Thursday, 19 October 2017
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Minister for Defence, Senator Payne. In this year's budget the government announced a reparation scheme for victims of Defence abuse which would be administered by the Defence Force Ombudsman. The ombudsman advised during budget estimates that the framework through which the reparation payments would be made was still being developed. Key details—such as whether cut-off dates would be applied to both when the abuse occurred and the deadline by which a claim must be made, which was a significant failure in the Defence Abuse Response Taskforce scheme—are yet to be worked out. Noting about five months have passed since the reparation scheme was announced, could the minister please provide an update as to the development of the scheme's eligibility criteria and who is being consulted?
I thank Senator Kakoschke-Moore for her question and for her advice that she would be asking this today. I know from discussions that it is a very important matter for Senator Kakoschke-Moore.
Indeed, in the 2017-18 budget, the government did announce funding of $19½ million over four years for reparation payments to victims of abuse. These payments recognise that what happened was wrong and also acknowledge that in some cases Defence may have mismanaged victims' claims historically. We take allegations of abuse very seriously, and we've developed more efficient avenues for both current and former serving members of the ADF to report incidents of abuse. We have taken steps to improve Defence's assessment and investigation of complaints of abuse. The reparation payments themselves are one example of the support that is available to victims of abuse in Defence.
Defence is finalising the policy proposal for the new Defence Force Reparation Scheme, in consultation with the Office of the Commonwealth Ombudsman and the departments of Treasury, social services, veterans' affairs, finance and, of course, PM&C. We are clarifying the financial impacts for an individual who receives a reparation payment and any interaction of that payment with other benefits and entitlements to ensure that recipients are able to receive the full benefit of the reparation payment. Until those details of the policy proposal are finalised, I believe it would be premature to release any further information at this stage. I would be very happy to provide the senator with a briefing if that would be of assistance.
We expect the framework will be in place before the end of the year, and payments will be able to commence being made in early 2018. In the interim, I want to encourage those who have concerns or experiences that they feel they should report, both current and former members, to continue to report incidents of abuse through any of the mechanisms that exist and are available to them, including through the chain of command, if that's appropriate; through the Sexual Misconduct Prevention and Response Office, known as SEMPRO; through the Australian Defence Force Investigative Service; through the Inspector General of the ADF; through, where appropriate, local state and territory police; and, of course, through the Defence Force Ombudsman. We've made good progress in the development of the scheme with both the Defence Force Ombudsman and the relevant agencies. I appreciate the input that those agencies are making and look forward to finalising it as soon as we can.
The Defence Force Ombudsman previously advised me that, between its establishment on 1 December 2016 and 30 April this year, 96 reports had formally been made to the office in relation to allegations of serious abuse. Of those complaints, 45 were made between March and April alone. How many complaints have been made to the Defence Force Ombudsman to date and what advice is being given to complainants about the reparation scheme?
I have taken some advice, obviously, on the numbers in that question. I receive a quarterly report from the Defence Force Ombudsman and received the last one on 10 August, which was dated as at 30 June. Between 1 September 2016 and 30 June 2017 the DFO received a total of 163 reports, 85 per cent related to historical incidents in that profile. The ombudsman's office has completed assessment of 57 of those, 28 of which were assessed as meeting the threshold of serious abuse which is reasonably likely to have occurred and 29 as not meeting that threshold.
In relation to the advice that is given to complainants when a complaint is laid, the ombudsman takes the approach of acknowledging the government's announcement about the reparation payments and advises complainants that they will make further contact with them once the policy is finalised. (Time expired)