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Monday, 18 June 2018
Page: 3154

Senator SINGH (Tasmania) (19:50): I rise to speak on National Redress Scheme for Institutional Child Sexual Abuse Bill 2018. In doing so, at the outset I'd like to thank other senators for their contributions so far—particularly just now sitting here and listening to Senator Lines's contribution, but also the contributions of Labor senators and other senators who were part of the Community Affairs Legislation Committee's inquiry into this particular piece of legislation. It was in 2014 that the then Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, set up the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, and it obviously has been a long journey since that time. When she announced the establishment of the royal commission she remarked:

There have been too many revelations of adults who have averted their eyes from this evil. I believe in these circumstances that it's appropriate for there to be a national response through a Royal Commission.

So, here we are at this point in this place, some five years later, debating this particular recommendation for there to be a Redress Scheme as part of the national response coming from the royal commission.

I want to particularly acknowledge and thank Leonie Sheedy and everyone at Care Leavers Australasia Network, CLAN, and all of the contributors who have been part of this very difficult but important process to ensure that justice is delivered finally in some shape or form. I'll get to that shape or form shortly, but first I want to remark on how far we have come just in this short five-year time period. Over the course of time during the royal commission, some 57 public hearings were held over 444 days; there was evidence from 1,300 witnesses; commissioners held almost 8,000 private sessions to listen to personal accounts of survivors; and there were some 2,500 referrals to authorities, including the police. The royal commission estimates that around 20,000 survivors were sexually abused in state and territory government institutions. Of course, that's not even including those who weren't sexually abused but were still abused. I think it is important to recognise those people as well. Out of that, they found that there were more than 4,000 institutions where sexual abuse took place and that thousands—thousands—of vulnerable children were subjected to truly, truly horrific sexual abuse in institutions right across Australia. In fact, I don't think there is any state or church in Australia that was untouched by this awful, awful abuse served on children.

We know now, very clearly, some of those stories. We know the impact of this institutional abuse has destroyed lives. Some of those lives have now been lost. We also know that it has left a lasting scar on victims who were just children. Some had horrific childhood trauma that led them down a terrible path of their own abuse and criminal dysfunction. All are people—all of them—who were let down by the institutions that should have been protecting them, institutions that should have stood for something in terms of the values that those institutions represented. For the trust that those young children put into those elders that looked after them in those institutions to have been abused in that way—what happened to them would be just so abhorrent for them to think of now that they have come into adult life, and I pay my respects to them, as I would like to do for those that are no longer with us. They are victims that we have too long forgotten and to whose struggle we turned a blind eye. While no amount of money can make up for their pain, suffering and abuse, they very much deserve redress for the terrible crimes they were subjected to as children.

The royal commission's recommendations outlined the formation of a National Redress Scheme. This is a serious commitment, one that was not made lightly. There is no question that recommendations of the commission, including this one, should be implemented faithfully and as soon as possible. That is why I'm pleased that we are debating this in the Senate. We know that these survivors have waited far too long, so any more delay or inaction in the delivery of this Redress Scheme is simply unwarranted. That is why Labor stands ready for this legislation to pass, but that is not to say that this legislation is in the perfect form we would have liked. As we start from this point, though, it is up to us as lawmakers to ensure that, after the passing of this particular piece of legislation, we continue to meet our responsibility to those members of the community and do not let them down.

Along with my other Labor colleagues I, as a member of the Community Affairs Legislation Committee, attended hearings that addressed this particular piece of legislation. We heard again from survivors, legal experts, community support groups and government departments. We overwhelmingly heard that the need for redress was real and that redress must cover all victims. We know that doesn't happen in this legislation. We are dealing only with the victims of child sexual abuse in this legislation, so I acknowledge the fact that so many others were abused but may not have been sexually abused, and I hope that is considered for future deliberation.

I have some disappointment in the way that this legislation falls short of those key recommendations of the royal commission across a number of areas, some of which I would like to address now. In addressing them we stand here in this place and acknowledge that we have unfinished business to do. More needs to be done after the passing of this legislation. We need to ensure those recommendations of the royal commission that community groups and survivors have outlined are addressed.

Firstly, the royal commission outlined a cap on payments of $200,000, yet the government has chosen to lower that by 25 per cent. I don't understand why. Why not just implement the recommendation? Why have this debate? Skimping and saving here and there on something this fundamental, which was reached after such an awful and long process, by cutting it down to $150,000 makes no sense. We heard through the inquiry that the government made this decision in the face of the opinions of legal experts; in fact the government's own Independent Advisory Council on redress was not even allowed to provide advice on this cap. We should continue to address that issue. Accepting an offer will mean signing away any rights a survivor may have to pursue their claim for compensation through litigation. I think this is also why it's important that the amount of redress available under the scheme is adequate; it's so that survivors also have enough time to consider and to make a decision that they are comfortable with and not to be rushed into some time frame that cuts off the options of what the right thing for them to do is in their own circumstances.

Of course, we also know that this bill limits the eligibility for the Redress Scheme to only people who are living in Australia or who are Australian citizens. We know very well that the horrific abuse also occurred in institutions that cared for child migrants and that the abuse of children has also occurred in immigration detention. So, again, this limiting to particular groups of people is incredibly short-sighted. We are also very concerned that these people simply won't be able to access redress if they return to their country of birth. So, we do call on the government to confirm that that provision will be made for these groups of survivors to access the Redress Scheme.

I'm also concerned—and Senator Watt, Senator Lines and others have pointed this out—about the issue that the counselling provided to survivors through the Redress Scheme will not be adequate. There is simply no understanding as to why the government has done this. The royal commission recommended that recipients of redress be able to access counselling for the rest of their life. This is not some kind of magic bullet such that all of a sudden some provision of compensation is provided and their suffering goes away, their pain goes away. Part of the healing process for them is to ensure that they've got the support they need. Limiting counselling is incredibly short-sighted and, again, shows a lack of understanding by the government.

The bill only provides access to state-provided services for the length of the scheme or a payment of up to $5,000 to be put towards counselling. That is woefully inadequate. That is not what the royal commission recommended. So, we do call on the government to give assurances that this will be addressed. In fact, when I think about counselling I think about one of the witnesses before the committee inquiry that we had into the Redress Scheme bill. He was someone who appeared in a private capacity, whose name was Mr Andrew Collins—that is how he named himself. He talked about his experience, and it was incredibly heartbreaking to hear it and also to hear about the fact that he had to talk about it. He made that so clear when he said:

It's been reported in the media that politicians have said that survivors are happy that they were able to tell their stories to the royal commission. That's rubbish. The last thing we wanted to do was to publicly stand up and tell the world what happened to us … the repercussions have been immense in some cases, with family and friends turning away from us. We are now forever known as 'those people who were raped as children', and our families have had to endure the great toll it has taken on our mental and physical health. We didn't want to tell our stories, but we did it because we wanted justice.

I think that's a very powerful statement by Mr Collins that draws very much on the importance—now that they've had to go through this process that they didn't want to have to go through and the trauma that's caused for them and for their family members—of them at least being entitled to an adequate amount of counselling, when and where they need it, for the rest of their lives. If the government would just wake up and listen, go back through some of the evidence from this royal commission and through our committee inquiry process and understand the pain and suffering it has caused some of these survivors, then surely they would find it necessary, beyond doubt, to provide adequate counselling for the rest of the time that these survivors require it.

I also want to draw attention to the fact that survivors who are granted redress late in the life of the scheme could also be disadvantaged, because they will not be able to access services for the same length of time as survivors who are granted redress earlier in the life of the scheme. I think it is important to take that into account in future reviews. For survivors who receive the $5,000 payment, this amount of money will not provide access to support adequate to their needs, and I think it's critical that that issue is addressed urgently.

Something else this government, for some reason, found it necessary to resort to was to place restrictions on access to the Redress Scheme for survivors who themselves had a criminal history. That is incredibly unfair, and Labor has been very clear in outlining how unfair it is. The bill requires that those who have been sentenced to a term of imprisonment of five years or more have special permission from the scheme operator to access the scheme. That is just bizarre. The rule, of course, ignores the strong evidence that people with a history of childhood abuse and trauma are more likely to be incarcerated later in life. Putting this limit on that particular group of people is like punishing them all over again. It is absolutely short-sighted and ridiculous, and it makes no sense that it should be in the legislation. Our first Senate inquiry was inundated with evidence from a variety of witnesses and submitters that this rule is not only cruel but, in fact, likely to increase recidivism. So this is just ridiculous, and Labor believes that this policy should definitely change.

We do recognise, however, that the implementation of a redress scheme is a complex task. It's encouraging to see that my home state of Tasmania has finally come on board—as have Victoria, New South Wales, the Australian Capital Territory, the Northern Territory and Queensland—and publicly announced that it will participate in the Redress Scheme, because for justice to truly be done the Redress Scheme must be a national scheme. There should be no boundaries when it comes to this scheme. That whole point of it, to be national, means we do need all states and territories to be on board.

Finally, I want to pay tribute to so many who have helped get us to this point, whether they be those who've experienced difficulties throughout their lives, whether they be those in the legal profession or whether they be policymakers on the outside who have been trying to influence government for so long. I think it's so important that we continue to work together to right the wrongs of years gone by and to ensure that these events can never be repeated, so that children who are entrusted into the care of institutions actually are delivered that care and not led down a path of abuse and sexual abuse of the type we have heard throughout the stories of the last five years. It's incumbent on us as parliamentarians, though, to work together on future improvements to ensure that we get the best possible implementation of redress for survivors. We can only do that if we get rid of the politics and come together to ensure we stand for the humanity of these people who have been so terribly abused. It has taken five long years from when Prime Minister Gillard announced the royal commission to reach this point, but the abuse that victims have suffered will last a lifetime. We must get this done and we must do it right.