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Monday, 18 June 2018
Page: 3045


Senator MOORE (Queensland) (13:45): I was really excited about the opportunity to take part in this debate today on the National Redress Scheme for Institutional Child Sexual Abuse Bill 2018, because, when I looked at the original process that we were following, it was going to be the first test of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. We know that this commission was set up in November 2012. There was great anticipation and interest in the royal commission, and the then Prime Minister made it clear that it was our government's, our parliament's response to the horrific stories of people across our country of all ages and all backgrounds who were the victims of horrific sexual assault, innocent people who were betrayed by people who were often there in positions of authority that were going to care for them but did not so much care as attack, not so much care as hurt and not so much care as damage, which they live with to this day. This is the first test.

It is not surprising that the Redress Scheme is the first test of the institutional response, because, as early as 2013 and 2014, when the commission was putting together the papers that they had committed to doing—they were going to look at the research with their extraordinary capacity to have an ear to the voices of so many people across our country who were wanting to be involved, who were wanting to express their concerns, who were wanting to be part of our government's response to their needs. As early as the first two years, it was identified that the issue of redress was going to be a core element of the whole process. We know we started the original process in 2013. In 2015, an original consultation paper was put out because of all the research that had been done and because of the experiences that people had shared. This particular research paper was looking at redress and civil litigation, and that was put out for the same people who had been involved in the process for many years to consider what the royal commission had done up to this stage, to reconsult with them and to allow them to put information back that would focus specifically on the issue of redress.

That was in 2015, and now here we are in June 2018 with a bill that's been placed before us—in fact, two bills have been placed before us—and each person who has spoken on this legislation so far has brought forward that these are not the bills we would like to see. We celebrate and we acknowledge that the government has made a response, and I particularly want to acknowledge the people from the department who have lived and breathed this process for the last years and who know better than most people in this nation the needs and concerns of the people who were so severely damaged. They know the client group with which they're working. They are responding already, ensuring that every single person knows that their particular issues are considered and knows that they will get as much support as they possibly can.

But the bill we have before us does not provide the full range of support that was recommended through the whole process of consultation through the royal commission and through the series of discussions that were had over and over again over the last five years. It comes close, and the reason I'm so concerned is that I wanted to speak positively about this first test of the royal commission. I want to acknowledge the work of the royal commission, an acknowledgement which we all share. We know the commitment, the professionalism and the personal involvement that every single member of that royal commission invested in the work that they committed to for a period of five years. We know how deeply they understood the pain. By the work that they presented in their public papers and their public hearings, we know that they were taking that very special advice from Elie Wiesel, a Holocaust survivor. When asked about how you learnt about the Holocaust and how you should handle the survivors of the Holocaust, he said the famous statement, 'Listen, listen very carefully.' Indeed, that is what the royal commission did.

They had an extraordinarily special process in place that gave them access to research that no other group has ever had in our nation's history. During their five years they had the opportunity to listen to over 16,953 people who contacted them to talk about the issues of sexual abuse in our nation. In individual sessions, members of the commission sat down and listened to people who had had personal experience of sexual abuse and listened to people who were family members or carers of people who had sexual abuse through their lives in our country. Through personal conversations people had the chance to talk, to listen, to cry and, in some cases, to hold hands and hug each other as they were in these personal consultations. There were 8,013 private sessions with people. There were 1,344 written accounts. There were a number of cases that were sent directly to the police, because the evidence was so real that there could be action taken immediately.

In that process, the issue of redress was mentioned considerably, because people understood that this is a particularly vulnerable group of Australians. They have been living their stories their whole lives. Many of them had been connected to the networks which had been set up to provide the necessary support to them. I know that people who have been involved in this process and, in this debate today, have mentioned so many extraordinary people who've come together to provide support, and also professional help, to people who have been the victims of sexual assault through institutions. Through schools, local groups and orphanages people who have been betrayed by people who should have been caring for them.

The government came to having an opportunity to get the final report—after a series of reports that were written during the process of the five years—with a range of recommendations. We only heard this week that the government has now put forward its response to all the recommendations, and most of those recommendations have been accepted. On the issue of redress, which has been in the public discussion almost from the start of the commission—and certainly from 2015—there have been a number of gaps. With all that evidence, which I've enunciated, all that special access and all the knowledge and reality of lived experience there are several areas where the bill before us does not meet the genuine expectations of people who trusted the government to hear what they said, to hear what they needed and to come up with a response.

I'm not going to go over all the issues that other speakers have raised but there are a couple of key areas that I do want to mention. One of those is the issue around counselling. How often in this place do we have tension around acknowledging the appropriate role of counselling for people who have been damaged in our community? Here again we have evidence that has come forward throughout the whole of the process of the royal commission that talks about the core elements of redress, and among the core elements of redress is a direct personal response.

No. 2 in the list of the core elements and principles of redress is 'counselling and psychological care'. So there's no dispute, there's no doubt, about the importance of effective counselling for people who have been traumatised. If people take the opportunity to have a look at the evidence that's now been made publicly available through the royal commission, there is consistent talk about the need to have appropriate professional counselling, acknowledging that every person is different. So you just can't say, 'This is the form of counselling which will be available, and this is how it will happen, and this is how much people will be able to spend on their process.' It's much more sensitive than that. Certainly, when you read the reports of the royal commission, they go into a lot of detail around the need to have appropriately trained, supportive people who will be able to work with the most vulnerable, to respond immediately and to understand the specific needs across a range of people who have one thing in common: they have been sexually abused by people who should have had their care foremost in their minds.

Consistently through the process, there has been the recommendation that this form of counselling should be made available. There's information in the royal commission report about the form, the type, and they respond to the Australian Psychological Society, which is a professional group for psychologists in Australia. This group has a lot of experience. We've talked about it many times here. But the adjective that goes before 'counselling' is 'lifelong'. There is an acknowledgement that the need is not something that will end after you have a couple of sessions. There is an acknowledgement that there'll be a wide range of needs. Some people—and we've had it quoted in our evidence—will not seek counselling. Their own lives have been such that they've been able to come up with alternate mechanisms of how to cope. But, for the people who have been identified as having quite specialised needs, the royal commission has been consistent from 2012 in saying that the form of counselling provided to people who have had this abuse should be lifelong.

This debate has been out there. It's not new. As I've said, in 2015 there was a paper that put all the information about how a redress scheme could operate. In 2018, we will be required to vote, probably sometime later today, to put this bill in place—because we have been told that if we put up any amendments, if we in any way delay or cause further discussion on this issue, the whole process will be deferred; we'll have to go back through the necessary consultations with state governments; and people again will be feeling betrayed. They will not be able to get what they have been told would be available to them, which is a redress scheme which became effective from 1 July 2018. So the onus is put back on us to accept something which does not reflect what the professional processes of the royal commission have put before us.

That was one of the areas I wanted to address. I totally accept all the evidence that's been given by previous speakers about a range of areas where the recommendations from the royal commission have not been picked up by the government in the redress legislation that's before us today. That has been itemised in two separate Senate inquiries which have looked at the legislation before us and have recommended amendments.

But the other area I particularly want to mention in my contribution is the limitation for people who have had criminal convictions. Again, here is the situation where, through years of discussion and listening to the people who are most impacted by this issue, the royal commission did not recommend in any way, at any time, any limitation about who was going to be eligible for their payment. Having a criminal conviction or having a criminal sentence was never considered to be a way to lose access to an acknowledgement payment that was not about your criminal history. It was not about the deeds that you had done; it was about the deeds that had been done to you. Again, we have a piece of legislation that does not reflect the professional, caring, open access of the royal commission that has been going for five years. Mr President, I cede. I will take it up later.

The PRESIDENT: Thank you, Senator Moore. We are almost at 2 pm.

Senator Cameron: I could go for 15 seconds if you like!

The PRESIDENT: You're welcome to 10 seconds, Senator Cameron! It being 2 pm, we turn to questions without notice.