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Monday, 18 June 2018
Page: 3141

Senator GRIFF (South Australia) (17:52): I rise to speak on the National Redress Scheme for Institutional Child Sexual Abuse Bill 2018. The Centre Alliance shares the concerns of both Labor and the Greens in relation to the proposed National Redress Scheme and, likewise, we do not intend to stand in the way of the scheduled 1 July commencement date. We are disappointed that the government has not adopted all of the royal commission's recommendations in relation to the Redress Scheme. There are major discrepancies between the current bills and the recommendations of the royal commission. The current bill cuts the maximum payment by $50,000. It denies survivors a minimum payment. It indexes past payments and it fails to provide survivors with lifelong counselling. This does not suggest a genuine desire to adopt a survivor-focused scheme that properly addresses the trauma these people have suffered and continue to suffer.

I would like to briefly discuss two topics: namely, the limited nature of the scheme and the role that this chamber can play in shaping the National Redress Scheme going forward. The royal commission estimated that over 60,000 survivors will be eligible to apply for redress. The scale of this abuse is unthinkable—60,000 survivors. It beggars belief that these institutions fostered the culture that tolerated and accepted the sexual abuse of vulnerable children. But we know it happened. We believe the survivors, and we as a nation believe that they deserve the justice that has for so long been denied to them. That is why we are disappointed that the National Redress Scheme excludes several classes of people from ever receiving that justice. Those survivors who do not turn 18 during the life of the scheme, those in jail, those living overseas without Australian citizenship and those with a criminal conviction of five years or more either are excluded entirely or face uncertain hurdles before they can even apply for redress.

The royal commission's 2015 report on redress and civil litigation had as its primary recommendation that any process for redress must 'provide equal access and equal treatment for survivors if it is to be regarded by survivors as being capable of delivering justice'. Take the example of those with a criminal conviction of five years or more. Before they can apply to the scheme they must first satisfy the relevant Attorney-General that provision of redress would not bring the scheme into disrepute or adversely affect public confidence in or support of the scheme.

I have a number of issues with this policy position. First, it ignores the profound impact that childhood sexual abuse can have on a person's life and the well-documented causality between abuse and criminal behaviour. Second, it will disproportionately affect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, who are already overrepresented in the criminal justice system. Third, whether or not a survivor has a serious criminal conviction in no way changes the fact that they suffered sexual abuse as a child in an institution. Finally, it is difficult to imagine how an application for redress by such an individual could bring the scheme into disrepute in circumstances in which their information would surely remain private. In making these criticisms, I do not wish to take away from those who have laboured long and hard for the establishment of this scheme. It is not a perfect model, but it is an effective compromise. It will undoubtedly go some way to acknowledging the wrongdoing of our institutions and to compensating those individuals whose lives have been forever shaped by the unforgivable actions of those who were entrusted with their care.

I now turn to comment on the manner in which these bills have been presented to the Senate. As a consequence of the needs for the states to refer their powers to the Commonwealth and the corresponding legislation to be enacted by the states, any amendment to these bills, however minor or appropriate, would effectively derail the proposed 1 July commencement date. The government would be required to renegotiate the intergovernmental agreement; the states would need to introduce and pass new referral legislation; and non-government institutions would need to consider once more whether they would participate in the scheme. That could take years—years that we don't have. Each and every state has now enacted or confirmed their intention to enact legislation that is consistent with the current bills. All that stands between approximately 60,000 survivors of institutional child sexual abuse and their long-awaited redress is the swift passage of these bills through this chamber. It took decades for survivors' voices to be heard and for their stories to be believed. It would be cruel to now propose any amendment, no matter how well intentioned, to improve the scheme and thereby cause yet another delay in their journey to acknowledgement and recovery.

The need for state based referral legislation has hamstrung the Senate and reduced it to little more than a rubber stamp. Had it been given the chance, the scrutiny of the Senate would have made this a better scheme, without doubt. It has been hard to read through the submissions to the committee's inquiry into the bills knowing that the many legitimate concerns of survivor advocates, charities and civil rights groups could not be acted on. I know that we are united in this chamber in our resolve that we must not and will not allow the system to fail these people again. It may not be prudent to amend the bill currently before us, but that does not absolve us all from the responsibility to ensure that the National Redress Scheme is capable of delivering effective and survivor-focused justice.

We must carefully scrutinise delegated legislation, push to ensure that new and existing support services are appropriately resourced and constantly monitor and review the scheme. All the while, we must have at the forefront of our minds the needs and wishes of survivors. This was reflected in the comments of the Prime Minister in February this year when he said:

We owe it to the survivors not to waste this moment and we must continue to be guided by their wishes.

The royal commission undertook a mammoth task. It did so in a manner that has earned widespread praise from survivors and bureaucrats alike. Its approach, findings and recommendations should guide the administration of the National Redress Scheme and those who work in it.

I would also like to add my appreciation and gratitude to everyone who played a part in the royal commission, no matter how big or small. I say to those who told their stories, to those who listened and, very importantly, to those who cared: we would not be here today without your bravery, tenacity and compassion. On behalf of Centre Alliance, I thank you.