Senate debates

Monday, 15 February 2021


National Redress Scheme for Institutional Child Sexual Abuse Amendment (Technical Amendments) Bill 2020; In Committee

8:47 pm

Photo of Louise PrattLouise Pratt (WA, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Manufacturing) Share this | Hansard source

I do want to move them separately. However, it would make sense, so we're not calling everyone down to the chamber after individual debates, for me to outline all of the amendments so that we can then put the questions one after the other, if that seems to make sense to others.

Amendment (1) is so that a review should not result in a reduced payment. Our second amendment was to hold the government to account on its naming and shaming of non-participating institutions, so amendment (2) amends schedule 1, page 15, and inserts a section that legislates that the government must name an institution if, after the first six months where an application has been made, that it continues not to want to participate. It introduces a requirement that the minister names any institution that refuses to join the Redress Scheme within six months.

I acknowledge the government's policy. I acknowledge that that policy was put in place after significant pressure from survivors, and Labor brought voice to that within the parliament. But this naming and shaming is not guaranteed. It requires proactive management by the government. I've no doubt you'll do the right thing, but this is also parliament wanting to express its will about this policy and that this policy should be legislated. If your undertaking as a minister is entirely consistent with ours as a parliament that sees this as important, as you say, then we've got a moral duty in this place to vote this amendment up. Participating in redress is a part of any institution's social licence, and we in this parliament have an expectation that a failure to participate should have the full glare of the Australian community.

The further amendments are, as I outlined, deliberately structured to give the government flexibility and latitude—flexibility to negotiate with the states and territories to make the changes needed by the scheme. They foreshadow very much a commitment to not only the outcomes of the review but the issues that have been identified in public debate, in parliamentary committees and by senators in this place. We don't need to wait for the review to know how substantial these issues are.

We need a clear commitment from the government to bring the scheme back to what the royal commission intended. We need leadership, not, 'We're just going to wait for the review.' We need leadership, because we know that that's what survivors of abuse have been saying. They require the minister to report to parliament on what steps will be taken to achieve these changes within 90 days. There's no reason for the government and the minister not to accept this responsibility and this level of scrutiny. Indeed, it is our right to scrutinise these movements, not just that of the committee that's made up by the states. These issues include increasing the cap on redress payments, as we've already outlined in debate, with flexibility. One of our amendments calls on you to outline your actions on increasing the cap. That report should be tabled.

On ending the indexing of relevant prior payments, what the minister has done, or plans to do, to have indexing ended, as mentioned in the subsection, must be reported. If the minister has not done, and does not plan to do, anything, the minister must give reasons for this. We've seen the legacy of the impact of prior payments being indexed, and it's heartbreaking to hear the stories of people who go through the onerous process of retelling the story of their abuse to then barely getting any redress once a tiny payment from years ago is indexed. People feel insulted and disrespected when this happens. It's incredibly difficult for people to dredge this up, and they should feel they are being left empty-handed after this process.

On deducting prior payments—and this is in amendment (5) of sheet 1196—we need safeguards to ensure that the prior payments deducted from redress are relevant prior payments. Again, I'm sure this issue will come up in the review.

Then we've got schedule 1, item 51 at amendment (6)—advance payment schemes for elderly and ill applicants. We know that too many ill and elderly people who have done applications have already died. It's a scheme already working well in Scotland. There's no reason that you should not accept the will of the Senate today on behalf of survivors of abuse to support this amendment. It would not cost more. It would just give people recognition and peace of mind at the end of their lives.

Finally, amendment (7) is in relation to the funder of last resort. This amendment makes sure that no-one misses out on redress. If an organisation has folded and no longer has any links to a continuing organisation or if an organisation genuinely does not have the resources to participate in the scheme, the government should make sure redress is paid. This, of course, leaves it open for the government to continue to pursue avenues of seeking those moneys from other institutions. But you can't put people—victims of places like Fairbridge—through the prospect of seeking redress and then tell them there's nothing on the table.

Amendment (8) deals with psychological counselling and support. As Senator Smith already highlighted in the earlier debates today, we need to make sure that ongoing counselling and support is provided but also that it's culturally appropriate. The money, as the act is currently structured, is paid in a lump sum and it's supposed to be enough for a lifetime. People can be left with as little as $1,250 for their lifelong counselling and support needs. So, again, this amendment calls on you to report on what the minister has done and plans to do to ensure that those resources are flexible and available to people over their lifetime.

Amendment (9) deals with better recognising the impact of sexual abuse. This is very significant, and I would hope that the report of the review picks this up. Indeed, the government should—and has the capacity to—respond to that issue now. One of the reasons I think that some survivors are unhappy with the offers that are being put to them is actually about the cruel and arbitrary nature of the matrix. I recall that when these issues were discussed in the Senate in the past, including in hearings about the legislation and the nature of the matrix, we couldn't get details from the bureaucrats at the table in relation to how the matrix would work. It seemed that there was a concern that the matrix would somehow be gamed. I know that, when people apply and go to fill out the matrix, the notes and introductory statements ask people to be explicit as to the nature of their abuse. However, the evidence that we have heard before the joint committee, and I'm sure it's been an issue before other committees, is that survivors of abuse do find it very difficult to be completely forthcoming about that, and they believe that those assessing these should be able to read between the lines. I foreshadow that I will be moving opposition amendment (1) on sheet 1196. (Time expired)


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