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Community Affairs Legislation Committee

BUCELLO, Ms Ellen, Private capacity

COLLINS, Mr Andrew, Private capacity

FOSTER, Ms Christine Ann (Chrissie), Private capacity

JONES, Mr Matt, Private capacity


Evidence from Mr Jones was taken via teleconference—

CHAIR: Welcome. Is there anything you would like to add about the capacity in which you appear?

Mr Collins : I'm here as an individual, and I'm a survivor.

Ms Foster : I'm the mother of two victims, and I'm here as an individual today.

Ms Bucello : I'm a survivor and independent advocate.

Mr Jones : I'm also a survivor.

CHAIR: Would you please confirm that information on parliamentary privilege and the protection of witnesses and evidence has been provided to you?

Mr Collins : Yes.

Ms Foster : Yes.

Ms Bucello : Yes.

Mr Jones : Yes.

CHAIR: Thank you. The committee has your submissions. Now I'd like to invite you all to make an opening statement, and then we will ask you some questions.

Mr Collins : It's been reported in the media that politicians have said that survivors are happy that they were able to tell their stories to the royal commission. That's rubbish. The last thing we wanted to do was to publicly stand up and tell the world what happened to us. Aside from the shame we felt, the repercussions have been immense in some cases, with family and friends turning away from us. We are now forever known as 'those people who were raped as children', and our families have had to endure the great toll it has taken on our mental and physical health. We didn't want to tell our stories, but we did it because we wanted justice.

'Justice' is a multifaceted word that means many things to us. We wanted our perpetrators punished.We wanted the institutions that allowed this to happen to be shamed and also to be punished. We wanted the laws changed so that this could never happen again, and we wanted children protected in the future. We wanted victims to be cared for, we wanted a fair and just redress scheme, and we wanted the deaths of the survivors to stop. All of these things mean justice to us. So far we've had years of pain and very little justice.

For nearly 10 years we've been lobbying politicians and leaders from the institutions, pleading for them to help us get a fair and just redress scheme. I find it ironic that, back when the Victorian government had its inquiry into institutional abuse, the Catholic Church's Melbourne Response and Towards Healing programs were strongly criticised and were again criticised by the royal commission, yet this proposed redress scheme is essentially the same as what they offered. It was stated that these schemes were comparable to the victims-of-crime compensation in Victoria, which is a scheme of last resort when there is nobody else to sue or pay. A fairer scheme would be to compare it to actual schemes that provide not only payments but also ongoing care and support, like WorkCover and Transport Accident Commission schemes.

The royal commission is now over, and we have come full circle and ended up with a poor scheme that mimics those Catholic schemes that will not allow survivors to get the care they need and will not stop the suicides. It was George Pell who said in 2013, at the Victorian inquiry:

We are always ready to pay whatever the law of the land says about compensation …

In other words, if the government says they have to pay a pathetic amount, they will happily pay it. The institutions have had every opportunity to start treating survivors with dignity and respect, and they could have been making interim payments and costs of care during the royal commission. All of them sat on their hands and did nothing, instead waiting to be told what the minimum was that they had to do. The only reason they waited was that they didn't want to commit themselves to doing more than may have been required of them. This is not how the public expects religious and government organisations to act.

How many survivors have taken their lives since the royal commission started? How many families are suffering due to the inaction of the institutions in caring for their victims? When James Hardie had to pay compensation and care for their asbestos victims, the company had no input into what they should pay. They were simply told to pay, and if they had to sell assets to meet those obligations then so be it. This redress scheme should be no different.

Francis Sullivan, representing the Catholic Church, reportedly said that the redress scheme was affordable. I find that insulting. Affordability is not what this should be about. This should be about taking care of those who were abused and raped and are continually suffering. It should be about paying fair compensation for past wrongs. I know survivors who cannot afford to eat meat or go to the movies, and they struggle to pay for medications and bills. I'm sure that they appreciate that this proposed scheme is affordable for the institutions.

The government have had the opportunity to make the institutions pay what needs to be paid, or they should remove the tax-free status and, in the case of the Vatican, even refuse to acknowledge it as a sovereign state. There is no incentive or penalty that the institutions are facing, and of course there is no deterrent to other organisations in the future. We've seen the submissions requesting changes to the scheme so that the institutions can cover the costs through insurance. Once again, it was George Pell who said, of the Catholics:

We don't need to sell our investments to pay our damages …

The institutions have used their power and influence to lobby for a scheme that will cost them little in comparison to what they have. Survivors have no power, influence or money and have not been able to get a seat at the table.

The precedent set by the proposed scheme is that the rape of children is not as important as a person who is falsely detained by the government or a person who falls over in a supermarket, both of which have seen people paid from $400,000 to over $1 million, plus ongoing care. So what price is put on raping a child? Apparently, this scheme thinks it's an average of $20,000 to $40,000, and the institutions seem to agree. I can guarantee you that the community does not agree. The expectation is that there should be a fair monetary sum paid, along with unlimited medical care with a provider of choice.

For most of their lives, victims have had little or nothing from the institutions, and there is a lot of time to be made up for. The apologies we have been given are worthless without real action to back them up, and, in this regard, all the institutions, especially the religious ones, have failed miserably. There has been no leadership or care shown by any of them.

The royal commission made recommendations on redress that have basically been ignored by our government, with others, like the amount of money paid, cut without any explanation. This gives survivors little hope that the rest of the recommendations will be implemented. When the royal commission started, there was a bubble of hope created amongst survivors. The deaths stopped. Now that bubble is about to burst, and—make no mistake—the deaths will again rise.

You have a chance to actually make a difference to survivors' lives. Think about being raped as a child, no-one wanting to know, friends taking their own lives, no-one believing you, and now suffering from PTSD, depression and anxiety, which ensure that you can't work or maintain relationships. The evidence shows that we will die well before our peers, and the ripple effects mean that our families and children are also affected. If the government implements this scheme, it shows us that the last few years have been nothing more than a stunt and that the institutions don't care and nor does anyone else.

We need a champion. Please be our champion. Stand up for us. We can't do it ourselves, and we need good women and men to take a stand for us, the abused children who grew into broken adults, who through no fault of our own are in this position. You have our submissions. Please fix this legislation so that we have a just and fair redress scheme. Please give us justice.

CHAIR: Thank you, Mr Collins. Ms Foster?

Ms Foster : Father Kevin O'Donnell was our parish priest. The Catholic Church hierarchy received complaints about O'Donnell sexually assaulting children twice in the 1940s, in 1958, around 1977 and again in 1986. These are just the ones I know about. All of these complaints were made before my daughters, Emma and Katie, started at his primary school in 1987. Not one of these complaints over the decades caused the Melbourne archbishops to remove O'Donnell from his access to children. Because of their inaction, my daughters and many other children were sexually assaulted by O'Donnell for years until he retired, with honours, from the hierarchy in 1992, after 50 years of offending.

This is just one of the 1.2 million documents examined by the royal commission. It is Emma's psychological report. Emma had post-traumatic stress disorder. Symptoms included recurrent and intrusive recollections of the past traumatic events, nightmares, flashbacks and intense psychological distress. An example included vivid flashbacks of oral sex with the priest, who was naked at the time, and Emma was unable to remove this repetitive and intrusive image. Emma called those images 'daymares', and she said to me one day, 'I can't stop them, and it happens to me all over again.' I think that was just like when she was a child. She couldn't stop it, so she couldn't stop it as an adult either. She stated on different occasions that she had had enough sex to last her a lifetime. She was only 25 years old. Less than nine months later, Emma was dead. She had taken her own life.

Katie would binge-drink to forget her distressing memories. Drunk while crossing a road one night in May 1999, Katie was hit by a car and spent one year in hospital. She will always need 24-hour care.

Victims and their families have already gone through the pain of baring their souls to the royal commission and trusted that the royal commission recommendations would protect children in the future so our histories will not be repeated, yet now I am forced to take this re-traumatising action of speaking here because, at this very first implementation of a royal commission recommendation, the redress cap has been reduced from $200,000 to $150,000. Why? We heard why on 16 February in your Canberra hearing. It is because the Department of Social Services was in workshops with the churches and decided to reduce the redress payment by a quarter. We have been betrayed.

Why is the federal government even speaking to the Catholic Church? They are the biggest criminal offenders in child rape and sexual assault in this country of all the institutions. The leadership of the Catholic Church allowed the sexual assault and rape of thousands of children, because they did nothing to stop their clergy after they were told about the sexual assaults. Australia wide, they enabled their monsters to molest children at will. They ran a toxic set-up. If they didn't understand the obscenity of their actions over child rape then, how can they understand now? Did the federal politicians who approved this significant cut to the redress attend a single royal commission hearing? Is this what we have to look forward to—watered-down recommendations after workshops with the churches?

The churches, via federal politicians, have no right to change, minimise, adjust, modify, intervene or even alter the punctuation on any royal commission recommendation. All the answers the government needs for the protection of children in institutions are contained within the $450 million recommendations of the royal commission. You don't need church advice, opinions or input. You should be telling them what to do and how much they should pay and enforce it under the threat of withholding taxpayers' funds or enforcing a tax upon their tax-free existence if they don't obey you.

Last month it was exposed in The Age newspaper that the Catholic Church have property assets in excess of $30 billion in Australia. Also exposed was the fact that in 2015 the government gave the Catholic Church $7.9 billion for school funding. This is an annual payment which, according to one royal commission hearing, the church retain for some months, collecting bank interest. Which bank do they store their billions in? Is it one of their unregulated banks which operate in this country? In addition, more billions are given to the Catholic Church by the government for their health and welfare agencies. In this multibillion-dollar merry-go-round between church and federal government, they have decided that the victims must suffer a $50,000 cutback, when one of the players is the richest organisation in the world.

The federal government must restore the royal commission recommendation to $200,000 and our confidence in them to protect children now and in the future via unchurched royal commission recommendations. Thank you.

CHAIR: Thank you very much, Ms Foster. Ms Bucello, I understand you have quite a long statement. We're happy to take some of it as tabled if you would like to get to questions a bit earlier, but we're in your hands.

Ms Bucello : Thank you. A lot of this is not waffling on about me, because I've done that so many times now to the royal commission, and it seems to have gone nowhere. It's actually opened up a lot of wounds for me. I even left my job with the police force, in the Queensland public sector, because of complex post-traumatic stress. So it's really important that I actually addressed the recommendations made by the royal commission as well as those in the new draft bill—

CHAIR: Thank you. Please go on.

Ms Bucello : which is a little bit off from what everybody else has done. I take this opportunity to thank the Senate Standing Committee on Community Affairs for allowing my audience today. I trust some of the issues I raise here will provide a valuable insight into a positive humanitarian outcome with a quick resolution. Beside me today is my caseworker and counsel for Wattle Place, Susan Rogers, from Relationships Australia New South Wales. I don't think I'd be here without Relationships Australia—I mean alive.

I reside on the Central Coast of New South Wales. I'm an independent advocate for many who are unable to speak for themselves. I assisted many to write submissions for this inquiry. The social media sites I operate have proven to be an invaluable resource for survivors to inform and liaise in private for referral and communicate in person by telephone. Survivors who belong to social media sites and others run by other individual advocates are assured there is always someone they can contact 24/7, a service that has never been provided by any government or any other organisation.

There are many other survivors—I don't believe I can mention their names today—who are doing the same sort of work as I do. We work independently but within a cohesive environment through social media, which is all, of course, secret and closed off. Together we have many years of firsthand experience of childhood abuse from backgrounds of institutions, clergy, foster placement and community services, as well as juvenile care, some of those in the eighties with FACS, and have suffered sexual, physical and psychological abuse. Our diversity is our strength. We provide referral, guidance and assistance in the dissemination and interpretation of information that enables survivors, often challenged, to make informed choices and experience friendships with like-minded others, where they can vent without judgement and seek help to just get through another day.

I entered the New South Wales system of welfare at the age of 4.5 with a younger brother and older sister. After waking after the first night in care, I found that my brother was gone. I had a total of nine placements, bouncing between New South Wales government institutions and foster care, in which time I was physically, mentally and sexually abused. I never grew up with my siblings. I met up with my sister one week prior to my 13th birthday and, after pursuing the New South Wales welfare department, I met my brother when I was 17 years old. I have a younger sister who was adopted because my mother was advised in the hospital, 'It is apparent that you cannot look after your other children, so you best adopt this one,' and they took that one away. I met her when I was 35.

The issues that have been extremely predominant over these two hearings—and I have read and listened to every statement—are, firstly, the increase in payment from $150,000 to $200,000; secondly, the right of passage to include those who were physically, psychologically and sexually abused; and, thirdly, the inclusion of survivor redress for those who have spent time incarcerated. I agree with all of these. If I were to receive the estimated $76,000 average payment that DSS referred to at the last Senate committee inquiry, I have estimated that my redress would be a net value of $16,000. After years of my outgoing medical expenses, hospital stays, medication and private health insurance to ensure that I do not have to relive any of this in an institutional like environment, I have worked out that I would come out with $16,000.

Two of the most important functions of our parliament are to provide a forum for popular representation—which we've got here today—and to scrutinise the actions of government. I have read the 80-plus submissions in their entirety, and 98 per cent agree with both the increase in funding and the direct responses to cover all survivors. I will not go over that again, because we all know where that's going. The royal commission recommendations state that the redress was made on 'reasonable sexual abuse'. I have looked up the synonyms for 'reasonable' and was not able to define the terminology of what they define. I have a lot of survivors say to me, 'Well, I'm not quite sure if I was sexually abused. Does it mean that he or she or whatever has had to enter me or something? I'm not quite sure.' I don't believe that there is a schedule in the new legislation that actually outlines what that terminology is. So I think that that's something that needs to be looked at by DSS.

On the sexual abuse redress payment, the royal commission recommendation set out provisions for further redress of abuse, providing that the abuse is 'predominantly sexual first'. I've read everything that the royal commission has put out. They've said that, if it was sexual abuse—and then it went on to physical abuse and mental abuse—that matrix would cover all of that. So how is it not just covering mental abuse and physical abuse. I don't understand how you can say, 'This has got to come first and then that and then that.'

The draft bill, division 2, offers redress legal status and specifies the acceptance of the offer and gives information about the opportunity for a person to seek legal services under the scheme. The royal commission recommendation 9.4 states:

The Australian Government should establish and fund a legal advice and referral service for victims and survivors of institutional child sexual abuse. The service should provide advice about accessing, amending and annotating records from institutions, and options for initiating police, civil litigation or redress processes as required. Support should include advice, referrals to other legal services for representation and general assistance for people to navigate the legal service system.

And that this should be:

a. trauma-informed and have an understanding of institutional child sexual abuse

b. collaborative, available, accessible, acceptable and high quality.

With respect to the offers of redress under the proposed legislation, it is my understanding that the Department of Social Security will allow the intended redress recipient to access a Department of Social Security provider to seek legal advice.

As these providers are funded by government, I believe that section 37 is direct conflict of interest and I agree with the Law Society submission that each recipient's redress should be able to seek objective and independent advice. An allocation should be allowed to each person applying for redress to choose that option. I suggest the respective state or territory be responsible for that funding as well.

Division 2, section 38 goes to the accepting period for offers, which we've spoken about quite a lot. I think that even most of the Senate agree that the 90-day period doesn't seem to be sufficient.

Survivors I have engaged with have stated that they will require more than 90 days to make a consideration, and I can only reflect on my own health at times with that and with my own application for the disability pension. I had a broken back, complex PTSD, borderline personality disorder and epilepsy, which other than the broken back were all result of care. I was rejected as I did not answer the appeal letter within the given period of time, because I was in mental health. I had no advocate to help me, because there has been no funding coming forward for advocates to help us. So I had no-one to help me and I had been advised previously by counsellors and psychiatrists not to involve children as it had been deeply researched that the type of involvement only adds to the emotion intergenerational overload that our families have carried throughout their lives. In many cases families are only starting to come back together, as I am with my son, who is in here today.

Section 45, on the redress payment, says:

(a) a redress payment is not to be treated as a payment for compensation or damages; and

(b) a redress payment is absolutely inalienable, whether by way of, or in consequence of, sale, assignment, …

With all this I totally agree; it's a wonderful thing. However, I do have some survivors say to me, 'I don't really know law that well, but, if I go down the road of civil litigation, why then do I have to declare those moneys to social security?' They're receiving moneys for the same thing. One has taken the choice of civil litigation, and there are a lot of lawyers out there now who are doing no-win, no-fee things. They've asked me that question. I can't answer that.

Section 49, on general principles guiding the counselling and psychological services—and this is stated in the draft bill—says:

(1) Survivors should be empowered to make decisions about their own need for counselling and psychological services.

(2) Survivors should be supported to maintain existing therapeutic relationships to ensure continuity of care.

(3) Counselling and psychological services provided through redress should supplement, and not compete with, existing services.

The DSS internet link to redress refers to community based services for counselling and psychological services. Does this mean that survivors will be referred to government funded providers? Are private providers covered? Many survivors have well-established pathways, often with private professional assistance through their private health insurance, because community service providers are often seen as institutional, and this has set off triggers to their mental health.

My question is: will survivors be able to continue the continuity with their private counselling and psychological services with the Commonwealth paying the bill, or will they still have to continue to pay the gap fees, as they have done in previous years, for the term of their life? If a survivor cannot afford to continue with private insurance to continue with the continuity of care, will that mean that the person may still seek assistance with assurance that the account will be paid in full, including any medical costs? At present, private mental health hospital care is approximately $6,000 a week. I only came out last week, so I looked at my bill.

The government only needs representative organisations in each state and territory where brokerage is paid to establish the health dilemmas that survivors face daily. As we age, our health is declining very quickly, and we have pleaded on deaf ears for the royal commission to ensure funding for ongoing health needs required because of being raised in extremely harsh environments. Many do not seek a veterans' gold card but rather a government of Australia funded Medicare priority one health card, which wold finally allow survivors to feel that they have been recognised as a priority. This would allow survivors requiring recurring vital health interventions to obtain services with no questions asked.

Survivors have been neglected for far too long. This is an opportunity for our Commonwealth government to right the wrongs of the past and to ensure the health priority of these, your children, and a system of welfare that went terribly wrong.

Survivors have been living their own war for decades. Much emphasis is placed on counselling and psychological services in section 49. I ask that the Senate inquiry into redress ensure that the therapeutic services available should be spelt out in a schedule to the legislation prior to the legislation being passed. Survivors have spent decades in the offices of counsellors and psychiatrists, and they look forward to updated and alternative therapies. DVA has a range of therapeutic assistance for PTSD and other mental health issues, so it seems discriminatory not to let survivors avail themselves of similar therapies.

These health needs of survivors must meet priorities: dental, optical, hearing, physio, meditation, mindfulness and other relaxation practices to help them deal with the myriad complex mental health disorders—loneliness, isolation and funding for assistance animals at times, to name a few.

Survivors are disengaged from their families due to intergenerational overloads, which again has made these victims twice. In many cases counselling is a relatively new intervention, as it took many years for survivors to come forward. I didn't come forward until I was 50. I'm 67. Many came forward to assist the royal commission with their inquiries, only to stir up the bees' nest and become worse in trying to help the commission. I know I'm in that case, and so are many other survivors. Each time a survivor must explain their mental health, it sets off triggers, and they live their childhood trauma again and again.

The stolen generation have been identified by My Aged Care as a priority for ACAT assessment. I believe that forgotten Australians and child migrants should be given the same respect and service. Yes, we are mentioned in the Aged Care Act, but many survivors are trying to live a few good years before they face the prospect of what next. The federal government's policies to keep people in their own homes if possible raises fears that the end of their lives will be as lonely as the beginning.

The ongoing health of these survivors is not just about psychological and counselling needs. Abuse survivors should also be exempt from paying providers through My Aged Care and the Department of Human Services. I surmise that, if a health intervention is required because of being in care, these home services should be borne continually by the responsible entity. I know of many who require social visits, as survivors isolate themselves due to their mental health. Their bodies are worn before their time, a fact which has emerged from various researchers. A survivor's life is reduced by approximately 10 years, as shown in a survey by the social services department of the University of New South Wales in which I took part. It seems criminal to ask survivors to pay for a social visit or home visit when the very reason they require that service is the abuse they endured in care under the Welfare Act 1939. The cost must be borne by the Commonwealth or state that that person was in.

In respect of the education, apart from the training package that is provided at the Commonwealth level by the human services department to meet competencies for persons who are engaged in care practice in institutional care, I have yet to find a suitable training program that contextually can be presented to all doctors, nurses, community workers, mental health services, medical professionals and care providers in our homes. I do a lot of the training for the doctors on the Central Coast myself so they can understand. I've written on two occasions to Mr Philip Reed, CEO of the royal commission into sexual abuse, to ask to broaden the training package, and the response from the commission was that they had sent notification off to professional bodies and they considered it would then be the responsibility of that body to advise their membership.

When the Commonwealth government accepted the opting in by states and territories, it must then become a responsibility and a priority duty of care to ensure that a training platform is established across all tiers of government that is consistent and approved through the national training and competency standards framework.

Many overseas doctors I have spoken to advise that their training into the Australian medical system does include the stolen generation but makes no reference to forgotten Australians and child migrants. If our high schools do include the forgotten Australians to learn in their current curriculum as a historical event, surely survivors need to ensure our professionals are aware.

Now, DSS and the Department of Human Services. DSS states:

A dedicated telephone helpline and website will be available from March 2018 to provide survivors with information about the Scheme, and connect survivors and/or their families with support services.

That's on their internet page.

I am eager to provide my companions and survivors with the DSS dedicated telephone number, if anybody could tell me what it is. Does anyone know the telephone number? Will the dedicated helpline be operated by persons with appropriate trauma training? What are the hours this line will be open?

Lastly, I ask you as senators to recommend that forgotten Australians and child migrants be included as a specialised group requiring specialised needs on all forms that are printed by the federal government and to write to state governments to request that they adopt the same practice. Otherwise, we'll continually draw our own boxes and tick them.

Every day is a struggle to survive for thousands. We have been used and abused and came forward to help put in place a better system of care for children by sharing the most intimate parts of our lives with this royal commission. We came forward to help with the long-term outcomes of forgotten Australian studies, which was another step in understanding the needs of a large group of Australians who for various reasons have been disadvantaged and many of whom have endured great suffering. Only this past Saturday, whilst enjoying an outing with my son on my visit to Bendigo, I had to break away from dinner to touch base with another independent advocate who had contacted me privately to advise of the mindset of a member who was about to suicide. Thankfully, we with our skills were able to talk him around, and I followed it up the following day as well. Not even the Care Leavers' Association Network, which claims to be a national independent peak membership body which represents, supports and advocates for people who were raised in Australian and New Zealand orphanages, has a 24-hour emergency open line. Volunteers on many of the other helplines, such as Lifeline and mental health have no idea of everyday trauma and challenges faced by a huge group of disadvantaged individuals and whose health is declining very rapidly. If you ring up and say, 'I'm a forgotten Australian,' they all say, 'Oh, what's that?' so you have to explain it all again and you relive it again. How ridiculous is that?

Many survivors have not told their spouses or children, a point that Leonie brought up before. It is an absolute disgrace and shame on this Commonwealth that the redress process is dragging on and on. So many organisations and entities have been granted money that survivors never see. Even most recently I read a call for survivors to come forward by a university that had been granted moneys to research the outcome of receiving redress. Talk about rubbing salt into our wounds. And they received funding for that?

The House of Representatives is a decision-making body which is required to agree to expressions of opinion, courses of action and the detailed wording of bills which are proposed laws. I ask that you search your conscience, as men and women who fill the shoes of your predecessors, to make the right decision in the historical decision-making process as quickly as possible with proposed amendments that have been highlighted in most of the submissions and as urgently as possible. In closing, I thank you for your time.

CHAIR: Thank you, Ms Bucello. Mr Jones, did you have a statement to make?

Mr Jones : I do. First of all, thank you for the opportunity to speak to the Senate committee today. In my submission I expressed concerns about several aspects of the proposed national redress scheme bill. I make my submission and speak to you today in the context of being a long-term survivor of childhood sexual abuse that occurred in a Victorian educational institution run by the Christian Brothers under the umbrella of the Catholic church in the early 1980s.

As outlined in my submission, I believe that the whole idea of using a voluntary opt-in process for states and institutions poses several problems. Firstly, it undermines the scheme due to only those survivors of opted-in states and institutions having access to the scheme. It also means there would be no consistency across state and territory institutions in the kinds of redress that are offered to survivors. It allows states or institutions to escape any requirement to provide their survivors redress and essentially get off scot-free. It is for these reasons that I believe it should be mandatory for all states and territories to participate in the scheme and that all institutions, where there is legal evidence that childhood sexual abuse occurred, should also be made to participate—no exceptions.

Regarding the appointment of operators and officers as prescribed in the proposed bill, I believe that, in order to prevent institutional bias and maintain objectivity during the application process and redress decision-making process, any operators or officers charged with the responsibility to screen applicants and decide on their redress be independent of that institution and appointed by a centralised government body. I know myself that I have felt intimidated and powerless when having my affairs managed by the institution responsible for my abuse, and I believe that that is a conflict of interest. I'm also aware of other survivors who, likewise, want nothing to do with the institution responsible for their abuse.

Regarding the cap on redress payments, the whole concept of capping payments and having payments conditional on the signing of a deed of release is utterly disgusting and insulting to survivors. That applicants should be required to sign a document preventing them from further compensation while being forced to accept such an inadequate maximum payment is, to me, incomprehensible. I can think of only one reason for the application of a payment cap and deed of release, and that is to protect the funds of the state and the assets of the institution. It certainly does not prioritise the interests and needs of the survivor, as a redress scheme should. If a redress budget blows out because compensation payments are not restricted, then it blows out. If that's what it takes for survivors to be appropriately compensated, then that's what it takes. I think that people need to realise that, for many survivors, it's about putting a price on their life. So I say: scrap the cap.

The application process that is proposed also poses some potential problems. Having application forms and processes devised arbitrarily by individual states or institutions would compromise the standardisation of these across the board. For this reason, I believe that all application forms and processes should be developed centrally by the government to prevent institutional bias and prejudice and ensure that all applicants are asked the same set of standardised screening questions. Likewise, the requirements for any supporting documentation should also be standardised.

Finally, it is not always practical for survivors to provide statutory declarations for the purpose of their applications. I know for myself that there are no notaries available in my remote area, so I would be required to travel some distance to access this service. That is aside from the common scenario for survivors whereby their abuse related anxiety, depression or PTSD prevent them from venturing out to have documents signed in person. Therefore, I believe that the requirement of a stat dec be eliminated from the process.

CHAIR: Thank you very much.

Senator SIEWERT: I want to go to some of the issues that have been raised that a lot of other people haven't spoken about. Mr Collins, you raised the issue around each applicant having a specific treatment plan for medical, financial and emotional supports and a caseworker. Would you see that as part of the whole scheme?

Mr Collins : In an ideal world, yes, because everyone is different. Some people have different triggers. Some people have different coping mechanisms. Some people have had access to simply better counselling and treatment. We are all different and we have different needs. You may find somebody who has five sessions of counselling and they're fine and can live a fairly normal life, whereas somebody else may need ongoing counselling till the day they die. With psychotherapy, for example, somebody may need intense therapy once or twice a week for a year or two years and then nothing afterwards. Everyone's different. If we were able to get that individual assessment done, that would be nearly perfect because then you can get the treatment that you really need rather than a one-size-fits-all approach. I said 'in a perfect world'. I understand that, in a system like this, that's very hard to provide, but it's like a triage function when you go into a hospital. You get asked the questions to get the care that you need and the speed of that care as well.

Senator SIEWERT: Could I ask all of you: would you see that sort of concept as something that should be provided and would meet people's needs?

Ms Foster : Yes.

Ms Bucello : To an extent, yes.

Senator SIEWERT: Mr Jones?

Mr Jones : Yet again, to an extent—yes.

Senator SIEWERT: Sorry, I'm going to jump around a little bit. You could tie that in with the Priority One card.

Ms Bucello : That's exactly right. Similar to the DVA treatment card, the white treatment card, as opposed to the gold card, which covers everything. My brother's on full TPI because he was in the Army as well. Ideally, it would be nice to have the priority one card. First, we don't have to keep explaining what the hell is wrong with us all the time, because people will know what the concepts are. It's usually mental health related and things like that. That would eliminate a lot of heartache for us for a start. We need to make sure that we've got the psychological services and psychiatric services underpinned in all of that, along with any relaxation, cognitive therapy, CBT courses and things like that for mental health issues. There could be other issues. For example, I've got extremely bad toes and I actually walk on my joints because I was shoved into shoes while I was a state ward. They would just look at you and say, 'You're this age; you go in that size.' Now I have deformed toes and they hurt now that I'm getting older. There are things like that that could go under it. It might be something else to somebody else. I know that other people have very, very early arthritic onset because they were scrubbing floors and doing things like that at the age of four and five. Even my orthopaedic surgeon said, 'To be on your hands and knees and scrubbing floors at five and six years old is not a very good start,' so they've ended up with early-onset arthritis and things like that. There are a lot of other conditions, but priority one would give a special meaning to everybody that they are a priority: 'Your conditions are covered. Here you go.' You allow DVA to have their gold card. I don't think anybody should step on DVA's gold card, because they deserve that as well.

Senator SIEWERT: Could I ask others about the concept of support?

Mr Collins : When I spoke to Christian Porter about this scheme, he said that some of the ongoing care and support would be linked in with services such as Centrelink, the NDIS and those sorts of things. However, nothing's appeared. He also said that anyone who had made a submission and was accepted by the royal commission would be automatically accepted for this. That's disappeared as well. At the present, if you need help you've got the Medicare system, unless you've got private health care. That only allows people to go from crisis to crisis. You're not getting any real care. Psychological care is pretty much limited to an event with which you need help or getting your medication looked at.

Senator SIEWERT: Or you get better access for your—

Mr Collins : Exactly. Having that priority care would make a huge difference to people, because you could actually get care rather than just going from crisis to crisis.

Senator SIEWERT: I go to the issue around 'scrap the cap'. I think that's is going to catch on.

Ms Bucello : We could reach for the heavens idealistically, but I don't think it's going to happen. I have worked at the Department of Finance for many years and I do know we don't print money. I think it would be impossible to scrap that, really. There has to be a limit. Raise it up higher, I think. Chrissie, you'd agree with that, wouldn't you?

Ms Foster : It should be much, much higher. We got organisations like the Catholic Church who have billions of dollars—

Ms Bucello : Yes, that's exactly right.

Ms Foster : and they're getting off scot-free, basically, and that really irritates when they're so responsible for the actions they took. They allowed it to continue, so it's a real slap in the face to victims when they have to pay $150,000 now. It's just ridiculous. If I had my way, the Catholic Church would not have a cap on it.

Senator SIEWERT: Yes, I noticed that, in your submission, you make that point.

Senator HINCH: Chrissie Foster, we know your background from Hell on the Way to Heavenand also that amazing documentary Undeniable. On the cap, I noticed Mr Collins said that survivors did not have a seat at the table. But briefly your late husband did have a seat at the table, didn't he?

Ms Foster : Yes.

Senator HINCH: He was at the roundtable discussion.

Ms Foster : That's right; he went to two of them.

Senator HINCH: That was where they would have discussed this privately in the past, but he was looking for a $500,000 limit?

Ms Foster : He was holding out for that, yes.

Senator HINCH: And then he came down to $300,000. He was very adamant that $300,000 should be the bottom level.

Ms Foster : Yes.

Senator HINCH: He got assurances from the commission that the churches—despite the Pell statement—the government and the state governments too would accept a $200,000 limit.

Ms Foster : They would agree with that.

Senator HINCH: And that was how the commission got its $200,000 limit?

Ms Foster : Yes.

Senator HINCH: Then Mr Porter came out of the blue and said its $150,000?

Ms Foster : That's right, yes.

Senator HINCH: And that was without consultation with governments like the Victorian government?

Ms Foster : I believe so, yes.

Senator HINCH: But your husband actually called the government within an hour of Mr Porter making this announcement and said, 'Why did you do this?' And they said, 'We didn't.'

Ms Foster : They didn't know anything about it.

Senator HINCH: So earlier this morning—I know you were in the room—that was the Catholic Church's $150,000 limit?

Ms Foster : Yes, it's a coincidence, isn't it? Yes, it is the same. They are all $150,000 now even Towards Healing. It was 15 December on The Projectthat Francis Sullivan announced that now Towards Healing's limit was to be $150,000 too.

Senator HINCH: We were told at estimates last year or the year before that the dedicated phone line would be in place by March this year, which is this month. I don't know any more than you do but we're now being told it will be July.

Ms Bucello : I would push that out. I worked in the public sector for 30 years and I would push that even further out than that.

Senator HINCH: If the Prime Minister brought in 1 July as the supposed magic date, surely the phone line has to be working by 1 July?

Ms Bucello : Good luck with that. I would like to know: are these people going to be trauma informed? Who are they going to be?

Senator HINCH: Will they second them from Medicare?

Ms Bucello : Will they be Centrelink people? I would like to know. We go to pieces every time we go to Centrelink. You cannot even pick up a pamphlet in Centrelink that talks about a forgotten Australian. There is not one pamphlet in Centrelink. They don't even know what you are talking about. I have ended up in tears. Anybody else here? I have had breakdowns at Centrelink.

Senator HINCH: I'll try to get an answer on the phone!

Senator SINGH: My question is directed to Mr Jones. Mr Jones, you talked about the opt-in situation for institutions and I think also you said states and territories as well. I am interested in the survivors who choose to wait until this two-year time period for such organisations to opt in expires. If that expires before they have made their application for redress, will there be any risk for survivors in doing that? I acknowledge that you said there shouldn't be such an opt-in situation but, if that is there, as it currently is, is there a risk in sitting back and waiting to see what happens?

Mr Jones : I don't know. The thing is, I just have such an aversion to any institution or state government being able to say, 'I don't want a bar of it.' That's where I'm coming from. In terms of answering your question, I don't know in that situation. Each situation is different but I still stand by my point that the opt-in situation should not ever eventuate.

Senator MOORE: I have a general question. Some of you have mentioned this in your opening statements. We've been asking people about the consultation they have been involved in from the time that the royal commission put its paper out in 2015 then 2016, 2017. I am just interested in all of you as people—including you, Mr Jones—who are very active in this space and very involved and wanting to be involved. What kind of opportunities have you had? And what kind of opportunities do you think you should have had? How should this process have operated?

Mr Collins : I can speak not just for myself but for Ballarat survivors. When the royal commission was on, we had a lot of opportunity to meet regularly with royal commission staff. They travelled to Ballarat many times outside of hearings and met with us and spoke with us. We were able to discuss our submissions with them. We were told that there would be an opportunity to go to Sydney to discuss the redress submissions before the report was made final and, at the last moment, we were withdrawn from that and basically it was the institutions who all got a seat there. So we weren't involved in that. When the report came out, we weren't very pleased with some of the things we saw in it.

Senator MOORE: Was that the final commission report or the final report on redress?

Mr Collins : The final report on redress. We then contacted the government and repeatedly asked for an opportunity to express our voice on behalf of Ballarat survivors and survivors in general. After repeated attempts to get through to the Prime Minister's office, there was absolutely nothing. There were just no replies after constant phone calls and emails. Eventually, our local member, Catherine King, got us a meeting with Christian Porter. He said to us, 'Look, once the legislation is drafted, we will not only present you with a copy of it; we will send somebody down to go through it with you.' It never happened. We never heard from him. We had no further contact from his office.

Senator MOORE: Do you know about when that was? Think about it. You can send it to us on notice. It's not in your submission.

Mr Collins : It was when Edmund Rice schools or the former Christian Brothers schools made their national apology in Canberra.

Senator MOORE: Okay. We can take that.

Mr Collins : I would like to add as well that we did ask him the question of the cap while we were there and his reply was that, if they left it at $200,000, some of the smaller institutions would not opt in. So they dropped that so that those smaller institutions would opt in. We thought that was pretty poor.

But as far as being consulted or even being kept up to date or communicated to, no, we absolutely were not. I know that we've communicated with the office of our local federal member, Catherine King, again. I must say that she was fantastic in coming back and dealing with us. They weren't reported back to either, so, no, we weren't involved or kept in the loop in any way.

Senator MOORE: Ms Foster?

Ms Foster : Sorry, can you just—

Senator MOORE: The question is on engagement and consultation from 2015 until now. I know that you have had a lot of high-level meetings and so on, but do you feel as though your voice has been heard?

Ms Foster : I think so. There were a lot of hearings of the royal commission. We went to many, many hearings, which was amazing to do. I learnt a lot. But I trusted that the royal commissioners would do the right thing. I believe they have. I've had a lot of trust in them. They are very educated people. There's a lot of trust. That's why their royal commission recommendations are so important to us. I think that's my say. My husband was on two of the redress roundtables. That is a very disappointing area. They've gone to the lowest denominator to cover that. If a very, very small tennis club somewhere will opt in and a church will come down to their level it's not right. It's really not right when they were so culpable.

Senator WATT: Thank you again very much for what you've shared with us today. A couple of you have repeated the comments we have heard from other witnesses about how important it is for survivors to be able to have some choice over counselling services and those sort of support services. Does the same apply to legal advice?

Ms Bucello : Yes.

Senator WATT: There is obviously a provision being made. So can you just very briefly explain why it's important that survivors get some say over who they get their legal advice from.

Ms Foster : I think it's very important that they have that legal advice in the first place, before they even go into the redress scheme. After all the inquiries by the royal commission, more documents, information and analysis has come out, that are very important. It could be of great importance to their case that they do not have to go through the redress scheme—especially in Victoria. As of tomorrow, or very soon, the law is coming in which eliminates the Ellis defence in Victoria. They really need to have that legal advice first up—that's very important.

Senator WATT: They have potentially built a relationship with their legal adviser through the royal commission. The legal adviser might understand their particular circumstances and they should be able to carry it through?

Mr Collins : Exactly. I think it comes down to the word 'trust'. Survivors inherently do not trust figures of authority. We form very personal relationships. I know, for myself, I have a very close relationship with my lawyer. I would much prefer to use my lawyer rather than get legal advice from somebody I don't know and I probably would not trust.

Ms Bucello : That's the point that I was making: I do believe there's a conflict of interest, because DSS will be referring us off to people they pay, whereas we prefer to have the choice ourselves.

CHAIR: On behalf of the committee, may I say thank you all very much for appearing today. Your evidence is very valuable to us. It's very important that we hear your voices. So thank you very much

Proceedings suspended from 12:46 to 13:47