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Thursday, 18 November 2004
Page: 66

Senator ALLISON (2:21 PM) —My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Health and Ageing. Is the minister aware that child victims of sexual and physical abuse who have been given out-of-court compensation by churches responsible for that abuse are now being asked to pay some of that money to the government? Can the minister explain why these people are being asked to pay for the health services that helped them deal with that abuse, provided under Medicare many years before? Minister, as we approach the 15th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, don't you think a little generosity is appropriate for the people whose plight your government and others have ignored for decades?

Senator PATTERSON (Minister for Family and Community Services and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Women Issues) —I thank Senator Allison for the question. The question she has asked is about compensation recoveries from abuse victims. I do have some information here that the Minister for Health and Ageing provided me with, and I will provide that to the Senate. Several articles have appeared in national newspapers over the weekend and on 16 November outlining the perceived situation faced by abuse victims. The HIC is currently examining this matter and is proposing to hold discussions with representatives of the Tasmanian Anglican Church. The health and ageing portfolio have not had any discussions with the parties involved in this action. All discussions to date have been with representatives of the HIC. There is no reason to believe that current laws should be changed. Claimants for compensation really should not be allowed to double-dip, and this applies in other areas as well as within this one. In situations where their compensation and the settlement have allowed for medical expenses there is provision in existing legislation for an exemption for criminal injuries compensation. Legal advice is that this provision is only available where a person has been injured through the commission of a crime and where a government or government agency is making a payment to the victim—for example, the state and territory crimes compensation acts.

Senator ALLISON —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Minister, isn't it the case that the victims were unaware that the government would be demanding its cut when the compensation sum was in fact agreed with the churches? Does the minister agree that these cases are special, including the fact that at the time of the abuse the children were minors and unable to prevent that abuse, that governments at the time failed in their duty to protect children from this abuse—and, in some cases, played a role by sending those children to institutions in which the abuse occurred—and that forcing victims to go back to retrieve records contributes to further victimisation? Minister, isn't compassion for these people much more important than recovering what is, to the government, a very small amount of revenue?

Senator PATTERSON (Minister for Family and Community Services and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Women Issues) —I think I have given the answer to Senator Allison. Of course there are always difficult situations when you are involved in compensation cases, whether it is somebody who has had an accident or in the tragic circumstances of child abuse. But the advice that I have here is for a situation where people have been compensated for medical expenses and that it would be being paid for twice. If there is any further information, I will provide the honourable senator with it.