional cultures change and that survivors are compensated. Over the past two years, the scheme has secured the participation of all states and territories, and, as of September last year, 272 non-government institutions are participating in the scheme. This means that the scheme now covers over 52,000 sites across Australia. These are the institutions and organisations that families and the community trust with their children. There is no greater horror as a parent than realising that this trust has been broken—that the vulnerability of your child has been exploited. It is imperative that these institutions are held accountable.
For this reason, it is promising that over 3,600 payments have been made to survivors to date, totalling approximately $298 million. Improvements have been made to the scheme during the initial two years of operation, but we need to do more to make sure the scheme is operating as well as it can be. Putting in place further improvements requires updating the act. This bill will increase the efficiency of the scheme for its remaining eight years of operation and assist in finalising outstanding applications. These minor technical amendments will provide clarity and improve scheme operations but will not have any financial impacts on scheme participants and will not change an institution's liability or obligations under the scheme.
The amendments contained in this bill include taking measures to clarify processes or remove potential barriers to the scheme's efficiency. The amendments will clarify how participating institutions that are associates of the responsible institution are to be determined and specified, provide for greater efficiency in engaging independent decision-makers, introduce protections for the names and symbols used in connection with the scheme, and authorise disclosure of protected information about a non-participating institution to remove barriers for institutions to participate in the scheme.
Further changes will also allow for redress payments to be made to a person who has been appointed by a court, tribunal or board to manage the financial affairs of a person entitled to redress. Currently, if a person accepts a redress payment or a counselling and psychological care payment, the scheme operator must pay this to an account that the person holds with a financial institution and that the person has nominated in writing. In not allowing payments to be made to third parties, we've seen unintended consequences, especially where an applicant has limited capacity to manage their financial affairs or where relevant court or tribunal orders exist. This amendment will enable the scheme to pay an applicant's redress payment to a public trustee or similar body with financial management powers made under relevant laws. The amendments will ensure the scheme can make a redress payment for an applicant, while also ensuring that their interests remain protected in a way that is consistent with the legal arrangements in this place.
Clearly, the focus here is on making the scheme as efficient and straightforward as possible. Many survivors of child sexual abuse have a complex range of mental health issues as a result of their trauma. The last thing that they want is to navigate a complex or cumbersome bureaucratic system designed to address this very trauma.
These amendments will not impact how survivors deal with the scheme, and nor do they have financial impacts for scheme participants. In fact, these amendments will better support survivors taking part in the scheme, by enhancing operational efficiency. We must continue to enhance the way this scheme operates to maintain its integrity and efficiency. Our government will continue to do the work to ensure improvement for this important scheme to better support survivors.
I'd like to acknowledge the very important work of Australian of the Year Grace Tame, whose bravery and advocacy for survivors of child sexual abuse is changing the national conversation on this issue. So I'd like to end by commending her on her incredible work, and I look forward to hearing more from her in the future.
Over recent decades, my home town of Ballarat has been changed for the better by the courage of survivors of institutional child sexual abuse. These survivors have stood up, made their voices heard and are making our community a safer, more welcoming and more honest place. For too long our community was marked by trauma endured in silence, leaving a bitter legacy that touched the entire community. Ballarat does have a long, dark history when it comes to child sexual abuse. For too long that history and that legacy were ignored. Crimes were allowed to continue to go unpunished, to be only whispered about and to impact across generations. Ballarat survivors stood up and they've changed that. They made their voices heard, they pressed for the royal commission, they bravely told their stories and they made our community and our nation a safer place for all of our children.
The National Redress Scheme, recommended by the royal commission, was designed to give back to these survivors, to support those who've lived through so much, to recognise their suffering and to provide assistance so that they can live their lives. But, 31 months since the scheme commenced, the majority of survivors are still waiting. Survivors have waited so long and have been through so much. We made a commitment to deliver redress that was timely, redress that would not retraumatise and redress that did not leave survivors missing out, but, instead of delivering on these promises, too many are waiting. Many are ill, many are dying and many have missed out altogether. Survivors cannot be left waiting any longer. It is time for us to get the redress scheme to deliver on its promise for survivors.
The royal commission estimated some 60,000 survivors would be eligible for redress, but, as at 15 January 2021, the scheme has finalised just 4,660 applications, including 4,620 payments totalling approximately $385.2 million. In June we knew that there were 512 applications on hold, waiting on institutions to join the scheme. At the current rate, it would take 32 years for the estimated 60,000 people eligible for redress to receive a payment. These delays are inflicting further trauma. The anxiety many survivors are experiencing at the possibility of missing out altogether due to their age or illness is also a further form of trauma.
When I speak to survivors I'm told again and again that the scheme is difficult to navigate, inadequate and doesn't properly recognise the impact that abuse has had on their lives. For one survivor, it took 17 months to finalise their application. At estimates in October, the department advised that the average processing time was between 12 and 13 months. The awful truth is that, over time, some will get sicker, their conditions will worsen and some will die. These are people that our society owes an enormous debt, but, instead of delivering on the promises we all made in this place, we are hurting them again and denying them the recognition that they need.
In order to deliver and to support more, Labor backed the changes made by the government at the end of last year to sanction charitable organisations that refused to join the scheme within six months of an application for redress being made. This was an important change and one that could have been made a bit sooner. But more changes are needed to deliver on the promise of the royal commission, a promise which meant so much to so many.
To that end, Labor has introduced a series of amendments to address the longstanding structural and emerging issues with the National Redress Scheme. We call on the government to look at those seriously and to join with us. We are ready to work constructively with you to get the scheme working and delivering for survivors. This is not a partisan political issue; this is a matter that all of us should be engaged in and wanting to get right. I'll go through a few of those.
Of course, there is again the issue of the payment caps. The $150,000 cap on payments is pushing people into civil processes and away from and outside the scheme. It's undermining the fundamental purpose of the scheme, which is to make it easier and quicker for survivors to access payments and support. Redress payments are also being significantly reduced because of prior payments. The joint select committee heard an instance in which a payment was reduced from $50,000 to $20,000 all because the survivor was awarded a payment of $15,000 years prior. As well, there have been reports about prior payments to stolen generation survivors—a separate issue from institutional child sexual abuse—being used to reduce redress payments. That is cruel and it undermines the important work of the royal commission.
To that end, Labor's amendments seek to lift the cap on redress payments from $150,000 to $200,000, as was recommended by the royal commission. Labor's amendments will also ensure that prior payments are not indexed when calculating a redress payment and that prior payments that do not relate to institutional child sexual abuse are not deducted from the redress payments—for example, those payments made to members of the stolen generation.
The redress assessment matrix has also been widely criticised. As the joint committee found, the existing assessment matrix arbitrarily links the amount of redress awarded to the physical type of abuse perpetrated. It fails to recognise the lifelong harm that any sexual abuse has on a survivor. Currently payments in recognition of the impact of abuse are limited to a maximum of $5,000 for exposure abuse, $10,000 for contact abuse and $20,000 for penetrative abuse, no matter what the impact of that abuse was on the survivor. We hear from survivors about the impact abuse has had on their lives—on their relationships, on their children and generations even beyond that, on family, on work, on confidence, on mental health and on reaching their potential. This is not something that can very easily be slotted into a $5,000, $10,000 or $20,000 category on the basis of the type of abuse that was suffered.
The committee has also criticised payments for the recognition of extreme circumstances of sexual abuse, saying of grave concern is the decision to limit the payment of exceptional circumstances to only penetrative abuse. This approach fails to acknowledge the harm caused by sexual abuse overall. If we have learnt anything from Australian of the Year Grace Tame it is that the coercive control, manipulation and psychological abuse that goes alongside often the grooming of young people and children as part of sexual abuse cause extraordinary lifelong harm. It is those harms that people need to focus on when we're actually looking at the Redress Scheme, not the type of abuse someone suffered.
The royal commission recommended that payments for the impact of abuse be calculated separately from payments for the nature of the abuse. The current assessment framework is a noted departure from the original recommendations of the royal commission. Labor's amendments seek changes to the redress assessment framework to properly recognise the impact of abuse when calculating redress payments, in line with what was recommended by the royal commission.
Amendments are also needed to ensure payments reflect that ongoing support is needed for survivors, not simply one-off payments. The approach in the Redress Scheme has been a very legal approach. It has not actually been a health approach, which is in fact what the royal commission recommended. The royal commission stated that many survivors will need counselling and psychological care from time to time throughout their lives. To that end Labor's amendments will ensure that the necessary ongoing psychological counselling and support will be provided to survivors. We are concerned that in many cases people are being provided again a lump sum as little as $1,250 to cover all future counselling and psychological care. That amount will leave too many survivors behind coping on their own and again does not recognise the long-term structural nature of the harm that this abuse has caused to survivors.
Also leaving behind many survivors is the fact that many applications are in limbo because institutions that are the subject of applications are now defunct or have no present-day links to entities. In other cases, applications for redress cannot be progressed because the institution itself does not have the financial ability to meet obligations under the scheme. Where there are no linked institutions that can take responsibility, governments need to step up and provide a guarantee that they will act as funders of last resort. No-one should miss out on access to the Redress Scheme because the institution responsible for their abuse has folded or simply cannot afford to pay.