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Monday, 18 June 2018
Page: 3148

Senator LEYONHJELM (New South Wales) (18:25): I rise to speak on the National Redress Scheme for Institutional Child Sexual Abuse Bill 2018. I want to start by acknowledging that none of us can be anything other than disgusted by the horrific crimes that were revealed by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. The failures of both government and non-government institutions to protect the most vulnerable people in our country were disgraceful. Child abuse, whether physical, psychological or sexual, is a crime. Those guilty of these crimes should be subject to the full weight of the criminal law, and the institutions in which these abuses were allowed to occur should be liable as well. I have no qualms with the desire of those who've been sexually assaulted to seek redress. I do, however, oppose this scheme. I don't think the government has got it right.

The National Redress Scheme is designed to operate over a 10-year period, offering to those seeking financial redress a capped $150,000, which will be paid from a central government fund contributed to by government and participating institutions. The scheme removes the right of appeal from participating institutions in an attempt to make it more claimant focused. There are several reasons why I cannot support this bill. The first is that I don't think this scheme serves any kind of redress at all. Those who have been abused deserve to have that abuse acknowledged by both the individual who has committed a crime against them and the institution that failed to protect them. This scheme removes this interaction and instead provides an anonymous, government-run, taxpayer funded cash pot to effectively pay them off. How does this serve to heal psychological wounds?

The second is a related issue. The bill creates a perverse situation, particularly for those abused in government institutions, where the wronged will be paying for their own compensation through their taxes, a double blow if ever I saw one.

Third, removing the right of appeal in these cases is a breach of justice. The explanatory memorandum explains this measure as ensuring that the scheme is 'survivor focused and trauma informed by maintaining the principles that the scheme be a low-threshold and non-legalistic process for survivors who have already suffered so much'. Understandable as it may be to seek to reassure those who have been abused, it is still the responsibility of this parliament to ensure that the principles of justice that have served us since Magna Carta are applied to both individuals and institutions. These principles serve healing and restoration. The accuser must make the case against the accused, and the accused has every right to defend themselves, including seeking judicial review. This bill removes that right.

Lastly, news reports tell us that non-government institutions are already signalling their support for joining the National Redress Scheme. Though this may indeed be a signal that they are prepared to own the past failings of their institutions, it is perhaps also an indication that this represents better business. A cap of $150,000 for an individual is well below some of the known payouts that claimants have received to date. The scheme heavily emphasises money as compensation, yet almost none of those who will be paying the money are guilty of the abuse and there is the perennial question in law as to whether money is the appropriate compensation for abuse. Does receiving money lessen the physical harm, the psychological harm, the loss of self-respect, the feeling of helplessness, the humiliation, the complete degradation? I don't believe so. Indeed, I think it has the potential to make it worse, because there will be an assumption that, having been paid money, victims should no longer suffer. I believe the victims would much prefer that those responsible, both the perpetrators and those who allowed it to happen, apart from the court processes, face the victims and admit what they did was wrong, admit they are miserable failures of human beings and commit their lives to ensuring nobody ever has to suffer like that again.

Sitting suspended from 18:30 to 19:30