Tuesday, 23 November 2021
National Redress Scheme for Institutional Child Sexual Abuse Amendment (Funders of Last Resort and Other Measures) Bill 2021; Second Reading
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:
(a) the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse estimated 60,000 survivors would be eligible for redress;
(b) as of March 2021, after almost three years of operation, the National Redress Scheme had seen only 5,275 payments made;
(c) the average processing time for a claim under the Scheme is over a year; and
(d) the Government has not implemented all the recommendations of the two-year review of the National Redress Scheme; and
(2) calls on the Government to work with states and territories to:
(a) lift the cap on Redress payments to $200,000, as recommended by the Royal Commission;
(b) fix the assessment matrix so it properly takes into account the impact of abuse; and
(c) provide ongoing support for survivors".
The journey of the Redress Scheme goes something like this. The royal commission announcement was in 2012, made by former Prime Minister Julia Gillard. Then we saw the interim report in 2014, which recommended the establishment of a redress scheme. Then we had the royal commission's final report in 2017, and the Redress Scheme began in July 2018, four years after it was recommended. In October 2018, which we all remember, of course, was the apology.
Throughout this journey, the government of Australia called on survivors of institutional sexual abuse to do some of the hardest things, promising it would be a journey the people and the government of Australia would support. Survivors were told that after years and decades of not being heard, Australia would listen to their stories. Survivors came forward in trust and bravery to tell their stories, often reliving the most traumatic experiences of their lives. While the Redress Scheme cannot right the wrongs of the past, it can go some way to providing a sense of justice. This was part of the pact Australia made with no survivors—that we would hear their stories, that we would do something about it and that we would believe them.
Survivors deserve a scheme which acknowledges the stories they told. They deserve that scheme to be in place and working now. They have waited long enough. The scheme we have today needs changes to make sure it delivers on the promise Australia made. Access to justice through the scheme is too hard and too slow. It leaves so many survivors behind and retraumatises too many along the way. The royal commission estimated, as I indicated in my second reading amendment, that 60,000 survivors would be eligible for redress. The government has simply not done well enough to give people access to the scheme.
As of 31 March 2021, the scheme had received 10,047 applications and 5,275 payments had been made. A Senate estimates hearing last year revealed that the average processing time was 12 to 13 months. Many take longer. The Joint Select Committee on Implementation of the National Redress Scheme heard it took 17 months for one applicant to have their application finalised, and that is way too long. I have met with survivors whose applications cannot progress at all, whose institutions have still not joined the scheme or who have faced years of delay because institutions simply will not do the right thing. A redress scheme focused on helping those who need it would not make access so hard. A redress scheme focused on helping those who need it would not compound trauma and retraumatise. A redress scheme focused on helping those who need it would not take a year on average to decide on an application.
Labor has listened to the recommendations of the royal commission. Labor has listened to the second-anniversary review. Most importantly, Labor has listened to survivors and what they say they need from the scheme. The government seem determined not to listen; they seem determined to put their responsibility to survivors to one side. This bill introduces two changes from the list of changes the scheme needs: firstly, it allows the government to take on the role of funder of last resort if no organisation exists to claim against or the organisation does not have the financial capacity to participate in this scheme; and, secondly, it improves the naming and shaming rules for institutions that do not join the scheme. Labor welcomes those two changes. We have been calling on them for a long time.
These are changes Labor has been calling for because we have listened to survivors. They are changes the government could have made earlier. Indeed, they are changes the government should have made earlier. These changes are yet another example of the government being dragged years too late to things they could have done immediately. It doesn't need to be this way. The government could listen to Labor, to survivors, to their own reviews, and do the right thing now. They don't need to take years to come around on doing the right thing, the thing Labor and survivors have been calling for. They don't need to make the changes we're calling for months or years apart. They could do it now.
This bill goes some way to being Labor's call for governments to act as a funder of last resort. The reality is that, for many survivors, there are no surviving institutions that can be held to account. People should not miss out on redress because of this. Government, on behalf of all Australians, has a moral responsibility to step up and help provide justice. This bill will not automatically make government the funders of last resort; that will remain a case-by-case decision. I implore all governments to make quick and compassionate decisions about becoming a funder of last resort. It is the right thing to do.
Labor supports this change as an improvement to the scheme overall, but the government could and should go further—including by taking up Labor's suggestion that, where a recalcitrant institution refuses to join the scheme, a payment can still be made to a survivor, with the government responsible for recouping the cost from institutions through the tax system or other means. Even with the changes in this bill, there would still be thousands of people who cannot access this scheme, simply because the responsible institution has not joined the scheme. I am not arguing that institutions should be let off the hook; that would be morally wrong. But there is more the government could do to secure redress for survivors. Too many organisations are still ducking their responsibilities.
Everybody in this place knows how powerful transparency is. The changes in this bill improve the operation of the public register of institutions who are not participating in the scheme—the name and shame register. That will bring the power of public opinion to bear on organisations not doing the right thing and living up to their responsibilities. These changes represent improvements to the scheme and will be supported by Labor. It is over three years since the Redress Scheme started. This is pressure that should have been brought to bear long before now. At the same time, these changes will not result in a scheme that sees Australia live up to its promise to survivors.
The list of important and necessary reforms is much longer than what is addressed in this bill. From the second-anniversary review of the scheme alone, the government has failed to act on the following recommendations: face-to-face application processes 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 service improvement charter to set expectations around service privacy standards; changing the limit of one application so that changes in circumstances and additional information can be taken into account; allowing applications from noncitizens, non-permanent residents, prisoners, those with serious criminal convictions, and care leavers if they were abused in care between 18 and 21—21 was the age of majority until 1974; amending the standard of proof to reasonable likelihood; fixing the assessment matrix so that penetrative abuse is not the sole indicator of the severity of abuse and the existence of extreme circumstances, so that higher payments can be received by more people who have suffered abuse, something that is particularly important to survivor organisations; combined payments for the recognition of abuse and the impact of abuse—currently payments depend mostly on the type of abuse, not its impact; removing the term 'penetrative', in acknowledgement that trauma is caused in many ways; making the assessment guidelines public so survivors know how decisions are made; introducing a minimum payment of $10,000 even where a prior payment would otherwise have reduced the payment to a lesser amount—currently some people are receiving payments of $5,000 or less; ending the indexation of prior payments, another issue very important to survivor organisations; changing the internal review process so that there is more information and a simple template and an initial payment cannot be reduced by review; ensuring that government is the funder of last resort for all applications where there is no participating institution; improving the consistency of decision-making; giving both survivors and institutions input into the scheme's operation; ensuring that payments to stolen generation survivors for non-sexual abuse are not deducted from redress payments; significantly improving the redress IT system; significantly increasing the staff cap on the scheme and stopping relying on contract staff; and, of course, improving communications and outreach to different communities and building trust.
I spoke just yesterday to a survivor who had been, in my view, duped by some legal firms out there who are cashing in on this, and I think it's reprehensible. Labor spent many years calling for the introduction of early payment schemes to ensure the elderly or unwell do not miss out on redress. The government finally came to the table a little earlier this year. It should not have taken years for the government to come around and do the right thing. By definition, it would have helped those very people who have died waiting for redress—such a shame—or become so ill and frail that they are limited in what they can do with any payment. How long this has taken is particularly sad because it doesn't even cost anything; it just brings forward part of people's payment. A government that had the needs of survivors at front of mind would not need years of pressure to make simple changes that don't cost anything but make a massive difference in people's lives.
Survivors have also criticised the scheme for caps on payments, indexation of prior payments and the deduction of unrelated prior payments, including stolen generations payments, which I have referred to. There are concerns that this is pushing survivors to give up or seek justice outside the scheme, through more difficult, costly and lengthy civil claims. These are the very things the schemes were designed to avoid. Currently some survivors are receiving, as I said, payments of $5,000 or less. Labor is once again calling for the indexation of prior payments to cease completely, as well as to ensure that unrelated payments are not deducted. This includes, as I said, stolen generation survivors of non-sexual abuse.
We are also again calling on the government to lift the cap on payments from $150,000 to $200,000 as recommended by the royal commission. The government should also build in a guarantee that a review of an offer of redress will not result in the offer being reduced. This is what survivors have been calling for, and it goes to the heart of my second reading amendment. This is what the royal commission recommended, and this is the scheme Australia should have.
The government has again failed to change its assessment matrix, a change survivors have long been asking for. The government's assessment matrix sets low the arbitrary payments for the impact of abuse based on the kind of abuse, not the scale of its impact on survivors' lives. This is yet another deviation by the government from the original recommendations of the royal commission. This is why Labor has called on the minister to remake the redress assessment framework to properly recognise the impact of abuse when calculating redress payments. The government should also make the assessment guidelines public so that survivors know how decisions are made.
The second-anniversary review has called for a change in the internal review process so that there is more information for survivors or applicants and a simpler template, as well as the provision of an additional payment that cannot be reduced by the review. It also called for the amendment to the standard of proof to 'reasonable likelihood'. The whole purpose of the scheme was to end the hurdles and high barriers to access justice that civil litigation presents. It's time the government honoured the purpose of the scheme and gave survivors access to the justice they deserve.
The scheme, as it stands, fails to provide the ongoing psychological support that survivors have been calling for and the royal commission originally recommended. The changes in this bill do nothing to address the needs of survivors. In many cases, people have been provided with as little as $1,250 to cover future counselling and psychological care. Many survivors will likely need counselling and psychological care from time to time throughout their lives or for their whole lives. A redress scheme that took the needs of survivors as its first focus would provide lifetime psychological support and counselling. That is what Labor has been calling for, because that's what survivors say they need.
In conclusion, the government always claims that the changes needed to make the scheme everything it should be require agreements from the state. They're right; they do. That's not a reason to stop trying. That is a reason to take action and to show leadership. That's what Australians expect. That's what survivors deserve. If the minister has found any state government resisting doing the right thing, tell us who they are. Don't let them stand in the way of this country doing the right thing by survivors and doing it now.
I thank the honourable member for Shortland. The original question was that this bill be now read a second time. To this, the honourable member for Barton has moved as an amendment that all words after 'That' be omitted with a view to substituting other words. If it suits the House, I will state the question in the form that the amendment be disagreed to.
In September I spoke on a similar bill regarding the National Redress Scheme, and I expressed my sadness and sympathy for all victims of child sexual abuse. I stand in this place and, indeed, speak of the unspeakable tragedies that have been forced upon the innocents of our nation. Since the Morrison government introduced the National Redress Scheme, the justice that has always seemed unattainable is no longer out of reach, enabling healing and restoration of the lives of those survivors of institutional child sexual abuse. Survivors of abuse carry a deep burden which should never have come to bear. Coming to terms with the trauma of such horrific acts is not as simple as putting a bandaid on a paper cut. The pain runs so much deeper. It's endured for lifetimes, and in many cases it will never truly leave the psyche of victims who suffered at the hands of institutions and individuals with a desire to inflict their deranged harm on innocent souls.
I speak directly to survivors when I acknowledge that the National Redress Scheme, for many, will not fully heal your physical and mental wounds but plays a role in beginning your healing journey. As Australians, as a nation and as a government, we support you, we hear you and we believe you. No matter how long it's taken for you to bravely come forward, mustering the courage to share your story is life-saving. It encourages other survivors to share their stories, and it creates a ripple effect of change so that we as a nation can eliminate the risk of possible perpetrators harming children and vulnerable individuals now and into the future.
I speak to the victims who have not yet found their voice, have not yet seen justice, or have had justice denied, and to those who have been brave enough to stand before the law and stand before their perpetrator yet are still denied justice for the gross and callous theft of their childhoods by these evil, selfish and deranged sexual predators. There will be survivors who may be watching this, or listening, who have not yet found their voice. To those individuals, I implore you not to be discouraged. Do not be frightened. When you are ready to speak, we are ready to listen.
The National Redress Scheme is not just monetary compensation. The component of the scheme which covers monetary compensation is for the purpose of rebuilding lives stolen by individuals and institutions who abused them. All of these institutions are listed on the National Redress Scheme website and, for the public's information, those institutions that 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 a sporting environment. It must stop. The harm is caused to children and society more broadly, and it must stop. There's no greater cause of pain than to be abused by someone who is supposed to protect you, and this affects the ability to create what are considered to be normal functioning relationships across individual lifetimes.
The National Redress Scheme for Institutional Child Sexual Abuse Amendment (Funders of Last Resort and Other Measures) Bill 2021 reflects the next instalment of legislative change in response to the second-year review of the scheme. It expands the funder of last resort arrangements, a significant recommendation made as part of the second-year review and one which the government has been very public in its support for. The bill also strengthens the legislative basis on which institutions are publicly named as having not joined the scheme, which makes the current practice clear and administratively efficient. The bill responds to recommendation 5.2 of the second-year review and recognises that some survivors continue to be unable to access redress through the scheme. Currently, a person can only access redress under the funder of last resort arrangements where a government—state, territory or Commonwealth—is equally responsible for the abuse of the person. This bill recognises that, regardless of whether a government was involved in the abuse of the person, where the institution responsible for the abuse no longer exists or does not have the financial capacity to participate in the scheme the impacted survivors and victims should have the opportunity to access some redress. Expanding the funder of last resort arrangements will increase access to the scheme for those survivors and those victims. Survivors should also be informed about an institution's status in joining the scheme through public naming of relevant institutions so they can make informed decisions. Public naming has also proven successful in encouraging institutions to join the Redress Scheme.
This bill expands the funder of last resort arrangements to allow state and territory governments to be funders of last resort, regardless of whether a government was involved in that abuse of the person, and where the institution responsible for the abuse may no longer exist. This will increase access for survivors who would otherwise be unable to access redress through the scheme and may have limited ability to pursue civil litigation. There would be very many Australians out there who have a limited ability to do that. Wherever possible, an overarching institution that is affiliated with the defunct institution will be called on to take responsibility. However, in cases where there are no such parent institutions, governments can step in and enable access to that redress.
The bill provides that a government can be a funder of last resort for an institution that is unable to meet the legislative requirements to participate in the scheme. An institution cannot be declared as participating in the scheme unless there are reasonable grounds to expect that they can discharge their liabilities and obligations under the scheme. An institution that does not have the financial capacity to pay its redress liabilities would not meet this requirement. The costs of the redress in this case fall on the relevant governments, and this ensures that institutions that still exist but have no financial capacity have a role to play in working with those survivors. The amendments mean that survivors naming these institutions will now have the ability to access that redress. That's good news for Australians who are affected by this Redress Scheme or able to reach it.
The government has committed more than $80 million over four years in the 2021-22 budget to support the implementation of recommendations of the review. This includes $22.8 million over four years from 2021-22 for the Commonwealth's share of costs for expanding funder of last resort arrangements. The costs will be shared fifty-fifty with the relevant state and territory government for applications progressed under the expanded funder of last resort arrangements.
This bill builds on action already taken by the Australian government, as I mentioned before. I spoke on some of the recommendations that we implemented in the last tranche of legislation. The government introduced a range of measures, including an advance payment for elderly and terminally ill applicants through the National Redress Scheme for Institutional Child Sexual Abuse Amendment Bill 2021, which was passed by this parliament in September this year.
This bill does not represent the end of the work the Australian government—the Morrison government—is undertaking in response to the review. There is much work on the road ahead and many more recommendations to be implemented. The government, as a priority, is also progressing implementation of a range of recommendations which do not require legislative change to improve the survivor experience and the operation of the scheme more broadly. For example, work is underway, in consultation with scheme stakeholders, including through co-design processes, to improve the application form and process to better engage with survivors. Other, more complex recommendations require further development work, as well as consultation with state and territory governments and scheme stakeholders. Major changes to the design of the scheme and to legislation require agreement from state and territory governments, and decisions cannot be made in unilaterally. The government is continuing to work with states and territories on all of these matters. The staged and considered approach to responding to recommendations was outlined in the interim Australian government response to the review. The government plans to release a final response to the review in early 2022.
I'm aware that some stakeholders suggest the maximum redress payment be increased from $150,000 to $200,000, consistent with the royal commission's recommendation. The maximum payment of $150,000 was the amount supported by states and territories in the establishment of the scheme some time ago. It balances the need to recognise the wrongs suffered by survivors, while encouraging institutions to participate and continue their participation in the scheme. The current average payment amount is over $85,000, which is higher than the average payment of $65,000 that was suggested by the royal commission. It's important to note that the independent review did not make a recommendation to increase the current maximum redress payment to $200,000. Robyn Kruk concluded that increasing the maximum payment could have significant negative impacts on survivors, institutions, and the scheme more broadly. This includes risks to institutions that have predicated their participation in the scheme based on the $150,000 cap—it makes sense—leaving the scheme, or refusing to join the scheme, which would be detrimental to victims-survivors, and that is the last thing we want to do. Rather than increasing the maximum payment, which was not a review recommendation, the government is of the view that energy and resources should instead be directed at changes to the scheme that will improve the integrity, fairness and access to it.
The Morrison government supports, in principle, the recommendation to improve the equity, scope and quality of counselling support by ensuring all survivors have lifelong access to trauma informed redress counselling. Progressing this recommendation requires agreement by all jurisdictions, and the government will consider it in consultation with state and territory governments, service providers and of course other stakeholders.
The Australian government notes recommendation 5.1b of the review—that all internal reviews of redress offers are without prejudice to the original determination. The review also recommends further changes related to internal reviews, including the ability to provide more information. The government acknowledges the benefits of allowing further information to be provided and the greater procedural fairness that this will ultimately offer. Under current arrangements, prior payments are only considered relevant if they are made by the institution in relation to the sexual abuse or nonsexual abuse covered by the scheme. Stolen generations payments, which are not made in recognition of the abuse covered by the scheme, are not considered prior payments, and I'm sure that's also welcome. The government works closely with states and territories to identify and understand the components of each stolen generation payment made. We'll continue to work with our colleagues on the issue to ensure only payments that are relevant are considered under the scheme.
Following the review, the scheme has consulted survivors, advocates, institutions, state and territory governments on the government's response and implementing action on review recommendations. The Ministers Redress Scheme Governance Board, comprising of Commonwealth and state and territory ministers responsible for redress, was consulted on this bill, and in accordance with the scheme governance arrangements the board has agreed to the changes contained in this bill.
The scheme is voluntary, and institutions are not mandated to participate. Redress payments are made to survivors by the Commonwealth and recouped from institutions in arrears. Without the proper legal arrangements in place between the Commonwealth and participating institutions, there's a risk that funding may not be recouped.
Monetary repayments are only one part of redress. Applicants are also entitled to a direct personal response from the institutions responsible for their abuse. Often, more times than not, that would mean more than the financial payment. Without institutions signing up to the scheme, the government would not be able to offer this important part of redress to applicants, so I encourage all of those Australians who have been affected by childhood sexual abuse to come forward and apply for the redress that you are absolutely entitled to.
I'm very pleased to rise to make a contribution to this debate this evening on the National Redress Scheme for Institutional Child Sexual Abuse Amendment (Funders of Last Resort and Other Measures) Bill 2021 and to support the amendment moved by the member for Barton earlier. As always, it is an honour to stand in this parliament and try to give voice to survivors of child sexual abuse in institutions. As members of parliament, it is our job to ensure that the processes and systems for seeking justice, like the National Redress Scheme, are implemented and operating in the way which they were intended.
Labor welcome this legislation tonight because we believe that the reforms to the National Redress Scheme that are part of this legislation are absolutely essential to bring focus back to a survivor centred scheme. The process for seeking redress is, however, not at all timely, and I put this government on warning: if you think for one moment that 5,000-odd payments after three years of operating this scheme is a job well done, then you need to rethink. The process for seeking redress, as I said, has been far from timely. I will have more to say about this tomorrow, because the joint standing committee will be releasing our committee report, where we looked at a number of these matters. I put it to this government that it has been said again and again that the National Redress Scheme is not doing what it was intended to do.
This bill makes two changes. They are important changes. That is why Labor is supporting making these two changes to the National Redress Scheme for institutional child sexual abuse. The first bit is that it is extending the funder-of-last-resort provisions so that the states and territories or the Commonwealth government can agree to funding equally redress payments when an institution no longer exists. We now have many examples of this exact scenario, where the institution itself is defunct and there is no existing linked institution and there is no-one else you can turn to. Equally, there is an issue when an institution does exist but, even should it wish to, it is prevented from joining the National Redress Scheme because it doesn't meet the financial viability requirements. That is a statutory requirement. We do have institutions that, in all good faith, it would seem, have sought to try to join the scheme but have been unable to. These changes are important to deal with both those situations.
Institutions, also, might be able to partially participate in the scheme if they don't meet the current financial viability requirement, and that's a good thing too. They can still issue a direct personal response. They can still contribute to ongoing counselling and psychological support services, perhaps. But those partly participating institutions will need to agree to a reassessment of their financial position at least annually, and that's a good thing. That is the government making sure. They might well be able to become fully participating institutions down the track should they have that financial capacity to do so. Governments can agree to equally fund redress payments for those partially participating institutions in the meantime.
Secondly, this bill goes to further extensions of the public naming of institutions that refuse to join the scheme, and that is by allowing the public naming of an institution that hasn't joined the scheme but has an application before it. It would equally allow for the public naming of an institution that has not joined the scheme and is reasonably believed to be associated with abuse. These are good things in this bill. That's why Labor will be supporting this bill.
But do these things go far enough? Is this the best we can do for survivors? No. There are many shortcomings in this scheme. Indeed, the government failed to bring forward legislation in a timely manner to deal with what have been known shortcomings not for one year, not for two years, but for the entire three-year operation of this scheme. I have lost count of the number of times I have reported to this parliament on these shortcomings. I will again tomorrow.
But let's deal with the legislation before us now. There was a joint standing committee in the previous parliament that shone a big light on a number of these shortcomings. There is a joint committee that exists for this parliament. We have delivered two interim reports. We will be delivering the second one tomorrow. There will also be a final report. We had a statutory independent review conducted on the second anniversary. Do you know what? Each and every one of those reports has had pretty much the same thing to say. So there is a real question for this government. Why didn't you listen in 2019? Why didn't you listen in 2020? Are you going to listen in 2021? There are many people, many survivors of child sexual abuse, who currently don't have access to the National Redress Scheme. This is a matter that I will come back to in a moment.
There have been many occasions when I have stood in this House to argue that the National Redress Scheme must be unswervingly focused on ensuring that every decision we make as legislators is in the best interests of survivors. It must be trauma-informed in its approach and in its practice. That is the job for us as legislators here. This parliament made a national apology and we committed ourselves to delivering justice. That is the responsibility of all of us who stand in this parliament today. There are survivors of child sexual abuse in institutions who have consistently told us about their concerns about the National Address Scheme, and its many inadequacies, since day one. So don't be telling me now that we're going to do a co-design and sit with survivors. Survivors have sat in good faith for three years now talking to this government, giving evidence in joint standing committees and public hearings, and talking to the independent statutory review. The question is: is this government prepared to listen? That is the real question at stake here.
Robyn Kruk, in her second-year review of the National Redress Scheme, canvassed many of these inadequacies. On the ones that were already made and put before this parliament, she's added further weight to those inadequacies. Her report reinforced many of the issues we had already known, issues that this government had been put on notice about since 2019. There have been many reports since the royal commission and the commencement of the Redress Scheme, and many reports since the introduction of the scheme have highlighted that the scheme isn't working as planned. That's a golden opportunity to find out what is not working and to find a remedy. You don't hide things under the rug, you don't run away from those problems; you front them squarely and you find a way to deliver a just outcome for survivors.
It's incumbent on all of us to acknowledge that the changes represented in this bill are good, but they should have been implemented years ago. We should not have waited until nearly the end of 2021 for this to happen. Let's remind the House that the royal commission's recommendation on the issue of funder of last resort was very clear. The royal commission said in its conclusions that there is a broader social responsibility that goes to caring for and delivering justice to institutional child sexual abuse survivors. The royal commission report says:
Although the primary responsibility for the sexual abuse of a child lies with the abuser and the institution of which they were part, we cannot avoid the conclusion that the problems faced by many people who have been abused are the responsibility of our entire society. The broad social failure to protect children across a number of generations makes clear the pressing need to provide avenues through which survivors can obtain appropriate redress for past abuse. In addition to this broader social responsibility—
And this is the part I want this house to listen to—
governments may also have responsibilities as regulators and as guardians of children.
Damn straight there are responsibilities for this parliament! For some time now, Labor has called on all governments to act as funders of last resort, to ensure that there are not inequities baked into this scheme for survivors. I noted at the beginning of my speech that there are many survivors today who have absolutely no access to the Redress Scheme. That is a gross inequity. If this government isn't prepared to look hard at ways in which we can deliver justice for all survivors, that will be a gross failing. It will be marked down in history as having failed to deliver and honour that apology, that commitment, that we as a parliament gave to survivors.
While this bill aligns with Labor's position, it does not provide certainty for all survivors by any stretch of the imagination. Not everyone can, as I said, access this scheme as it is currently framed. Indeed, the joint standing committee heard horrific evidence from survivors of Kenja Communication, a cult-like organisation that has to date flatly refused to join the scheme and denies there is any legitimacy to the survivors' allegations of child sexual abuse. Sadly, there are currently no levers on the table that have been effective in bringing Kenja Communication into the scheme. They are not a registered charity, so that lever doesn't work for the Commonwealth. They are not receiving government funding, so you can't threaten not to deliver that funding.
There is some serious thinking to be done by this government as to how to deliver justice for those brave people like Michelle Ring, who gave evidence despite all the possible ramifications that that might have had for her as an individual on her job and her life. It is a traumatic thing for survivors to repeat their stories. But to then be told by the abusing institution, 'We don't believe you, we are not joining this scheme and you will never get justice'—just imagine for one moment how that feels. It is gut wrenching and it should not be beyond this parliament to consider mechanisms with which we can deliver genuine justice for all survivors. That is the test that I put to this government today; I put them on notice.
I don't hear anything yet that is going to deal and deliver justice for people like Michelle Ring and all those survivors of institutions that flatly refuse to accept responsibility for gross violations and abuses. Kenja Communication is not alone; I don't want the parliament to think it is the only one in this bracket. The CYMS Basketball Association in Victoria, Devonport Community Church in Tasmania and the Forrest Tennis Club in the ACT are all refusing to join the scheme. It is essential that this parliament consider ways in which we deliver justice to all survivors. It cannot be beyond us to do that.
I rise to speak on the National Redress Scheme for Institutional Child Sexual Abuse Amendment (Funders of Last Resort and Other Measures) Bill 2021. I expect members here would recall when the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse was established in 2013 by the Gillard government, and members could not fail to remember quite vividly some of the thousands of people who came forward to that royal commission to talk about the abuse they had experienced as children, the abuse they had experienced in orphanages, in children's homes, in schools, in churches, in other religious organisations, in sports clubs, in hospitals, in foster care and in many other institutions—institutions where you would expect, and we should all expect, children to be treated with care, love, courtesy and respect, not to be subject to the sorts of horrific tales and stories of abuse we heard at the royal commission.
The stories we heard through that process were shocking, they were appalling, and they were heartbreaking. Since that time, we've come some way towards national healing, but there is still a very long way to go. There was of course an apology to the survivors of that institutional child sexual abuse, and there is also now the National Redress Scheme, which was set up as one of the recommendations of the royal commission partly as a means of providing recognition for the survivors but also as a means of providing, however imperfectly, a form of restitution. I believe that the National Redress Scheme, whilst it has its imperfections and needs improvements, has fulfilled an important healing role in addressing this at a national scale.
The bill before us today consists of amendments to the National Redress Scheme for Institutional Child Sexual Abuse Act 2018, the enabling act, and forms part of the government's further response to recommendations from the second-year review of the National Redress Scheme undertaken by Ms Robyn Kruk AO. I also sit on the Joint Select Committee on Implementation of the National Redress Scheme, and I've heard some of these stories and been involved in some of the debates and discussions about how the scheme can be improved. I believe that some of the measures in this bill go some way towards addressing those concerns.
This bill amends the act to make a major change to the scheme to allow more survivor applications to be progressed, through expanding the funder of last resort provisions. That has been a consistent theme from those who have appeared before the joint standing committee. The bill will increase survivor access by, in part, enabling the government to be a funder of last resort for applications that name institutions that no longer exist and where there is no overarching organisation to take responsibility for the institution. It's also for institutions that are unable to meet the legislative requirements to participate in the scheme as they don't have the financial capacity to pay their redress liability. This will allow more survivors to access more funder of last resort provisions. Where an institution is still operating but is unable to join the scheme, they will have the option to partly participate in the scheme, and although unable to fund their redress liability they will be able to provide a direct personal response—one of the components of redress—such as in the form of an apology.
Importantly, the expanded funder of last resort arrangements contained in this bill will not cover institutions that can join the scheme but choose not to. These institutions would not only continue to be strongly encouraged to join the scheme; they will also continue to be subject to financial consequences applicable to those institutions that refuse to join. Importantly as part of those naming and shaming provisions, the bill confirms that institutions named in applications to the scheme or institutions that the scheme operator has a reasonable belief have a connection with the abuse of a person can be publicly named. The public naming of institutions already occurs, but what this change does is put this practice specifically in the legislation for the avoidance of any doubt. Public naming provides survivors who have applied for redress and those considering applying for redress with information on the institutions participating in the scheme. Public naming has also proved successful in encouraging otherwise reluctant institutions to join the scheme.
The government recognises that people who have experienced institutional child sexual abuse have waited too long for redress, and, in particular, those survivors of institutions that are now defunct or have been unable to join the scheme. This is part of a response to that. The government has committed to prioritising initial action on 25 of the 38 review recommendations in the second-year review undertaken by Robyn Kruk either in full or in part and is committing over $80 million over four years in the 2021-22 budget to support the implementation of these recommendations. Until this legislation is passed there will remain a substantial number of survivors who cannot access redress. Particularly given the vulnerable cohort of survivors, including elderly and terminally ill applicants, it's important that we pass this legislation soon.
This bill components the government's continuing efforts to improve the scheme. We are committed to doing so. It's the third piece of legislation this year aimed at improving the scheme, and it's the second bill making amendments to the act in direct response to the recommendations made as part of the review. This bill, along with the previous bill, is not the full extent of the government's actions in response to the review. The government has released its interim response to the review, which provides further detail on action that will be taken in response to recommendations and notes that a staged and considered approach is needed.
One important element of the review's recommendations was for substantial scheme design changes, but the way the scheme has been set up means that such changes require that there be agreement from participating state and territory governments and that the government undertake further development work in consultation with these state and territory governments and with survivors, institutions and other stakeholders. The government will continue to consider and consult on these issues over coming months.
Survivor input and the often traumatic sharing of survivor experience have been critical not only to the establishment of this scheme but also to the improvements we've made to the scheme. I want to thank those many survivors who have not only participated in the royal commission but also remained engaged in the process since and who continue to share their wisdom and their own experiences. These are critically important to undertaking busier abuse and to improving the scheme.
In the second review, which has just been undertaken, we had survivors contribute more than 250 submissions and participate in surveys and consultations to inform the outcomes of the review. In accordance with the Intergovernmental Agreement on the National Redress Scheme, which governs the operation of this scheme, all state and territory governments are being consulted on the bill and have provided their agreement to the amendments. I commend this legislation to the House.
In speaking to the National Redress Scheme for Institutional Child Sexual Abuse Amendment (Funders of Last Resort and Other Measures) Bill 2021, I speak in support of the amendments moved by the member for Barton. Ten years after the hopes of so many victims of child sexual abuse were raised, this government is still dithering. The origins of this legislation go right back to the Gillard government, under which, in December 2012, a royal commission was announced. In 2017, the final report was handed to the government. By that stage, it was the Morrison government or, at least, a coalition government. That was an inquiry that went on for nearly five years, and it handed down, I think, over 400 different recommendations in total. It seems that those recommendations are being trickled out a little at a time in a very slow way. Like so much of what the Morrison government does, it is big on headlines and announcement but very slow and very light on following through and actually delivering on those announcements.
Just for the benefit of anyone following this debate, I note that what this legislation essentially does is extend the funder-of-last-resort provisions so that a state or territory and the Commonwealth can agree to equally fund redress payments when an institution no longer exists and there is no linked institution that exists, or when an institution does exist but is unable to join the scheme because it doesn't meet the financial viability requirements. Institutions will also be able to partly participate in the scheme if they don't currently meet the financial viability requirements, and partly participating institutions will need to agree to a reassessment of their financial position at least annually and become fully participating institutions if they have the financial capacity to do so.
Secondly, the legislation further extends the public naming of institutions that don't join the scheme, including by allowing the public naming of an institution that has not joined the scheme and has an application against it or of an institution that has not joined the scheme and is reasonably believed to be associated with abuse. On that point, I understand that, according to the royal commission, there were some 4,000 different institutions identified where abuse may have occurred, yet I also understand that, to date, only about 526 government and non-government institutions across Australia have joined the scheme. I accept that many of those institutions that might have been named in the royal commission inquiry no longer exist, so that may account for most of them, but it's clear that there were other entities that have decided for one reason or another not to join the scheme, and because of that I think it's incumbent on governments, both state and federal, to respond by at least becoming a funder of last resort.
Labor will support this legislation because it is a step in the right direction, but, clearly, it doesn't go far enough. As the member for Barton quite rightly pointed out, to date her figures were something like 5,000 payments being made, but, according to a press release that the Minister for Families and Social Services issued in September, there had in fact been 6,208 payments totalling $529 million made and some 11,835 applications received at that time. Regardless of which figures are correct, right here and now the reality is that, given that there were some 60,000 children who may have been in some way abused in the care of different entities, we are still a long way off from responding to the support that those people need. And, even worse, if in the last three years we've only been able to deal with some 5,000 or 6,000 payments, there is no hope for some of those people who were abused to have their cases or their applications dealt with for years and maybe decades to come, by which time it's very likely that they would have passed on. Indeed, on that very point, my reading of the royal commission's findings was that some 80 per cent of the people that were identified as having been in some way abused were already over the age of 40, and that was back in 2017. So I suspect that that figure is even higher now, which tells me that, if they go through the process as it is currently being handled by the government, many of those people will never ever be compensated because of the slow process that we are going through.
Labor has continuously been calling for more of the recommendations of the royal commission to be adopted, and, in particular, recommendations relating to lifting the cap to $200,000 and ensuring that payments made prior are not indexed when calculating the redress payment. I am aware that in some cases some of the institutions that have now joined the scheme have previously made payments. If the payments they had made were inadequate but were indexed, it would effectively mean that the recipients would be getting less when their application to the scheme was considered. So that matter needs to be addressed as well.
Labor has been calling for the government to ensure that prior payments which don't relate to institutional child sexual abuse are not deducted from redress payments—for example, payments made to children of the stolen generation. Again, given that the commission found that some 14 per cent plus of all victims were people of Indigenous background, that is an important issue, because they may also be entitled to some other support from the stolen generation report.
Labor has been calling for a guarantee that the review of an offer of redress will not result in an offer being reduced. I have personally dealt with a couple of matters where applications were put in for reviews, and the last thing you would want to do is think that if you put in an application for a review that it may well be that you get even less money, because that would become a deterrent to people trying to seek the fair redress that they are looking for.
Labor has also been calling for the ongoing provision of psychological counselling and other support measures to any of the victims. These are all matters important to people who have been victims of this kind of abuse. They are all matters that these people have to deal with each and every day of their life. So, apart from the financial payments that are being looked at, we need to provide these people with a lot more support. In respect to that, one of the things that Labor has been calling for along the way has also been to have face-to-face application processes for First Nations, culturally and linguistically diverse, and disability communities. Again, those people form a significant number of the children that were impacted by the abuse. In fact, if you add together the First Nations, the CALD and the disability communities, we have over 20 per cent of the victims falling into that category. So it's a matter that shouldn't just be dismissed as being something that isn't that important. It is important. For many of those people, lodging applications is difficult enough. When you have to lodge an application after you have already gone through the trauma and you have to relive it is difficult enough for any person to do, let alone a person who might also have communication problems. So we need to provide whatever assistance is possible to them to ensure that they have every opportunity and every support that they need to get their applications properly considered.
One of the other matters, among the many that Labor has been calling for, relates to reviewing the limit of one application so that changes in circumstances and additional information can be taken into account. Again, as things progress, new information might arise or there might be additional information that might affect what the original application payment would have been. So there should be an opportunity for every application to be reviewed, if that is the case.
Another thing that I believe is sadly lacking in the scheme right now is that it does not allow for noncitizens, non-permanent residents, prisoners or those with serious criminal convictions to submit an application. In my view, that is morally wrong. Those people, regardless of where they are right now, should be entitled to apply for redress under the scheme, just like everyone else should be. The fact that they might be a noncitizen or a non-permanent resident should in no way diminish their rights as a person who was abused and should be covered by the scheme to not be able to put an application in.
So I hope that the government is prepared to look at these matters as it considers other changes to the legislation. I heard government speakers talking about how the government is progressing through the recommendations. This is, I think, the third time that this matter has come before the parliament, with improvements on each occasion. That may all be well and good, but that should be done sooner rather than later. Equally, it should also be the case that, where an assessment is made, the guidelines are made public so that survivors know exactly why they received the support they did or the financial support that they did. It shouldn't be something that is hidden away as a decision that no-one is able to understand or question. Along with that part of the decision-making, it is also important that there is some consistency in the decision-making process itself.
Labor has moved an amendment. The amendment goes to the heart of some of the critical issues, including to lift the payment to a $200,000 cap rather than the $150,000 cap that currently applies. The royal commission in fact recommended $200,000. It is important to note what the cap will also do—and this relates to a matter that I have spoken to on previous occasions and relates to a person in my electorate who was impacted by the $150,000 cap. The person would have been entitled to a greater amount of compensation from the institution that he had previously lodged a claim with and who had acknowledged his rights to compensation but, because of the Redress Scheme coming into effect and responsibility for payment having been transferred to the government initiated scheme, the amount of compensation that person then received was less than he otherwise would have received had the institution stayed with its own level of compensation. It's a classic case where a person has actually been disadvantaged by this scheme, and if the cap were raised to $200,000 that person may well be much better off.
My view is that, while some people will say that it's not just about money, the reality is that, for many of the people that were impacted, money does make a difference because they are constantly having to pay out for health and medical bills which have resulted because of the impact that the abuse has had on them over a lifetime. As a result of that, they've had to incur costs, whether it's because from time to time they haven't been able to get secure work, or because the mental health state that they were in might have limited their employment opportunities and the like. So it is not an unreasonable ask to give them a payment that much more fairly responds to their needs
The other issue that I'll touch on relates to comments that I made earlier on when I talked about the number of cases that have been dealt with and the number that are still outstanding, given that there are some 60,000 survivors possibly identified. This is a very serious issue. The member for Barton quite rightly pointed out that the processing times are well over a year, and in some cases have reached close to 18 months. That cannot continue. Under that time frame, there will be people out there who are victims who will simply not lodge applications because they know that it will put them through another 18 months or so of trauma, reminiscing and recollections about what happened to them, and so it would deter them. It is unreasonable. We need to deal with them much more speedily, and I would urge the government to increase the staffing level if they need to so that all applications can be dealt with in a very timely way.
The National Redress Scheme For Institutional Child Sexual Abuse Amendment (Funders Of Last Resort And Other Measures) Bill 2021 will amend the primary legislation for the National Redress Scheme for Institutional Child Sexual Abuse. The amendments form part of the government's response to recommendations from the second year review of the scheme and the government's commitment to ongoing improvement of the scheme.
Some survivors of institutional child sexual abuse are unable to access redress through the scheme as the institution responsible for the abuse no longer exists or the institution cannot meet the necessary requirements to participate in the scheme. Currently, applications from these survivors cannot be progressed. This is why changes to the scheme's funder of last resort provisions are critical. This bill reflects the next legislative changes in response to the review. It expands funder of last resort arrangements, a significant recommendation made as part of the second year review and one which the government has been very public in its support for. The bill also strengthens the legislative basis on which institutions are publicly named as having not joined the scheme. The amendments in this bill complement the government's continuing efforts to improve the scheme for survivors.
The original question was that this bill be now read a second time. To this the member for Barton 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.