Tuesday, 12 May 2020
Implementation of the National Redress Scheme: Joint Select Committee; Report
In respect of the interim report on the implementation of the National Redress Scheme, I move:
That the Senate take note of the report.
On behalf of the parliamentary Joint Select Committee on Implementation of the National Redress Scheme, I am pleased this afternoon to make some comments about the committee's first interim report to the Senate. The committee has tabled an interim report to reassure survivors of institutional child sexual abuse that their voices are still being heard and, importantly, to help direct and inform the second anniversary of the National Redress Scheme, set to commence prior to 1 July this year.
The interim report contains 14 recommendations to guide the upcoming review of the scheme. Importantly, in regard to the scheme's current administration, the interim report identifies a number of issues that can be addressed and should be addressed immediately to improve the survivor experience. The five reforms that would improve the survivor experience include removing the requirement for a statutory declaration to accompany each application for redress; introducing time frame flow charts to help survivors track their individual applications; establishing a direct complaint avenue for survivors; increasing the provision of adequate, timely access to counselling and psychological care services; and, importantly, improving the indexation arrangements in favour of the survivor so that indexation is applied up until the date an application is submitted rather than the date a payment offer is made.
The most critical and immediate and urgent issue that this interim report addresses is the matter of whether or not institutions are actively working to sign up to the National Redress Scheme by 30 June 2020. In regard to institutions that have not yet joined the National Redress Scheme—and let's remember that we're about to celebrate the second anniversary, almost a thousand days of the National Redress Scheme—the committee is clear, is firm, is unanimous in its view that every possible action must be taken to ensure that institutions fulfil their social and moral duty to survivors. It is irresponsible and naive for the administrators of the National Redress Scheme, the Commonwealth and every state and territory jurisdiction, to pretend that it can continue to rely on the goodwill of institutions. Time is up. We, in this interim report, give a very clear signal about what the parliament's attitude is and needs to be, and it's a clear signal that sits very comfortably with the announcement that the minister for social services, Senator Ruston, made only in the last few weeks.
Our view is, and the committee has recommended very strongly, that the National Redress Scheme should obtain a written statement from each named institution that has not yet joined the scheme, and that that written statement must include: reasons for the delay, a list of the key officers of the institution, the expected joining date, and all financial benefits accrued by means of their charitable status or other sources of public funding or concessions received. The committee has then recommended—and this is the most critical point—that that information not be hidden from public view but publicly disclosed to the Australian community so that it can act as judge and jury, and that those written statements with all of those details should be published on the National Redress Scheme one week before 30 June 2020 deadline. This is not because I, as chairman of the committee, or Senator Siewert, with her long work on these issues, should stand in judgement. The Australian community deserves to know why institutions have not yet joined, what their excuses are and what their time frames are to join.
Colleagues, time is running out for survivors. How ironic that, the more we move away from the royal commission process and its recommendations, and the more we move away from the apology, the less visible survivors of institutional child sexual crimes, as I like to call them, become. How ironic that a group of people who, for a great bulk of their life, were invisible, got an opportunity to tell a story and to have appropriate redress—their expectations raised by the royal commission and by the apology, and raised by the creation of the National Redress Scheme—only to find now that they're feeling invisible and unheard again. That is savage, that is unfair and that is unjust.
I'd like to thank my colleagues on this joint select committee group. We had a choice—we had two choices, actually. We could have waited until May 2022 to issue a final report of this committee, and the 30 June deadline would have passed, the second anniversary deadline would have passed, the review would have conducted its work and we, as parliamentarians, would have issued a report when it was too late. But instead we decided, despite the challenges of this coronavirus pandemic, that we would go out there early and issue an interim report so that the voices of this tri-partisan parliamentary committee could be heard loud and strong, not just by the Commonwealth government but by the Premier of Queensland, who is as involved in the National Redress Scheme as the Prime Minister of Australia. The premiers of New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania, South Australia and Western Australia all have a responsibility, because nothing happens when we think about reform of the National Redress Scheme unless every state and Commonwealth jurisdiction agrees.
My ambition is for the spirit of the national cabinet to refocus its energies and its activities post coronavirus on delivering real, timely justice to those survivors who are still waiting. It pains me to say that the National Redress Scheme is not yet living up to expectations. I believe it can; I believe it should. I came to this committee position with less knowledge about redress matters than others, but you only have to listen to the real stories—the pain and suffering in people's voices still today—and, if you really listen intently, you can't help but be moved, compelled, to want to fight for justice for these very, very important people. Even through our process, and having told their stories 100 times before to other strangers, to other parliamentary committees and the royal commission process, they found the courage to get on telephone calls with senators and members of the House of Representatives and tell their story again.
This is a good committee report. It is one that deserves attention now. That's why the committee has written to each state jurisdiction and to the Commonwealth and asked them, 'What do you think about our recommendation for full public disclosure?' There may be some very good reasons, and the Australian community and the Australian parliaments across this Commonwealth will be generous in their considerations of those very genuine reasons. No-one should be allowed to hide as we get close to the two-year anniversary of the National Redress Scheme.
I seek leave to continue my remarks later.
Thank you, Mr Acting Deputy President. Thank you, Senator Smith, for your very eloquent words just then and for your excellent chairing of this committee. You can't say it's a pleasure to work on this committee, because we're dealing with such devastating issues. But the collegiate support and the way we worked together was excellent. All of us on that committee come from the same position of hearing survivors and needing to make sure that they have justice. Unfortunately, the scheme at the moment is not providing justice to survivors.
I agree with Senator Smith that the report is very good in terms of addressing the issues that came up. I urge all governments—it is not just about the Australian government; it is about all state and territory governments—to read the recommendations and take action. Senator Smith has very eloquently pointed out the issue around institutions. I totally support what he said. They have to get on board. We need to make sure that the recommendations in this report are implemented to hold them to account. I don't want to go over the same issues as Senator Smith other than to repeat his support for survivors and also acknowledge that a number of them were retraumatised by having to articulate their experiences yet again—and I thank them from the bottom of my heart.
I want to touch on the 'funder of last resort' issues. These are issues that I raised in this place when we were debating this legislation because the approach taken at the time was clearly not going to address survivors' needs; unfortunately, that has proven to be the case. We need to make sure that we address this. We touched on it in our report. A number of survivors were at institutions that are now defunct, and they now do not have an institution from which to seek redress. It was inevitable that this was going to happen. It was inevitable that the provisions that are currently in the legislation are not going to be adequate. It is absolutely essential that the states and territories and the federal government work together to address this issue. I believe it's going to take amendments to the legislation itself. It's an issue that has been raised; it needs to be carefully looked at during the review. I have particular opinions about how this should be addressed, which the committee has touched on a little bit; but I deeply believe that the governments need to take responsibility, make sure people get redress, and then sort it out among themselves as to who pays.
But don't make the survivors pay—which is what they are doing now—because they can't get access to redress under the current circumstances. Very few people who were in institutions that are now defunct have been able to access redress to date. We know that we are working against the clock for some people; it is not an exaggeration. We need to make sure that we address this issue with a sense of urgency. We have also set a fairly clear time line for the standard review of the implementation of the scheme which has to occur under the legislation. We expect big things from that review. That's not to put any pressure on the person who is appointed to this, and the review process, but it is really essential that they look at these key issues, take them on board and come up with substantial solutions so that survivors are actually able to get redress. We gave them a commitment in this place and we are not meeting that commitment with its current implementation. I seek leave to continue my remarks.