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Wednesday, 1 September 2021
Page: 27

Ms THWAITES (Jagajaga) (11:35): [by video link] Child sex abuse survivors deserve better from the Morrison government. This bill goes some way to improving the National Redress Scheme, but it is in no way enough. It is almost a decade since the announcement of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. Survivors are getting older, many are still waiting for redress and some are tragically dying and missing out altogether.

The royal commission estimated 60,000 survivors would be eligible for redress. As at 26 March this year the scheme had received just over 10,000 applications and finalised 5,266, including 5,218 payments. It's processing 3,622 applications, and 755 applications are on hold. These statistics show that there is a massive gap between those estimated to be eligible and those who have so far received a payment. The slow rates of both payments and applications indicate that the scheme is difficult to navigate, inadequate in its current form and hard for survivors to find. Survivors have spoken of the difficulty of preparing an application, and in a Senate estimates hearing last year we heard that the average processing time for claims is between 12 and 13 months. These difficulties are of course even harder for First Nations people, for people from CALD backgrounds and for people with disability.

While it's positive that this bill is coming forward and making some improvements to the scheme, and so this bill shouldn't be held up, we can't pretend that it will make the changes that the National Redress Scheme needs. The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse uncovered some of the worst abuses and the worst failings of government and institutions in our nation's history. For too long we looked the other way. We allowed the cover-ups. For too long we allowed power imbalances to mean that children were abused and then silenced. The consequences for those children, some of whom did not get to grow into being adults, have been horrific. Consequences for their families and for their communities have been horrific. So, in the wake of the landmark royal commission, it would seem urgent that we do all we can to make what reparations we can. Of course we can never fully undo the hurt and the damage that came from this massive abuse of trust. But we can make it so much easier for victims to get the redress that they deserve. That means that the Morrison government should stop dragging its feet and urgently and comprehensively address the major challenges that still exist within the National Redress Scheme.

The scheme that was ultimately rolled out by the government did not fully realise the recommendations of the royal commission. Labor proposed amendments to the scheme in February to align with the royal commission's recommendations, but the government voted them down. Survivors have been clear from the outset. Since the royal commission they have highlighted the following: they are missing out on redress; there's an ongoing lack of survivor trauma focus and ongoing counselling and support; and survivors are seeing their payments chipped away by a low cap, indexation of prior payments as well as an arbitrary assessment framework. The government's amendments to the scheme fall short of what survivors have asked for and what Labor has proposed. The whole point of the royal commission was to listen to survivors, and yet the Morrison government is still not hearing them.

The National Redress Scheme for Institutional Child Sexual Abuse Amendment Bill 2021 seeks to establish an advance payment scheme for older, ill or vulnerable applicants. The advance payment scheme will provide $10,000 to older, terminally ill or vulnerable people. The advance payment will be deducted from a person's final redress payment. Labor have been calling for an advance payment scheme for some time now, and we do support the change. People have waited too long for the support that they should have. This bill will also seek to reduce the time frame in which prior payments are indexed before being deducted from a redress payment. Indexation will now cease when an application for redress is made, not at the time a decision on a redress application is finalised. Again, this change is not good enough. There has been an ongoing criticism from survivors, and Labor is calling for the indexation of prior payments to cease completely—as well as ensuring that unrelated payments are not deducted. There's no need for this government to be so mean spirited about this.

This bill will also introduce changes to allow the Department of Social Services to extend the time a person has to accept an offer of redress beyond the current six-month limit. This is significant, as a person can only apply for redress once, and, if an offer is not accepted within the allowed time, it's taken as having been refused. The bill will remove the requirement for applications to include a statutory declaration, as this can be a traumatic experience for survivors. The bill will also allow redress payments to be made in instalments if requested by the applicant. As I said, these are welcome changes, but there is still too much that is unaddressed and that has been unaddressed for far too long.

We know that survivors have asked for so much more and that the second-anniversary review of the scheme recommended more. So we have both the voices of survivors and a comprehensive review saying that what the government is putting forward today is not enough. Further changes must be made, and they must include things such as a face-to-face application process for First Nations, CALD and disability communities; lifelong access to counselling for all survivors; improving the quality, scope and geographic spread of support services, including financial counselling; developing a survivor improvement charter to set expectations around privacy service standards; and reviewing the limit of one application so that changes in circumstances and additional information can be taken into account. This is naming just a few of the things that that review found and that survivors have asked for.

It is too important for us to wait to get this right. As I said earlier, unfortunately some survivors are dying before they get to be part of the redress scheme—before the acknowledgement of the hurt and the neglect that they suffered. I urge the government to do better, urgently, to support survivors.

In talking today, I want to pay tribute to all of the survivors, to their families and to their communities. You should never have experienced what happened to you. I acknowledge all of those who told their stories to the royal commission, and I acknowledge all of those who were not able to. I thank the tireless and fearless advocates, people such as Leonie Sheedy of CLAN, who have worked so hard to push successive governments to do so much better. Those are the people that we here in this place must listen to. Those are the people that the Morrison government must listen to. We all owe these survivors a debt. They were failed by institutions. They were failed by this place. It is on all of us to make sure that the redress, the reparations that they get now, live up to their expectations and live up to what's been recommended in the review of this scheme.

I also want to acknowledge in this speech the work of my colleague the member for Newcastle, who, in her community and in this parliament, has been critical to ensuring survivors are heard and has pushed for them to get the redress scheme that they deserve. It's a pleasure to be a Labor member with her and to know that there are such fierce advocates on the Labor side for victims of child sexual abuse.

It seems like I give speeches in this place, time after time, about missed opportunities by the Morrison government—about things that come half done, too late, without enough support for people who desperately need it. This is another one of those occasions. The Morrison government have missed the opportunity to address major structural issues in the National Redress Scheme. They should implement all of the recommendations of the second-year review of the National Redress Scheme and, most importantly, lift the maximum redress payment to $200,000. Survivors have been through so much. They need to be able to count on this redress scheme. We must get it right. We must not add to the trauma. We must help the healing.