Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Joint Select Committee on Implementation of the National Redress Scheme
11/03/2021
Implementation of the National Redress Scheme

LAST, Ms Rachel, Advocacy and Redress Manager, In Good Faith Foundation

LEANEY, Ms Clare, Chief Executive Officer, In Good Faith Foundation

LINDENMAYER, Mr Phil, Head of Governance, In Good Faith Foundation

STROUD, Mr Joe, Chief Operating Officer, In Good Faith Foundation

[12:11]

CHAIR: I now invite you to make an opening statement.

Ms Leaney : I would like to express my appreciation for the opportunity to speak directly with you again. I would also like to leave the bulk of our time to allow for committee members to ask us questions. There are a few points that were raised in the November hearings that I would like to reiterate and also a couple of very important developments that have recently come to light.

You may recall that we spoke about the issue of what happens to survivors as the scheme winds down. I think it would be fair to say that 2021 has been a year of firsts with the amazing Grace Tame as Australian of the Year. This is something that many survivors thought impossible. We can be confident that responding to the scourge of child sexual abuse will stay front of mind for at least the next year but we can already see worrying signs of backsliding in some areas.

We are beginning to see non-disparagement clauses appearing in some deeds of release. Similar to historical confidentiality clauses, these new clauses seek to protect the reputation of the institution that sheltered abusers by silencing survivors who were giving voice to their experiences. These clauses are usually enshrined in a legally binding document, which in some cases seeks to extend that silencing to an individual's family, advocates and legal representatives. These clauses are toxic. They strip the survivor of that fundamental right of ownership to their story, to their pain and also to their triumph. Suppression of the voices of survivors removes the key prompt for other undisclosed survivors to come forward. They also allow the institutions to put the evils of the past quietly behind them, where they can be ignored. As was highlighted in the royal commission, this is the very approach that for decades allowed negligent ignorance for abuse to spread unchecked and decimate so many lives.

A failure to act on this could leave us needing another royal commission in 15 years. There have been some good wins recently, notably that Jehovah's Witnesses have announced their intention to sign up to the National Redress Scheme, and this is something that should be a source of appropriate pride to the many individuals who took up the cause across both governments and the Public Service. In November, I said we cannot become complacent. Never has this been more true.

We cannot assume that signing up to the scheme necessarily means that an institution is making the deep-seated cultural change that is vital to preventing a return to widespread abuse. Institutions have their own reasons for signing up. In many cases, it can be a genuine commitment to change. In others, it can be entirely self-serving, looking to protect themselves from cripplingly expensive litigation, loss of charitable status or damage to their reputations. We must retain the scrutiny that we have developed and remain vigilant to ensure that all children are protected. This vigilance cannot stop at some arbitrary point in the future. We need to embed transparent, mandatory reporting processes into the way all organisations operate and ensure that this is nationally consistent. Every opportunity missed to identify and stop an abuser puts another child at risk.

We need to work hard to remove the stigma of coming forward, a tool that abusers have often relied on to silence their victims. It is also incumbent upon the scheme and advocates such as IGFF to examine the terminology used to describe the trauma and ensure that we are not creating unnecessary harm and further stigmatisation. While we can appreciate that there is a need to ensure that appropriate rationale is applied so that justice can be delivered, I think all reasonable adults, including every member of this committee, would agree that any time a child is sexually abused by an adult charged with their care and protection, it is, by its definition, egregious.

We also need to ensure that, regardless of the path they choose for redress, survivors have access to mental health care as their first priority. This mental health care also needs to be a lifelong commitment to that care when and where it is needed, reflecting that the damage caused by abuse is all too often long-lasting and recurring throughout a person's lifetime. Accompanying this, survivors need ongoing casework support. Regardless of their redress path, survivors are faced with navigating highly complex, stressful and challenging processes. In many cases, the consequences of their abuse have reduced their capacity to deal with these challenges.

The redress outcomes can be uncertain and will often fall a long way short of what the survivor feels is just. Having someone trusted, knowledgeable and compassionate to assist can make all the difference. Again, I would like to thank you for giving IGFF the opportunity to speak and to ask if any of the committee members have questions.

ACTING CHAIR: Thank you so much for those opening comments and for agreeing to come back to our committee after giving us some evidence back in November.

Senator SIEWERT: Thank you very much for your evidence and your submission. I want to go where you started and then I want to ask about the issues that you flagged that you particularly want to also talk about today, which is the younger client demographic. I want to go to the issue that you just talked about—the non-disparaging clauses. I am quite shocked that we are still dealing with this sort of issue. I would have thought institutions would have learnt by now but apparently they haven't. How commonly are you now seeing this approach?

Ms Leaney : I have to say, this is an emerging trend we are starting to see. It is particularly being used against people who have been very vocal in the past around royal commission submissions and may also have spoken to the media. As I mentioned in my opening statement, this silencing, while not potentially a new experience, is demonstrative of the fact that cultural reform, cultural change and meaningful cultural reform within institutions is of the utmost importance to us. I would also like to hand over to my chief of operations, Joe Stroud, to elaborate.

Mr Stroud : If I can step back just to the younger demographic for a few moments, if I can cover that first, and then we can come back around to what was addressed. What we are seeing with the younger demographic is indicative of the scheme now having been in place for a number of years, since the royal commission. We're seeing that people are coming forward and they're coming forward at a younger age. When we say 'younger age', if the traditional age had been closer to 60s, 70s and 80s when people were first seeking their first round of justice and redress, as the attention has gathered, as more organisations have joined and as has society has got a more sophisticated understanding of what sexual abuse is, we've seen people now in their 20s, 30s and 40s coming through that have more contemporary cases of abuse. This tends to result in a few new equations that we might not have encountered prior to this. One is that, clearly, if a person makes their first formal disclosure of abuse in their 30s or their 40s, it is far more likely that they are going to require a much greater term of counselling and ongoing support.

We know that, as it currently stands, the scheme has, by state, different levels of support and counselling services. It could be a monetary sum, it could be a number of sessions, but we know there's an inconsistency there. So the first thing that we identify is that people will be living with this trauma for much longer, just given their relative age. That also means that there's a greater opportunity for a person to be living with more and more comorbidities for a lot longer. That means that the care and support that they require is evolving and needs to be tailored to their circumstance as they age, as they progress through their journey to justice, but also as that trauma compounds.

Another thing that is really important to understand, when we're talking about younger demographics using the scheme and coming through the process, is that if the survivor is younger, it stands to reason more often than not that the abuser is younger and they are more likely to still be in the community and they're more likely to still be alive. This represents another issue that goes towards things like mandatory reporting and how the scheme is sharing information based on applications from a younger person. Because if a person in their 30s was to put in a claim, as I said earlier, it stands to reason that there's a greater chance that offender will still be active in their community.

Senator SIEWERT: I think this is a really important issue. I just want to finish off with the non-disparagement clauses and then come to that, if that's okay, because this is a very big issue that you just raised in terms of younger demographic. Could I ask you to just give us a bit more information about this emerging trend of the non-disparagement clauses. Is that possible? I then want to go on to the more contemporary offenders and how we deal with it.

Mr Stroud : That's absolutely fine. I might ask Clare to go back to the issue of non-disparagement and then we can pick up from there.

Ms Leaney : I agree. This is an emerging issue that is highly concerning for us as a support service. It is also incredibly concerning that it would appear these clauses may be replacing those more traditional confidentiality clauses within deeds of release. While obviously we work with a number of very experienced legal firms and practitioners to contest these sorts of clauses, I think the attempt to silence not only an individual but also potentially an individual's family, their advocates and legal representatives, is of enormous concern because, essentially, one of the most fundamental aspects of our work is empowerment—giving survivors, giving their family members, voices so that they can tell their stories so that they can be heard, so that they can be listened to, and so that we can ensure that this type of wide-scale abuse simply does not happen in future. It is also potentially enormously harmful towards other survivors coming forward and making their own first points of disclosure. We have a number of examples. For example, if I am a survivor and I don't know of anyone in my community who has a similar experience then I'm likely to stay alone and isolated for a very long time. But if I have a leader from within my community, whether that be potentially a whistleblower or another survivor who is outspoken, who is able give that voice and who has found their strength and empowerment then that is inherently more likely to result in other people feeling comfortable to come forward and make that first point of disclosure.

Senator SIEWERT: Exactly. What's the department saying about this? Have you raised this with them?

Ms Leaney : As I said, this is a very, very new and emerging issue. I believe we may have an example from within the Scouts, where a survivor was recently subjected to one of these nondisclosure clauses but that was through a civil litigation matter. It's definitely an area that requires further work and, as I said, we are working with highly experienced law firms and legal practitioners to contest these clauses, but it is definitely a very worrying trend.

Senator SIEWERT: I agree. In terms of specifically redress, have you got examples? I'm not discounting the fact that this is coming up through the civil litigation process. I share your concerns. Where we're looking at the moment is in redress and the issue around whether it's also coming up in direct personal responses? Is it coming up through the redress process as well, that you're aware of?

Ms Leaney : While I am not at the moment aware of any specific examples from within the Redress Scheme, I think the fact that we are seeing this emerge in civil litigation is a cautionary note and certainly something we should work to prevent from happening rather than allowing seepage from civil litigation into the Redress Scheme, if I can.

Senator SIEWERT: Yes, I strongly take your point and I think we need to follow it up. Can I now go back to the issue we discussed about younger demographics and the myriad issues that come up? I ask basically the same question I just asked about the non-disparagement clauses: what response have you had from the department and the government in raising these issues? Have you raised them and what response are you getting from government? I also agree with you that this requires the sorts of responses that you were just articulating and more.

Ms Leaney : I might ask my chief of operations, Joe Stroud, to respond.

Mr Stroud : We have actually been speaking with the department and the government closely on this, as well as other key stakeholders because it is something that was not necessarily unforeseeable, but I don't know that it factored into the thinking how quickly the demographics would shift. So we are working hard to do it. We've undertaken commitments at a department level to strategise and find ways to not only best support survivors that are going through at that age and with the myriad of problems that it presents, but to also to ensure that they're getting the best possible support that they can while that's happening. That takes place in many different forms. It can be tailoring the way that we engage their communities and also tailoring our caseworkers as a support network and advocacy network to ensure that it's not a cookie-cutter style. What we find in this model specifically is that you really need to tailor each case to each particular person, each particular survivor. I might actually ask Rachel to supplement what I've said with a bit more detail.

Ms Last : Last year we highlighted that there were a lack of resources within the scheme, available on the scheme's website and also from the phone line staff themselves to an applicant where a child safety report was being made and we haven't seen a change in that yet. We do appreciate that it is only March but we were flagging it late last year as being an area of resource vacuum. For our applicants who go through the stress and trauma of a child safety report being made, where the offender is going to be contacted and possibly family and community members from where the abuse took place are also going to be contacted by investigators, that applicant's trauma is tripled because they're worrying not just about themselves and their history; they're also worrying about their family networks and their community.

We saw with the scheme that they weren't clear about which authorities the report was going to. We do understand in each state of Australia we've got child protection authorities and we've got state police. But if the scheme could link the survivor themselves or the survivors support advocates from a service such as ours with those authorities then the whole process would be a lot smoother. Also, the applicant would be resourced adequately, comprehensively, and they would understand the meaning as to which that report is being made. That is about protecting further children, rather than just themselves historically.

Senator SIEWERT: We are dealing with redress here but in the royal commission, there was a large number of recommendations made. Obviously this issue needs to be also addressed through some of those other recommendations. Have you been looking at the implementation of those recommendations and how they are also meeting the needs of the group of survivors?

Ms Leaney : That is a very good question. While certainly we are very much aware of the findings of the royal commission and the excellent recommendations made, one of the key aspects for us as a service is that this is a much younger demographic and so many of the issues that they are raising are potentially things that have not necessarily been fully considered.

Senator SIEWERT: Sorry, your voice was distorted my phone. Could you say that again?

Ms Leaney : Many of the recommendations made by the royal commission perhaps are not fully reflective of the experiences of this younger cohort of clients, particularly where they come from culturally and linguistically diverse communities or those less traditional sorts of institutions. But I would also like to ask my executive manager of survivor services, Rachel, to elaborate further.

Ms Last : I actually can't really speak to how the commission's recommendations are being enacted in terms of child safety within the diversity of institutions that our clients are reporting their abuse from. It's that diversity which presents a challenge, because the royal commission highlighted very publicly prominent institutions. But through our work since that time in the last six years, we are now dealing with people that have left cult group situations. We're also dealing with people who are reporting from meditation, yoga, recreational sports, youth club contexts, which are not necessarily deemed institutions and are not opting into the scheme as well. So I would love to answer your question but I'm very client-survivor focused with what they're reporting as to the inadequacies of their experience when they want institutional accountability.

Senator SIEWERT: That's sort of where I'm going to. In the support services that are available, it sounds to me like you're not only identifying a gap but also the need for lifelong support is what I interpret what you what you were saying in terms of longer support, because people are going to be living longer with trauma and the fact that those services aren't necessarily there. Is that, again, a correct understanding of the points that you're making?

Ms Leaney : That is entirely correct. There is a significant gap here. We are working with these vulnerable populations to work through a process with them. Unfortunately, as there is this gap, we are very often trying to not only meet their need for mental health care and support but also finding a way through existing systems, which really are more focused on those traditional institutions.

Senator SIEWERT: Yes. This isn't a criticism but a lot of the recommendations were focused more on children and the known institutions, not on the group of people that you're talking about.

Ms Leaney : That is correct.

Senator SIEWERT: What response have you been getting from the department? I will just focus on the actual Redress Scheme because, as you've just said, that's where you're focused. There are probably other questions we need to be asking in terms of implementation of other recommendations and the gaps that you're talking about in service support. How has the department been responding to your concerns about the more contemporary nature of these offences that you've been raising?

Ms Leaney : We have been in frequent and also very open communication with the departments. But I would also like to hand over to my head of government, Phil Lindenmayer.

Mr Lindenmayer : We have a good open relationship with the Department of Social Services. We have a pretty open door for them to raise issues of concern. Obviously, there are limitations to what they can actually do. But working collaboratively, we can achieve significantly more than trying to go it alone from either side. One of the limitations, of course, is that whatever we do has significant costs, and the money to do this has to be got from somewhere. Particularly for us, an issue relates to the unpredictability of that funding. I imagine that this is a circumstance that would be pretty well universal across the support services.

To be fair, I think COVID would have made a significant impact on this over the last year. The effect of that is, and I think it was touched on, the need for a long-term, stable relationships between caseworkers and the survivors that they're supporting. It's difficult to do that where we only have a chunk of money that's going to give us a few months or something of that sort. That trust relationship that is so important between the caseworker and the survivor needs to be built up. It's very hard if we have turnover, and unpredictability can compound the stresses both on the survivors and on the caseworkers themselves. It also takes quite a bit of time and effort for us to bring our caseworkers up to speed, even where we have been able to get caseworkers with valuable experience in other types of related activities. Again, I'd expect most agencies in our sphere would have the same thing. We really make sure to bring our caseworkers to a very high level of expertise and knowledge to support the survivors, purely and simply because the nature of what they do is so demanding and the stakes are so high, I suppose.

What we're not seeing is a lack of empathy from DSS. They understand and look to work with us to come up with solutions. But certainly something that's going to give us a greater degree of predictability and a long-term focus will help very much in us keeping that bond between our caseworkers and the survivors through what is likely to be a long and difficult journey, and keeping the consistency of that is really important for us.

Senator SIEWERT: Thank you very much.

ACTING CHAIR: Senator Siewert, you have covered off some excellent questions, so I am grateful for that. Can I just follow up on a statement in your opening comments? I believe it was in reference to the assessment matrix used and this issue of a classification of egregious harm. Do you want to just talk us through a little more around your concern there with regards to the current assessment matrix that is being used. Do you want to talk us through a little more around your concerns there with regard to the current assessment matrix that is being used?

Ms Leaney : I think this really goes back to one of the points we made in our original submission, and that is the need for consistency but also the need for transparency. It is entirely reasonable that community standards would dictate that all instances of child sexual abuse are inherently egregious, and I'm certainly very well aware that survivors feel that every instance of their abuse is extreme. I don't think it would be fair or reasonable for anyone to question that assertion by survivors. But I'm also acutely aware that many survivors come to us and they want that justice. They want to feel like they've been heard, like they've been responded to appropriately. And they really want a process that is going to meet their requirements. Unfortunately, sometimes the assessment matrix is so complex—and rightly so—and so very prescriptive, that it is unclear how determinations might be made. But it is also potentially very confusing for survivors to hear that their experience of abuse is considered lesser than someone else's.

I think it also goes a lot to the point of the discretionary powers and discretionary decisions that IDMs make. We have observed some not insignificant discrepancies between the amounts that would be awarded. We've also noticed that there seems to be a different emphasis placed across what is assessed as an impact and how much value that impact should have.

One of the crucial roles that we play is providing that case work support to survivors to help them understand that it may not be possible for the scheme to meet all of their expectations. Because of the nature of the scheme—again, rightly so—unfortunately we have a monetary value assigned to different levels of abuse. I think what is inherently distressing for survivors, in particular, is that the impacts seem to be devalued.

Ms CLAYDON: I think a number of witnesses previously have also raised the issue that the matrix is actually contrary; it is actually not in line with recommendations from the royal commission on that matter either. The royal commission gave emphasis to impact of abuse, not just type or classification of abuse. Would you agree that it should be brought more in line with the intention of the royal commission recommendation?

Ms Leaney : Absolutely. I completely agree and support that. I think it is fundamentally important for survivors that the lifelong impacts that they suffer are recognised and met with adequate redress. I also think this extends over into the inconsistencies we see in the awarding of counselling and psychological care. I'm wondering if I might call on my head of governance, Phil Lindenmayer, to potentially elaborate a little further here.

Mr Lindenmayer : As was touched on before, as the redress journey goes forward, whether that be through the NRS or through some civil litigation arrangement, it's clearly vital that the survivor has access to counselling support services. As you'd know, some very large civil litigation outcomes have come through recently. These tend to attract survivors to go through these civil litigation pathways. But when it happens without access to appropriate support and counselling services, you can end up with a fantastic financial outcome at the end but a catastrophic life outcome for the survivor. We touched on, before, the importance of there being support not only for the life of the redress journey itself but also through the life of the survivor in dealing with the many impacts.

Ms CLAYDON: Which, again, was a recommendation of the royal commission. Yet we have a situation where states and territories vary in what kind of access people are given to counselling and psychological care services. Many survivors tell us that they don't get to access those services until they have signed off on acceptance of the offer that has been made through the Redress Scheme, not getting support through the application process, only being eligible to access it at the end. It's been put to this committee that people have felt unsupported sometimes in that application process. Is that your experience too?

Mr Lindenmayer : From my understanding, that's not the practice that IGFF has. It may be of others. We acknowledge that the application process itself is extremely stressful for survivors and we seek to ensure that, from the first time they come to us with a view that they might be in a position to even start contemplating it, that's when the support starts. But we can't speak for our peers, in this space.

Ms CLAYDON: I think, for them, it's a question of at what point they get funded to provide those services. I know we are already over time, and I am deeply regretful for that. This happened last time as well. But I do want to thank you, sincerely, for putting on record the need for the committee to begin a focus on the experiences of younger survivors and the adequacy or otherwise of the National Redress Scheme in supporting and finding suitable remedies and redress for younger survivors. I think the point that they might sometimes be disclosing for the first time in some National Redress Scheme is a very important issue. In many cases, these alleged perpetrators still hold a position of institutional power or responsibility. They are still alive, actively involved, often, in community places and it's something we need to be very alive to.

I will end with this incredibly important question: what has been the experience of your clients in this younger cohort who might be disclosing for the first time to the National Redress Scheme?

Ms Leaney : I might ask my executive manager of survivor services to elaborate on some of the trends that we are starting to observe, particularly as they relate to a younger cohort.

Ms Last : In terms of the younger demographic, they actually are having an experience of learning the language of survivorship. In terms of Australia, they've got role models that they can look to in the media. We have our Australian of the Year now, who will also be a significant role model of this demographic. But what we hear from them is that they haven't necessarily had a language to describe their experiences, or understood the power dynamics of what they endured. Services such as the Centres Against Sexual Assault in Victoria specialise in that very therapeutic care and also the empowerment process. That makes a difference to them. That's free counselling. Those services sometimes limit the number of sessions people can have—say 12 sessions every six months. For any applicant who doesn't have access to therapeutic care and is learning about the fact that they may have been living with disability in terms of trauma impact, as much as possible we try to connect them to local services for free or at a low cost. So we try to reduce their isolation. It's very, very important that they understand that they are part of something big. They are part of the survivor community of Australia, who are all on a journey together at this time.

Ms CLAYDON: Are your clients aware that the content of their application might actually trigger a reporting process? I'm interested in the experience of mandatory reporting requirements with the National Redress Scheme and how that has been working.

Ms Last : It really depends on whether the applicant to the scheme is being contacted by multiple people from the phone help centre to speak to them about the child safety processes being initiated by the content of their application. If multiple people are contacting them, the applicant becomes confused. They don't feel like they're getting clarity of information. They're not sure about extra resources such as whether they should be identified or not identified in the child safety report by the scheme. What we feel is that the case management model that the scheme was using last year and the year before is what should be applied if a mandatory reporting process has been triggered. There needs to be one point of contact, and that person can become an expert in terms of which authorities the report is going to, and they can provide clarity of information to the applicant.

Ms CLAYDON: The department has been asked whether they are still continuing with the case management model, and they have assured us they are. But you're saying that has not been your clients' experience in the last 12 months or so.

Ms Last : We would just say that it's not the default model. In terms of our advocacy for an applicant, that's something we request very strongly.

Ms CLAYDON: I don't want to put you in an awkward situation, but I'm trying to tease out why I've got conflicting evidence. I'm interested in the survivor experience primarily, and that's what you have a window into. The committee as a whole is interested to know—you've raised some concerns in your submission around mandatory reporting. Without wanting you to be in the position of disclosing any confidential matters, it's important that the committee understands what your clients' experience has been and how that process needs to change.

Mr Stroud : There should be a standard approach. We can only speak to what we have experienced and what we see in our day-to-day process, but no two interactions with the scheme seem to be consistent. Unfortunately, I would draw an analogy with Centrelink, the NDIS or other similar departments: for a survivor or a person making that first referral, their experience can be totally determined by their first interaction and the level of training and the level of capacity. So, while we can't speak to the systemic issue of contradictory evidence, what we can say is that, in our experience, there is certainly no one model that appears to be enacted when a client is coming forward for mandatory reporting.

Ms CLAYDON: From your client's point of view, there is not a level of confidence that you would have a consistent approach there?

Mr Stroud : Correct. I would like to make one more comment if I may. We were talking about the younger demographic. It is important to note that, with a national scheme like this, a survivor's outcome from the scheme should never be dependent on where they live. Whether it be their city, their state or their region, the counselling needs to be consistent because this is a national scheme. I understand the complexities of states administering the scheme within their own jurisdictions, but consistency is key; we need to make sure no one survivor is at a disadvantage simply due to their geography.

Ms CLAYDON: A point the royal commission made as well. Thank you very much for that. On behalf of the committee, I thank you for your attendance here today and for taking a number of our follow-up questions. You will be sent a copy of the transcript of your evidence and have the opportunity to request corrections if there are any errors. Thank you for the very important contribution you have made to our inquiry this morning.

Ms Leaney : Thank you to everyone who is doing this very important work and sitting on this committee.

Proceedings suspended from 13:02 to 13:19