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Thursday, 2 September 2021
Page: 38

Senator PRATT (Western Australia) (12:16): At the outset of these remarks, I move:

At the end of the motion, add ", but the Senate:

(a) notes the Government has not committed to implementing all the recommendations of the second anniversary review of the National Redress Scheme; and

(b) calls on the Government to listen to survivors and:

(i) increase the cap on payments to $200,000, as recommended by the Royal Commission;

(ii) end the indexation of prior payments;

(iii) fix the assessment matrix and properly recognise the impact of abuse;

(iv) make sure funder of last resort arrangements are in place so survivors don’t miss out;

(v) address the limitations in the support that enables survivors to access redress, noting the large shortfall in expected applications, including among First Nations people;

(vi) guarantee that offers of redress will not be reduced on review; and

(vii) provide ongoing counselling and support".

The issues covered by this amendment will be well outlined in the remarks I will now make.

It has been almost a decade since the Labor government, under Julia Gillard, announced the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. The whole point of this royal commission was to listen to people who had been abused and then betrayed, silenced and ignored. The scheme that was ultimately rolled out by this government in response to the findings of the royal commission did not fully realise the recommendations of the royal commission. The royal commission estimated 60,000 survivors would be eligible for redress. As of 26 March, the scheme had received some 10,000 applications, and the slow rate of these applications indicates that the scheme is difficult to navigate, inadequate and hard to find. Those findings have certainly been reinforced when the Joint Select Committee on Implementation of the National Redress Scheme has spoken to survivors. Survivors have spoken of the difficulty of preparing and making application. For one survivor, it took some 17 months to be able to put it in. A Senate estimates hearing last year revealed that the average time for processing was beyond 12 and 13 months and that the scheme has been plagued by delays, a lack of resources, low quality of support, and the geographic spread of support services. I've been particularly concerned, as has the redress committee, about the barriers the scheme throws up for First Nations people, people from CALD backgrounds and people with a disability.

Earlier this year, Labor moved a comprehensive suite of amendments to overhaul the scheme and get it back on track to end delays and ensure that survivors didn't miss out. The government then refused those amendments on the basis that the second-anniversary review was yet to report. That report has now been completed; it was completed months ago. What it found was largely consistent with what we moved to amend in the legislation last time—things like there not being enough staff or IT resources to provide for survivors; continued delays; and an inability to deliver for survivors.

While today we don't want to stand in the way of these amendments, they fall well short of what survivors have asked and what Labor proposed. Indeed, they fall short of what the review itself highlighted, which Minister Ruston said at the time that she would respond to. We have institutions still not joining the scheme, and they are shielding their assets or becoming defunct. While we welcome the government's power to revoke the charity status of such institutions and its pledges to name and shame them, this measure does not go far enough. It does not deliver the kind of justice that these survivors deserve. The government needs to seek financial contributions from these institutions through a levy or through the tax system, and where institutions are genuinely unable to pay or are defunct the government needs to act as funder of last resort. We know the government is considering this, but what we need and seek from the government is an ironclad guarantee to provide certainty for survivors. For years we've called for an early payment scheme to ensure that the elderly or unwell do not miss out on redress. We're glad the government has finally come to the table on this, and it's reflected in the bill today, but I'm sad that it's taken too long and that during that time we've had survivors die without compensation. If the government had acted sooner, as it should have, fewer people would have died waiting for this step to justice.

Survivors have also criticised the caps within the scheme, indexation of prior payments and the deduction of unrelated prior payments, including stolen-generations payments. Some of our First Nations people have suffered as stolen generations and as survivors of institutional child sex abuse. It is a shame that it has been constructed in this way when we should be seeking every opportunity to repair and not to discount this damage. Instead we have stolen-generations payments being deducted from survivors' redress, as if surviving one of these experiences means you don't deserve justice from the other. Is that really the way this should be constructed? We hear that these barriers and delays are forcing survivors to give up or to seek justice outside the scheme through more difficult, costly and lengthy civil claims. These are the things the scheme was designed to avoid.

The bill will reduce the time frame over which prior payments are indexed before being deducted from a redress payment. It will do this by ceasing indexation when an application for redress is made, not at the time when the application is finalised. I have to say that, in Labor's view, this is simply not good enough. We are once again calling for the indexation of prior payments to cease completely and ensuring that unrelated payments are not deducted. We're calling on the government to lift the cap on payments from $150,000 to $200,000. The government should provide a guarantee that a review of an offer of redress will not result in the offer being reduced. These are the things that survivors have been calling for, and they are what the royal commission recommended.

I'm also disappointed to say that the bill does not address major shortcomings in the assessment matrix. The government's assessment matrix sets low and arbitrary payments for the impact of abuse based on the kind of abuse, not on the scale of its impact on a survivor's life. Labor agrees with survivors and argues that the term 'penetrative' should be removed in acknowledgement that trauma is caused not only by penetrative abuse and that some victims have been unable to properly disclose the physical nature of their abuse in the application matrix. The bill also fails to provide the ongoing psychological support that survivors have called for and, again, that the royal commission recommended.

Sadly, the Redress Scheme under this government falls short of the original recommendations of the royal commission, and the improvements in the legislation before us today fall short of properly getting redress back on track and delivering real redress to survivors—redress that is timely, redress that does not retraumatise and redress that does not and should not leave survivors missing out.