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".
It is with deep sadness and sympathy for all victims of child sexual abuse that I stand in this place and dare to speak of the unspeakable that has been forced upon the innocents of our nation. I put my name forward to speak on this National Redress Scheme for Institutional Child Sexual Abuse Amendment Bill 2021 because I want to see child sexual abuse addressed, victims given justice and a safer upbringing for all Australian children. We know that it can take up to 50 years for some to bravely come forward, and many take as long as 30 years to tell their harrowing stories. For some, their very personal and painful truths remain untold and, often, their secrets go with them and their perpetrators to their graves.
I speak today for those victims who have passed, and for those who have found their voice and will find justice in their lifetime through the government's Redress Scheme. I stand also for those victims who have not yet found their voice; for those victims who have not yet seen justice or, indeed, have had justice denied; and for those who have been brave enough to stand before the law, to stand before their perpetrator, and yet have still been denied justice for the gross and callous theft of their childhood by evil, selfish and deranged sexual predators. Often this is because of the time it takes victims to muster the courage to face their perpetrator through the arduous court system.
I stand here for those women and men across our nation who struggle every day to come to terms with how and why their lives were destroyed by adults who were entrusted with protecting their personal safety in childhood. Many of those trusted individuals who failed in that, who abused them, were representing, through their employment, church organisations; they were in the state school system; and they were in charge of the pastoral care of children in many other institutional environments. Many remain in those positions of trust and remain abusers today. All of these institutions are listed on the national redress website, and, for the public's information, those institutions who have not signed up to this scheme are also listed on the website.
We know there are victims who have been and continue to be sexually abused in non-institutional settings—for example, in the home, by a relative or in extracurricular environments. This must stop. It must stop. The harm that is caused to children, and society more broadly, must stop. There is no greater cause of pain than to be abused by someone who is supposed to protect you. How, as a human being, could you ever fully trust again? This affects the ability to create what are considered normal, functioning relationships across lifetimes. I believe that many of the harms that we see in society today, such as domestic violence, mental health problems, violence, anger and rage, can often be attributed to childhood sexual abuse—the damage that it causes and the pain that it inflicts.
The National Redress Scheme was established in 2018 in response to the royal commission. It's a light at the end of a very dark tunnel for victims. It rightly turns the spotlight on to justice and financial support for victims. It can never fix or replace bad memories with good ones, but it can assist with counselling and often improve the poor health of many survivors. This government is focused on delivering outcomes for victims of child sexual abuse, and that is a great relief for so many across our nation who have just cause to seek redress.
The National Redress Scheme for Institutional Child Sexual Abuse Amendment Bill 2021 introduces the first tranche of legislative amendments to the National Redress Scheme for Institutional Child Sexual Abuse Act 2018 as part of the initial response to the final report of the second year review of the National Redress Scheme, undertaken by Ms Robyn Kruk AO. The bill gives effect to several key recommendations from the second year review. This initial action reflects measures that are relatively straightforward to implement and have agreement from states and territories to ensure the scheme is rightly more survivor-focused. The review makes 38 recommendations to increase access to redress, to improve the scheme's operation and ultimately to make it easier for victims of these abhorrent crimes to obtain redress. In undertaking the review, Ms Kruk consulted with key stakeholders, including survivors, advocacy groups, support services, institutions and the Commonwealth, state and territory governments. The government is prioritising initial action on 25 of the 38 review recommendations, in full or in part, and is investing over $80 million over four years in the 2021-22 budget to support implementation of these recommendations. This bill will establish a $10,000 advance payment for applicants who are elderly or terminally ill. Remember that I outlined earlier that many victims take up to 50 years to come forward, and therefore many are in their sunset years or sadly in ill health by the time they come to a redress process. This measure assists them to move forward with their lives.
Technically, the bill changes the date for which indexation of a prior payment is calculated to be when a survivor submits an application to the scheme, rather than when their application is determined. The bill enables flexibility to extend the period during which an applicant can accept their redress offer and allows the period for seeking a review to be extended in order to be consistent with the acceptance period. It removes the requirement for a statutory declaration in the application form. It introduces the ability for the scheme operator to make redress payments in installments, giving survivors choice and control over how they receive their payment. The government is committed to the continuous improvement of the scheme and recognises that people who have experienced institutional child sexual abuse have waited too long. I congratulate the Prime Minister and the Minister for Families and Social Services, Senator Ruston, for their work to improve outcomes for survivors.
I conclude my remarks by again condemning those who perpetrated these crimes against defenceless children and abused their positions of trust in what can only be described as a national shame. I send love and light to you, the innocent children—now adults—who are struggling to come to terms with the heavy burden and toll of the sexual abuse you endured that has impacted you and your families and your relationships for the rest of your lives. I say to you that this is your way forward. I'm proud to stand as a member of this government, which continues to improve this scheme for Australian children. I encourage you to apply to the National Redress Scheme for your own benefit, your compensation and your healing journey. If you experienced sexual abuse when you were a child under 18, the abuse happened before 1 July 2018, an institution was responsible for bringing you into contact with the person who abused you, you were born before 30 June 2010, at the time you applied you were an Australian citizen or permanent resident and the institution you attended has joined the National Redress Scheme, then you may be eligible for redress. You can call 1800737377 or you can go to nationalredress.gov.au to apply.
[by video link] Child sex abuse survivors deserve better from the Morrison government. This bill goes some way to improving the National Redress Scheme, but it is in no way enough. It is almost a decade since the announcement of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. Survivors are getting older, many are still waiting for redress and some are tragically dying and missing out altogether.
The royal commission estimated 60,000 survivors would be eligible for redress. As at 26 March this year the scheme had received just over 10,000 applications and finalised 5,266, including 5,218 payments. It's processing 3,622 applications, and 755 applications are on hold. These statistics show that there is a massive gap between those estimated to be eligible and those who have so far received a payment. The slow rates of both payments and applications indicate that the scheme is difficult to navigate, inadequate in its current form and hard for survivors to find. Survivors have spoken of the difficulty of preparing an application, and in a Senate estimates hearing last year we heard that the average processing time for claims is between 12 and 13 months. These difficulties are of course even harder for First Nations people, for people from CALD backgrounds and for people with disability.
While it's positive that this bill is coming forward and making some improvements to the scheme, and so this bill shouldn't be held up, we can't pretend that it will make the changes that the National Redress Scheme needs. The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse uncovered some of the worst abuses and the worst failings of government and institutions in our nation's history. For too long we looked the other way. We allowed the cover-ups. For too long we allowed power imbalances to mean that children were abused and then silenced. The consequences for those children, some of whom did not get to grow into being adults, have been horrific. Consequences for their families and for their communities have been horrific. So, in the wake of the landmark royal commission, it would seem urgent that we do all we can to make what reparations we can. Of course we can never fully undo the hurt and the damage that came from this massive abuse of trust. But we can make it so much easier for victims to get the redress that they deserve. That means that the Morrison government should stop dragging its feet and urgently and comprehensively address the major challenges that still exist within the National Redress Scheme.
The scheme that was ultimately rolled out by the government did not fully realise the recommendations of the royal commission. Labor proposed amendments to the scheme in February to align with the royal commission's recommendations, but the government voted them down. Survivors have been clear from the outset. Since the royal commission they have highlighted the following: they are missing out on redress; there's an ongoing lack of survivor trauma focus and ongoing counselling and support; and survivors are seeing their payments chipped away by a low cap, indexation of prior payments as well as an arbitrary assessment framework. The government's amendments to the scheme fall short of what survivors have asked for and what Labor has proposed. The whole point of the royal commission was to listen to survivors, and yet the Morrison government is still not hearing them.
The National Redress Scheme for Institutional Child Sexual Abuse Amendment Bill 2021 seeks to establish an advance payment scheme for older, ill or vulnerable applicants. The advance payment scheme will provide $10,000 to older, terminally ill or vulnerable people. The advance payment will be deducted from a person's final redress payment. Labor have been calling for an advance payment scheme for some time now, and we do support the change. People have waited too long for the support that they should have. This bill will also seek to reduce the time frame in 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 a decision on a redress application is finalised. Again, this change is not good enough. There has been an ongoing criticism from survivors, and Labor is calling for the indexation of prior payments to cease completely—as well as ensuring that unrelated payments are not deducted. There's no need for this government to be so mean spirited about this.
This bill will also introduce changes to allow the Department of Social Services to extend the time a person has to accept an offer of redress beyond the current six-month limit. This is significant, as a person can only apply for redress once, and, if an offer is not accepted within the allowed time, it's taken as having been refused. The bill will remove the requirement for applications to include a statutory declaration, as this can be a traumatic experience for survivors. The bill will also allow redress payments to be made in instalments if requested by the applicant. As I said, these are welcome changes, but there is still too much that is unaddressed and that has been unaddressed for far too long.
We know that survivors have asked for so much more and that the second-anniversary review of the scheme recommended more. So we have both the voices of survivors and a comprehensive review saying that what the government is putting forward today is not enough. Further changes must be made, and they must include things such as a face-to-face application process for First Nations, CALD and disability communities; lifelong access to counselling for all survivors; improving the quality, scope and geographic spread of support services, including financial counselling; developing a survivor improvement charter to set expectations around privacy service standards; and reviewing the limit of one application so that changes in circumstances and additional information can be taken into account. This is naming just a few of the things that that review found and that survivors have asked for.
It is too important for us to wait to get this right. As I said earlier, unfortunately some survivors are dying before they get to be part of the redress scheme—before the acknowledgement of the hurt and the neglect that they suffered. I urge the government to do better, urgently, to support survivors.
In talking today, I want to pay tribute to all of the survivors, to their families and to their communities. You should never have experienced what happened to you. I acknowledge all of those who told their stories to the royal commission, and I acknowledge all of those who were not able to. I thank the tireless and fearless advocates, people such as Leonie Sheedy of CLAN, who have worked so hard to push successive governments to do so much better. Those are the people that we here in this place must listen to. Those are the people that the Morrison government must listen to. We all owe these survivors a debt. They were failed by institutions. They were failed by this place. It is on all of us to make sure that the redress, the reparations that they get now, live up to their expectations and live up to what's been recommended in the review of this scheme.
I also want to acknowledge in this speech the work of my colleague the member for Newcastle, who, in her community and in this parliament, has been critical to ensuring survivors are heard and has pushed for them to get the redress scheme that they deserve. It's a pleasure to be a Labor member with her and to know that there are such fierce advocates on the Labor side for victims of child sexual abuse.
It seems like I give speeches in this place, time after time, about missed opportunities by the Morrison government—about things that come half done, too late, without enough support for people who desperately need it. This is another one of those occasions. The Morrison government have missed the opportunity to address major structural issues in the National Redress Scheme. They should implement all of the recommendations of the second-year review of the National Redress Scheme and, most importantly, lift the maximum redress payment to $200,000. Survivors have been through so much. They need to be able to count on this redress scheme. We must get it right. We must not add to the trauma. We must help the healing.
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.
It is always an honour to stand in this parliament and try to give voice to the survivors of child sexual abuse in institutions. I'm therefore very pleased to be able to contribute to this debate today, and I do so in strong support of the amendments moved by the member for Fenner on behalf of the member for Barton. The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse was a necessary and essential response to one of the darkest and ugliest chapters in our national history. We remain forever grateful to the then Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, and a former colleague and friend, the former member for Jagajaga, for their outstanding work in establishing the royal commission and enabling the National Redress Scheme to become a reality.
The royal commission uncovered some of the most horrific abuse of innocent children, often perpetrated by the very people they were entrusted to. That was a gross violation of trust. It was felt deeply in my community of Newcastle; we are not dissimilar to the town of Ballarat, the dreadful epicentre of the institutional abuse that took place over many decades. Until the Redress Scheme, many survivors had not been able to access any form of justice for what had happened to them. While no amount of financial compensation will ever take away that trauma and abuse, the National Redress Scheme continues to serve as an important step in the healing process and a way for many to secure justice for the harm and utter betrayal that occurred.
Labor welcome the legislation before the House today. We believe that the reforms to the National Redress Scheme are absolutely necessary to start bringing that focus back onto the survivor and their experience of the Redress Scheme. The Redress Scheme must be unswervingly focused on ensuring that every decision is made in the best interests of victims and survivors. It must be trauma informed in its approach and practice. Victims and survivors of child sexual abuse in institutions have consistently told us about their concerns with the National Redress Scheme and its many inadequacies. These are issues that Robyn Kruk AO canvassed in her independent second-year review of the National Redress Scheme. But we need to put on record that that review is a reiteration of the many, many issues that are well known and have been put before this parliament since at least 2019.
There have been three reports handed down to this parliament since the royal commission. Many, as I said, have highlighted that the scheme is not working as it was intended to. I was in this House on 2 April 2019 when the final report, entitled Getting the National Redress Scheme right: an overdue step towards justice, was tabled in this parliament. I was here in May 2020 when the First interim report of the Joint Select Committee on Implementation of the National Redress Scheme April 2020 was tabled in this parliament. And, again, I was here on 23 June this year when the Final report of the second year review of the National Redress Scheme was tabled in this parliament.
Of course, the joint select committee, which I have been deputy chair of in both the former parliament and this current parliament, is right now deliberating additional reforms that are required. We're looking very closely at the issue of the funder of last resort, a matter which I'll come back to, and indeed issues around barriers to participation for First Nations people and CALD communities—people who we know are not currently accessing the scheme in numbers that we would expect or want to see. Labor supports the government's decision to finally take some action here. As I said, three reports down; glad to see some legislation now on the table.
We welcome all the parts of the bill, but I think it's also incumbent on us to acknowledge that many of the changes in this particular bill are what I would regard as the low-hanging fruit. They are relatively non-controversial, easy changes to be made. I'm glad that the governance council has agreed to it, but truly these should have been done some time ago.
The one that Labor is especially pleased to see in this legislation is the adoption of Labor's policy on advance payments. This is something that the Scottish parliament, in fact, led the way on. I give a shout-out to our colleagues in the Scottish parliament for advancing this proposition, which we have warmly embraced and now wish to take up in Australia. This is an issue that my Labor colleagues have been pressing for since April of last year. We put this to the Joint Select Committee on Implementation of the National Redress Scheme, and bipartisan support was received to ask the independent reviewer, Robyn Kruk, to do some more detailed investigation. I'm very pleased to see that this has finally been given the tick and we are now seeing an early release scheme in legislation.
Advance payments are really all about ensuring that those people who are old, sick or have multiple comorbidities get some compensation before they pass away, because, sadly, I am aware of at least 20 people who have passed away before receiving their redress. I am really very mindful of cases in my own electorate, and I'm thinking now of Frances, who was aged 96 and waited an eternity for redress in her lifetime. She finally was given a redress payment just months before she died, having, as I said, waited her entire life for redress. It just seems now, upon reflection, very cruel that she hadn't received that earlier payment and recognition so that she might have put her mind at rest and got rid of much of that anxiety she lived with. She might have got to enjoy that period of life—a bit longer period of life—before her death. For that and for every survivor that has passed without having that proper acknowledgement, I am deeply, deeply saddened.
We've got many survivors who are worried about COVID-19 and the impact that's going to have on their life, their quality of life and the length of their life. They would like to see this advance payment put in place, as it should be. We have really waited far too long for this to come, but it's a terrifically welcome part of the legislation today.
Another issue that's caused great distress and anxiety for survivors relates to the issue of indexation. This is an issue that CLAN and its advocates in particular have really pressed, both with the committee and I know with government members. Prior to the changes in this bill, survivors were forced to adhere to a very mean and unnecessary provision that left many with little redress. There have been some shocking examples where the indexation has actually reduced people's payments—potentially reduced them to zero—which was, of course, completely unjustifiable and outside of the spirit of the Redress Scheme. So we would like to see indexation as a practice ceased altogether. I need to make that very clear: that remains Labor's position, but at least the government has agreed to ensuring that indexation will not be deducted from the Redress Scheme payment—the clock can't start ticking—until the redress application is finalised.
I'd also like to say it's really hard to overstate how difficult the decision to accept redress is and the emotional trauma that it can really give rise to for a lot of people, so the bill allowing the department of social security to extend the time a person has to accept the offer of redress beyond the current six-month limit is welcome. I'd have to say that it was recommended by the royal commission that this should have been a 12-month period in the first place. So, again, this is another example where a deviation from the royal commission recommendations has not been to the benefit of survivors. I'm glad to see some remedy in this bill on that front.
On the requirement for the statutory declaration: we've had a lot of evidence from the Commonwealth funded knowmore Legal Service, which provides free legal services to survivors, to get rid of this ridiculous and unnecessary component. It's just another additional barrier. I know members have made reference to the fact that during COVID this has been especially difficult, but, regardless of COVID, this was an unnecessary hurdle. There are ample provisions to ensure that any instances of people being misleading—or, indeed, of fraudulent behaviour—can be dealt with through other avenues. It was not necessary to have a statutory declaration to accompany the application, so I'm glad to see that this is now going. And knowmore has been calling for this change since 2017, I think. Here we are in 2021, finally listening and acting.
This bill also finally allows redress payments to be made in instalments at the applicant's discretion. Again, this has been a really important matter for a lot of First Nations communities who have raised these matters with us about needing to have the choice to be able to take the payments in instalments. I know the Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency raised this with the committee. It was raised with the committee in the last parliament as part of the evidence we took for our 2019 report, was repeatedly raised again in this parliament and was part of the interim report that was tabled here. So I am pleased that, many years later, the government has accepted this advice.
Every time this government has chosen to move away from the royal commission recommendations, it has been to the detriment of survivors. We need to keep calling that out. That is the value of having the Joint Select Committee on Implementation of the National Redress Scheme, because it is now the only platform for survivors to voice their experiences directly with members of the parliament. I want to trust the government's word that this bill truly represents the first real step in a long line of necessary and overdue changes to the Redress Scheme.
My colleagues who have spoken before me have outlined the many shortcomings that remain with the National Redress Scheme. The most egregious harm is actually the lack of reform around the assessment matrix, which sets such low arbitrary payments for the impact of abuse. The matrix is focused on the kind of abuse that takes place, not the impact of that abuse on a survivor's life. Again, this is in direct contrast to what the royal commission had recommended. In my view the term 'penetrative' needs to be removed altogether, as an acknowledgement that trauma is not only caused by penetrative abuse. The Morrison government must reconfigure the redress assessment framework to properly recognise the impact of abuse when calculating redress payments, as recommended by the royal commission. There are many aspects that still need to be addressed on this front. My Labor colleagues and I will be pursuing this throughout the joint committee hearings and holding this government to account at every opportunity. (Time expired)
I rise to support the National Redress Scheme for Institutional Child Sexual Abuse Amendment Bill 2021. The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse handed down its final report in December 2017. This was after decades of denial of responsibility, of hiding the truth, of institutions and individuals silencing survivors and avoiding reality. We were provided with the stark reality of the crimes, trauma and acts of evil that had been perpetrated against children over many years, often by those tasked with caring for them.
The royal commission shone a light on the experiences of survivors of child sexual abuse. They told their stories and we listened. We believed them. More than 4,000 individual institutions were reported as places where abuse had occurred, with the youngest victim the royal commission interviewed being just seven years of age. More than half of the survivors were aged between 10 and 14 years when they were sexually abused. We know the journey for survivors of child sexual abuse is traumatic and extremely challenging. For many survivors the abuse they suffered can have profound and broad-ranging impacts, with individuals experiencing a diverse range of ongoing health problems, including mental and physical health problems.
The Morrison government remains absolutely committed to survivors of institutional child sexual abuse. The government has introduced this amendment bill in response to the Final report: second year review of the National Redress Scheme, undertaken by Ms Robyn Kruk AO. That review made clear that changes were needed in order to ensure that the scheme meets it intention of being survivor centred, humane and a less onerous option than civil action.
The government remains committed to continuing to improve the Redress Scheme over its 10-year life. As it stands, the Redress Scheme covers approximately 66,400 sites across Australia. In addition, over 6,100 payments, totalling approximately $519 million have been paid to survivors to date. This amendment bill will establish a $10,000 advance payment for applicants who are elderly or who are terminally ill. This will ensure that survivors have a form of recognition of their abuse early in their application process while they wait for their redress outcome. To assist survivors, they will not need to apply for the advance payment—rather, this scheme will identify eligible applications after receiving a valid redress application or at any time during the application process. It will then offer the advance payment to the survivor.
The bill also changes the date for which indexation of a prior payment is calculated to when a survivor submits an application to the scheme, rather than the date their application is determined. It will also enable flexibility to extend the period in which an applicant can accept their redress offer, and will allow the period for the survivor to seek a review to be extended to be consistent with the acceptance period. It will also introduce the ability for the scheme operator to make redress payments in instalments, to give survivors choice and control over how they receive their payment. The bill also removes the requirement for a statutory declaration application form.
On this last point: while it may seem small, I believe it will have a profoundly important impact. We note that one of the key things we heard and learned from the royal commission was that simply an acknowledgement of belief in a survivor's story can be very significant. Let's remember that some survivors have spent their lives just fighting to be believed. As the second-year review noted, many survivors consider the requirement for a statutory declaration questions the integrity of their application.
The review also made clear that some survivors have difficulty in complying with this step due to being homeless, living in a community where they do not have a birth certificate or if they have concerns about confidentiality, especially in regional communities or for people who have literacy difficulties. Survivors are also required to provide proof-of-identity documentation despite, in many instances, being in receipt of other national government health or social care payments.
The measures in this bill have been agreed to by all states and territories, and the government has committed $80 million over four years in the 2021-2022 budget to support implementation of the recommendations of the second-year review. I recognise that this bill does not address all of the review's 38 recommendations. The government has made clear that it will continue to progress the other recommendations, many of which constitute major changes to the scheme. It will continue to work with stakeholders, and plans to release a final response to the review in early 2022.
From the outset, the government has always been committed to ensuring survivors have access to redress, and the measures in this bill, along with the other work of the government, will ensure the scheme is more survivor focused and trauma informed, enabling fairer outcomes for survivors. It will enhance a survivor's access to redress.
In my comments on the National Redress Scheme for Institutional Child Sexual Abuse Amendment Bill 2021, I'm going to focus on just a few matters.
This legislation makes several improvements to the Redress Scheme in response to the two-year review of the scheme itself—a review that I believe was very necessary, given that it was a new scheme and that there would have been, understandably, changes required as the administration of the scheme was rolled out. The improvements in this legislation are indeed welcome, but they simply don't go far enough. As the member for Newcastle quite rightly pointed out, there have been some three previous reports with respect to this matter, all of which have raised deficiencies in the current scheme and the administration of it. Indeed, even with respect to this review, where there were some 38 recommendations, not all of them were adopted in this legislation, and nor were many other good suggestions that have been made by both this side of the House and other stakeholders.
The Redress Scheme was initiated by Labor under the Gillard government, in terms of the original royal commission which ultimately led to it. I have no doubt that it was something that not only was well overdue but would have brought a great deal of hope to all of those people who were in institutional care and who had, in some way or another, been violated. To now, after a royal commission, delay improvements that are needed, that have been exposed and that have been identified by the review itself simply draws out the suffering, the anxiety and the trauma of all of those people.
The redress recipients, in my view—and I suspect in the view of all people in this place, based on the comments that I have heard to date with respect to the scheme—have in many cases been living with their trauma for decades. This whole process was initiated in recognition of that and in recognition of the hurt and pain that had been caused to them. And it was about finally bringing to them not only some recognition but some restitution for what they had endured. So, that being the objective, let us, the parliament, now not further delay but instead move quickly to bring some comfort to those very people. In recognition of that delay, I say not only does it cause further hurt but I suspect that in some cases it may even cause an attitude of, 'I'm just hitting my head against a brick wall and I will simply not pursue this matter any further, because to do so just continues to agitate and relive the trauma that I have lived through.' That would be the last thing that we would want to do to the very people that I think we all would agree have suffered enough.
The key change in this legislation is the provision of an advance payment of $10,000 to vulnerable applicants, those being the elderly and perhaps people with a severe health issue, and to provide that $10,000 payment whilst their applications are being assessed. I think that is a good start, but what I hope it doesn't do is simply give people $10,000 as a way of saying, 'Now you can go away and leave us alone.' I suspect that, in some cases, if it gets too difficult for them, that's exactly what they might do. I would hope that this is not going to be the case and that, in fact, the $10,000 will be given in good faith and that their applications are then properly pursued, with all of the support that they might need to do that. So there is that $10,000 payment, along with some other adjustments in the legislation, which I have read through but will not go through in detail, because I think the payment is the most significant of them all. That leaves out some 20 other sensible suggestions that have been made with respect to the administration of the Redress Scheme; those suggestions are simply not picked up.
In his second reading speech, the minister stated that the government's final response to all of the review's recommendations would be provided in early 2022. Early 2022 is the period when we are very likely going to be having an election. So the reality of that statement is that this issue is going to be pushed down the track, and I don't think anyone in this House would know when it is likely to be dealt with. In other words, it is very unlikely that any of those other recommendations will see the light of day in the foreseeable future. I believe that is wrong, given that those recommendations were made in good faith, they are before the government, they are before the parliament, and we should be dealing with them now.
For victims of this abuse, even dealing with the application process would be incredibly traumatic and difficult. I know that because I've actually spoken with several victims. For victims with a disability or a language problem or for a First Nations person, the process would be even more difficult, and we need to do something to make that process much easier for them. I accept that some support measures might be available out there, but they are simply not enough. We should make sure that they are given every bit of support they need to follow through with applications that they need to make. Likewise, with respect to counselling—and that is one of the other matters that have been raised—lifelong counselling should be made available to victims. Having identified that they are victims, having accepted that they are victims, there's no doubt in my mind that those people will require that support for the rest of their lives.
The reality is that reviewing the criteria and the process should be an ongoing thing because different matters arise at all stages of that process. I will give one example of that, concerning one case where I spoke to the victim. The person was already in receipt of some compensation from the institution or the organisation where the abuse occurred. That organisation was one of the first to join the Redress Scheme, but, after it joined the Redress Scheme, the criteria under which that person's payments were assessed changed. The assessment process undertaken originally by the organisation was much more generous and much fairer than the assessment process under the scheme. So the person has actually gone backwards, in terms of missing out on support that might have otherwise been available, because the organisation, quite rightly, joined the scheme but the government's assessment criteria are inferior to those of the organisation. Things like that should never be allowed to happen, because, had the scheme never come in, that person would be in a better position today. I've raised that matter with government, but it seems that we are locked into the assessment process that we currently have. In that case, as I say, the person involved was actually denied the support that they would otherwise have received.
In another matter, earlier this year I put a question on notice to the minister in respect of those organisations that had not joined the Redress Scheme. I thank the minister for his reply to that, which I received recently. The reply said that organisations that had not joined the scheme had until the end of the third quarter to do so. The particular organisation that had not joined at the time and about which I had spoken to victims about their experiences was the Jehovah's Witnesses. I asked the minister again: has that organisation now joined the scheme? In the answer, the minister said that the organisation was in the process of doing so. But I'm still not clear whether they have, and I would like to think that the government would like to know, given that the Prime Minister standing at that dispatch box made it clear that any organisation that didn't join the scheme would lose their DGR status. I would certainly appreciate an update with respect to that matter because I know that there are people within that organisation who are victims and who are finding it extremely difficult to seek redress for a whole range of reasons, which I outlined in another contribution on this matter that I made earlier this year or late last year.
Finally, the people that are directly affected by the Redress Scheme, the victims, are people that not only I but other members in this place have met with, and there are many stories that we can tell. They have all suffered in silence and their lives have been profoundly changed as a result of their experiences. In many cases, that experience was whilst they were in the care of people who were entrusted with actually protecting and looking after them but didn't. They now carry that trauma and that injustice each and every day of their lives.
The royal commission also exposed all of that. We hear very compassionate and understanding words from members opposite and from the government itself. Those words need to be matched by real action. Regrettably, that is not always the case. It reminds me very much of the words about defence veterans we often hear in this place, which, equally, are not always matched by the actions of the government. They become empty words and, quite rightly, leave people feeling even angrier and more hurt than they previously were.
So I say to the government: you have done the right thing. You have reviewed the scheme, and you have the recommendations before you. You should be listening to the words of the people and the organisations that are involved with the scheme. You should be taking on board the concerns that have been raised and the proposals that are being made in order to make the scheme even better. The people who were the victims deserve that, and it's up to the government to deliver on it.
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.
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.
I thank all members who have contributed to this debate. The National Redress Scheme for Institutional Child Sexual Abuse Amendment Bill 2021 will amend the primary legislation for the National Redress Scheme for Institutional Child Sexual Abuse in response to recommendations from the final report of the second-year review of the National Redress Scheme undertaken by Ms Robyn Kruk AO. The review makes 38 recommendations to increase access to redress and improve the scheme's operations, making it more trauma informed, more efficient and, ultimately, more survivor focused. The Australian government is prioritising initial action on 25 of the 38 review recommendations in full or in part and is investing over $80 million over four years in the 2021-22 budget to support implementation of these recommendations.
This bill makes legislative changes giving effect to a number of these recommendations. Importantly, the measures in the bill make genuine changes that will have a real and direct impact on survivors' experience in accessing redress through the scheme in the short term while further improvements continue to be made. In line with the scheme's governance arrangements, all states and territories have agreed to the amendments in the bill. Work is underway to ensure administrative arrangements are put in place to enable measures to commence as soon as possible, especially for advance payments to be made.
More substantial changes to the scheme arising from the review require further detailed development work in consultation with state and territory governments, survivors, institutions and other stakeholders. The government is continuing to consider and consult on these issues and I commend the bill to the House.
The original question was that this bill be read a second time. To this, the honourable member for Fenner has moved as an amendment that all words after 'That' be omitted with a view to substituting other words. The immediate question is that the amendment be disagreed to.
Question agreed to.
Original question agreed to.
Bill read a second time.
Message from the Governor-General recommending appropriation announced.