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Monday, 18 June 2018
Page: 3028


Senator PRATT (Western Australia) (12:32): I begin by saying thank you and paying tribute to all of those people who've made a very significant contribution to this important step towards justice for survivors of institutionalised child sexual abuse. I want especially to acknowledge the work of individuals and organisations that have pushed to make the scheme as outlined in the National Redress Scheme for Institutional Child Sexual Abuse Bill 2018 that we have before us in this place a reality—and they have pushed and pushed for decades. Thank you to people like Chrissie Foster and her late husband, Anthony; the Blue Knot Foundation; the Alliance for Forgotten Australians; and, of course, the irrepressible Care Leavers Australasia Network, otherwise known as CLAN. Your day, when this parliament will finally get this long overdue job done, has come.

The evidence presented to the royal commission was very deeply shocking. It exposed heinous crimes perpetrated against vulnerable children. The case studies and private sessions left absolutely no doubt that a great many people, while children, were injured by being subjected to sexual abuse in institutions or in connection with institutions. We can see from the evidence presented to the royal commission that their injuries have been severe and lifelong. The evidence that the effect of these injuries on people plays out for the rest of their lives has been made clear. Revealed in the pages of the royal commission's final report is a history of people who have had their childhoods taken from them and their trust in people broken.

It is now time to show that we believe those who, for so long, were ignored. We believe the truths that they have told us. We believe those who, for so long, have had justice denied to them. If this place, this chamber, has any important purpose at all, it should be primarily to make sure that we listen to people who have been forgotten in our nation. That's why Labor are supporting this bill today. While this bill is imperfect—and I'll speak about some of our concerns—it is a very significant step forward and will mean real justice, recognition and redress for many thousands of Australians. We in Labor have been long-time advocates for a national redress scheme for survivors of child institutional sex abuse. We've been calling for a national scheme since 2015. So, today, to get a scheme like this up and running is an example of what this parliament can achieve when we work together. Overwhelmingly, survivors have said they want to see this scheme in place as soon as possible—from 1 July—and so do Labor.

I have paid close attention to and reviewed all of the royal commissioners' recommendations, and they did not make their recommendations lightly. They listened to the evidence from victims and had a clear mandate to recommend to this place:

… what institutions and governments should do to address, or alleviate the impact of, past and future child sexual abuse and related matters in institutional contexts, including, in particular, in ensuring justice for victims through the provision of redress by institutions, processes for referral for investigation and prosecution and support services.

This is what the royal commission were asked to do, this is what they've done and this is what we are responding to here today. We believe that their recommendations should be implemented faithfully and that the task for us all now in this parliament is to deliver a national redress scheme for survivors and, indeed, to also follow faithfully the other recommendations the commissioners have made to protect our nation's children.

It has been a key concern to me that, while the royal commission got its job done very quickly and in a timely manner, making recommendations about redress back in 2015, it has taken three years to get legislation set to pass this place.

I want to place on record Labor's concerns, which are well known, about the compensation amount. The royal commission recommended that the maximum payment be $200,000. However, this bill unfortunately places an upper limit of $150,000 on the amount of redress that would be payable to any one survivor. We know that accepting an offer of redress will also mean signing away any rights that a survivor may have to pursue their claim for compensation through litigation and through the courts. That's why Labor believe that the amount of redress offered under this scheme is important. While we are aiming to put forward a simple scheme to access, if people feel that their claim is worth more, if they get legal advice that shows that their claim is worth more, they will be in the difficult position of needing to potentially relive their trauma through the courts or to accept a lower redress amount through this scheme. We've very strongly shared our concerns in the public arena. We recognise the concerns of legal professionals who have indicated that some people may be eligible for much greater amounts of redress. However, I note that the purpose of this scheme is to ensure that all those who have been subjected to these criminal acts can seek redress, and many will not have the capacity to seek claims in a court of law and would prefer this process.

We have some other concerns with respect to the bill. Importantly—and this point has been made very strongly—the way past payments are indexed is naturally a very important issue for survivors, who have fought long and hard for this compensation. But this bill sets an unreasonable rate of adjustment. An early amount received as compensation would be indexed by 1.9 per cent for each year since the receipt of the original amount. Care Leavers Australia Network has been campaigning for indexation to be taken out of the scheme because past compensation amounts have been small and a significant proportion of what people received was eaten up in legal fees, so it is unfair for past amounts of redress to be indexed. It is possible that some survivors who are eligible for redress may end up with nothing after the indexation is applied, because of previous compensation amounts. Payments that were manifestly inadequate to begin with were eaten up by professional fees. We therefore strongly believe that past redress amounts should not be indexed.

We also believe that it's important to make sure that anyone who's eligible because of the nature of the abuse they suffered should be able to access this scheme. In that context, we on this side of the chamber are very concerned that the way that funder-of-last-resort provisions are drafted means that some survivors who would otherwise be eligible may miss out on redress entirely. For example, persons whose abuse was not deemed to be the responsibility of government, and for whom there is no remaining institution that is responsible, could be left with no avenue for justice. Where there is no joint responsibility with government and where there are no corporate bodies remaining and no individuals to pursue in court, under the scheme before us there is no possibility of justice.

We acknowledge that the scheme will cover the vast majority of survivors of child sex abuse in institutions, with the minister indicating that 93 per cent of survivors are already covered by the scheme, given the number of institutions that have already signed up. But this is no reason to leave individuals, no matter how few, without this avenue for compensation and justice. In addition, we're concerned that this legislation limits eligibility for redress to people who are Australian citizens or permanent residents. But as we know—indeed through the many stories told in this place—Australia has been responsible for many thousands of child migrants, and these people will not be able to access redress if they've returned to their countries of birth and are not Australian citizens.

Labor believes in the position on this issue that was put by the Australian Human Rights Commission. They say that eligibility for redress should be determined by whether or not the abuse occurred in Australia, not by the citizenship or the residency of the victim. The royal commission has made it clear that horrific abuse occurred in institutions in our country that were responsible for child migrants and that abuse of children has also occurred in our immigration detention centres.

I'm sure that all members of this place would agree that counselling for survivors is a top priority. We also know, each and every one of us, that no amount of money can make up for the pain and suffering that has been endured. That said, access to counselling that is of high quality is absolutely vital. However, we are very concerned that the counselling provided to survivors through the Redress Scheme is going to be manifestly inadequate. The royal commission recommended—and this is extremely important—that recipients of redress be able to access counselling for the rest of their lives—for the rest of their lives. Not all survivors will want or need counselling. But, for those who do, we must ensure that the services available are adequate and that they're sufficient for their needs. This bill only provides state-funded services for the length of the scheme or for a payment of up to $5,000 to go towards meeting the costs of counselling. For state-provided counselling, we understand the minimum requirement will be just 20 hours. These arrangements are manifestly inadequate. We call on the government to give assurances that this issue will be addressed.

Survivors often consider that governments, particularly state governments, are responsible for their abuse, so they do not necessarily want to use state- or institution-run services. Victims of child sexual abuse in institutions need agency over their own care and support so that they're not retraumatised in the services they access. This needs to be taken into account when consideration is given to who delivers these critical services. Labor is also concerned that survivors who are granted redress late in the life of the scheme could very much be disadvantaged if they're not able to access services such as counselling for the same length of time as those survivors who are granted redress early in the life of the scheme. It's really important that this is taken into account in further reviews. It's critical, also, that these issues are addressed urgently.

Significantly, there are restrictions on survivors accessing the Redress Scheme who themselves have a criminal history or are currently in jail. Labor believes this is very unfair. The bill requires that those who have been sentenced to a term of imprisonment of five years or more must have special permission from the scheme operator to access the scheme. This rule is completely unnecessary and ignores the strong evidence that shows that people with a history of childhood abuse and trauma are more likely to be incarcerated themselves later in life. The first Senate inquiry into these issues was inundated with evidence from states, individuals and community organisations that this rule could be counterproductive and, indeed, increase recidivism. We very strongly believe that this policy, contained in this legislation, should be changed.

Next, it is imperative that those institutions responsible for the abuse of children continue to sign up to the scheme and pay the redress that people deserve. No institution should back out of its responsibility for the abuse of children that took place when it had the responsibility to care for and nurture those children. There can be no more excuses. The time has come for every relevant institution to become part of the scheme. Indeed, that includes my own home state of Western Australia. I'm hopeful that the government will fix the issues that need to be addressed, such as the child migrant issue and who is liable for that, in order for Western Australia to join the scheme.

I want to acknowledge that establishing this National Redress Scheme has indeed been a very complex task and that the bill is moving forward today with bipartisan support and support across the parliament. However, this bill is different to the one that a Labor government would have put forward, and I've highlighted our concerns today in relation to those issues that we believe are important. I note the risk of amending the bill, as it would result in the states needing to amend it. We are aware of the urgency with which this scheme is needed. Survivors have in some instances waited all their lives for justice, and they should not have to wait a minute longer. So, Labor is indeed supporting this bill. A Labor government would seek to work with the states towards addressing the areas of concern that I've outlined as well as those outlined by the Hon. Jenny Macklin in the other place.

I want to thank the royal commissioners and all the staff who've supported the survivors to tell their accounts over many years of hearings. This was no small task. I want to thank Julia Gillard for establishing the royal commission. This was an important decision and a step that our nation really needed to take. I want to thank Jenny Macklin and Nicola Roxon for their work to get this started. Most of all, I want to thank all those brave people who've shared their own stories of abuse at the royal commission. Their evidence has enabled Australia to begin to comprehend and recognise in some way the extent of the suffering caused.

Revealed in the pages of the royal commission's final report is a history of the betrayal and the violation of the bodies, hearts and wellbeing of thousands of our fellow Australians—Australians who were children at the time this abuse occurred. It seems that it should be unimaginable that our institutions or individuals could have participated in, perpetuated, tolerated, covered up and condoned the abuse and exploitation of our most vulnerable. However, as a nation we need to face up to every aspect of exactly what has happened, to provide meaningful redress, to say sorry and to mean it. It is critical that we take the human rights of children in Australia seriously and uphold them. I commend the bill to the Senate.