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Community Affairs Legislation Committee

McINTYRE, Jeannie, Manager, Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse Support Service, Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency

VAN DEN BERG, Megan, Executive Manager, Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse Support Service, Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency

McKEICH, Mr Alister, Senior Project and Policy Officer, Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service

WARNER, Ms Karly, Executive Officer, National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Service

Committee met at 08:31

CHAIR ( Senator Brockman ): I declare open this public hearing and welcome everyone here today. This is the second public hearing for the committee inquiry into the Commonwealth Redress Scheme for Institutional Child Sexual Abuse (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2017 and related bill. Firstly, the committee would like to acknowledge the observers here today, some of whom are abuse survivors and their families. The committee understands the distress and pain that these matters have caused individuals and their families and, to echo the sentiments expressed recently by the Prime Minister, we honour your bravery.

The committee also acknowledges some confusion in the community about the two parliamentary inquiries into this issue. To provide some clarity, this committee, the Community Affairs Legislation Committee, is holding an inquiry that will specifically look at the terms of the proposed bill, which seeks to establish a redress scheme for Commonwealth and territory entities. There is also a joint select committee that is holding a longer inquiry into broader implementation matters in relation to the redress scheme. No doubt, the joint select committee will be looking closely at evidence raised within this shorter inquiry. Due to the more targeted focus of this inquiry, the committee encourages all participants to address the provisions of the proposed legislation. In this way, we'll provide maximum opportunity for all witnesses to make a meaningful contribution. I thank everyone who has made a submission to this inquiry.

This is a public hearing and a Hansardtranscript of the proceedings is being made. The audio of this public hearing is also being broadcast via the internet. Before the committee starts taking evidence, I remind all present here today that, in giving evidence to the committee, witnesses are protected by parliamentary privilege. It is unlawful for anyone to threaten or disadvantage a witness on account of evidence given to the committee, and such action may be treated by the Senate as a contempt. It is also a contempt to give false or misleading evidence to the committee. The committee prefers all evidence to be given in public but, under the Senate's resolutions, witnesses have the right to request to be heard in private session. It is important that witnesses give the committee notice if they intend to ask to give evidence in private. If you are a witness today and you intend to request to give evidence in private, please speak to the secretariat staff.

We are starting today with representatives from the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service, the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Service and the Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency. Could you please confirm that information on parliamentary privilege and the protection of witnesses and evidence has been provided to you?

Mr McKeich : Yes.

Jeannie McIntyre : Yes.

Megan Van Den Berg : Yes.

CHAIR: The committee has your submissions. I now invite each of you to make a short opening statement, and at the conclusion of your remarks I will ask members of the committee to put questions to you.

Megan Van Den Berg : I would like to begin by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land on which we meet today, the Wurundjeri people of Kulin nation, and pay my respects to their elders past and present and to all Aboriginal people present here this morning. I would like to pay my respects to all members of the stolen generations and to all survivors of child sexual abuse and acknowledge their suffering and pain and honour their strength in survival.

VACCA attended each of the royal commission's roundtables on redress and civil litigation and also provided submissions and issues papers on redress and civil litigation. We also presented as part of a panel at the redress public hearing and held consultations with the Victorian Aboriginal community regarding both the royal commission redress scheme and the Victorian government redress scheme as recommended in their Betrayal of trust report. You would be aware that our CEO, Muriel Bamblett, was a member of the Independent Advisory Committee on Redress. We have been contributing to the redress journey for many years now. Significantly, VACCA supported nearly 90 survivors in telling their story to the royal commission. Doing this was often intensely challenging and distressing but always an immense privilege, rendering lots of insights and learnings. Currently. We have supported some clients with their applications for civil litigation and state based redress schemes and, as a consequence, seen many of the ways in which this can be done very poorly, resulting in unnecessary retraumatisation of survivors.

There are clear advantages with a national redress scheme but a national scheme needs to be one that is both trauma and culturally informed, one that is accessible and transparent and one that provides a level of justice for survivors. Our experience, along with the royal commission's final report, informs us that in order for an effective national redress scheme to be established it must be underpinned by the principles of justice and fairness, be trauma informed and survival led and ensure that all Aboriginal applicants receive a culturally informed response in addition to a trauma informed one. That is the work that we do at VACCA with kids in out-of-home care today. They are the two leading, key principles to the way that we conduct our business and how we work with our kids. We know that we have to be culturally informed and provide the best cultural response to our kids, but we know that we have to work with a trauma informed approach.

Currently, the proposed scheme falls well short of being either trauma or culturally informed. The proposed scheme requires significant change for it to be truly trauma informed and survival led. The lack of transparency regarding the communication of the scheme highlights this lack of trauma informed approach. Some of the most critically significant detail, such as who will be excluded from the scheme, is absent from the proposed bill. That it was only to be later mentioned in further media reports is, in our view, appalling. To add to this, the bill's supposed rules intended to clarify these discriminatory exclusions have not yet been tabled. Recent media reports indicate that the Commonwealth government may be amenable to reconsidering the proposed exclusions, with social services minister Dan Tehan suggesting that the government would be open to case-by-case exceptions to the exclusions. VACCA strongly believes that this is not good enough. Victims would have to go through the shame of putting forward their case, being judged, being evaluated and having to wait for a determination of whether they are a deserving or an undeserving victim of child sexual abuse. This is not survivor-led and this is not trauma informed.

We outlined in our submission, as did VALS and the Law Council of Australia, that these exclusions will disproportionately exclude Aboriginal victims due to the overrepresentation of Aboriginal people in the justice and prison systems. Therefore, this amounts to systemic racism and a breach of Australia's human rights obligations. It is important to remember the purpose of redress. It is not about compensation. Clearly, the dollar figures proposed do not come close to justly compensating survivors of abuse, betrayal and their losses, nor the lifelong and intergenerational impacts that they have had to endure. Rather, redress should provide tangible recognition of hurt and injury suffered by survivors. Hurt and injury suffered as children which categorises these victims into deserving and undeserving is shameful. The matrix that will be used to assess payments must be publically released and it must include each of the four elements articulated by RC redress recommendation 17, as outlined in our submission. There are a range of areas in the proposed bill that will negatively impact Aboriginal applicants, particularly the response period and the requirement for the applicant to have a will for any moneys awarded to be provided to a next of kin should the applicant pass away during the process.

Finally, I would like to talk about counselling and psychological care. With so many concerns about the operation of the scheme, the unjust exclusions and whether this will be a national scheme or dependent on which government and institutions opt in, I am concerned that there has not been enough attention given to the elements of counselling and psychological care. This is a critical element of a redress scheme, and we must get it right. Getting it right for Aboriginal survivors means a holistic, flexible and culturally safe approach. The sexual abuse of Aboriginal children must be seen in tandem with the cultural abuse that occurred when children were removed on the basis of their Aboriginality, deliberately ensuring disconnection from family, community, culture and land—removing critical, protective and resilient features from Aboriginal children.

For many Aboriginal survivors the meaning of sexual abuse may differ from their non-Aboriginal counterparts, because abuse is not only understood as a personal violation and an enormous breach of trust but often also seen within the context of colonisation and a larger systemic effort to deny basic human rights to one culture and what this brings with it. We have been trying to address this phenomenon since the 1970s; however, our efforts so far have fallen far short of achieving the needed change. Until we are prepared to put the healing needs of Aboriginal people in their own hands and trust that they are best placed to know how to meet these complex needs, there is no reason to think that there will be change. We need to empower Aboriginal people. Self-determination is the key to effecting change.

The survivors we have supported have told us what works and equally importantly what does not work. We need to listen. All of our clients either have accessed mainstream services or mainstream counselling and found it unhelpful or insufficient or have not accessed it, believing that it will not be of assistance. Jeannie and I talked about this on the way in. Once they hear that a service doesn't work, the Koori grapevine will surely spread that it doesn't work. Coming together and having opportunities to engage in Aboriginal-led programs like the Marumali program has seen the best healing results for our clients. This is because when Aboriginal people come together and heal in group-work environments there is a power in that space. The case for Marumali is that it is done in such a culturally appropriate way and it is done where people share their stories in a way that they feel comfortable. It is a really great example of programming in our community.

There have been many inquiries and royal commissions where Aboriginal survivors have shared their traumatic accounts of removal, separation and abuse, and of note is the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, the Human Rights and Equal Opportunities inquiry into the separation of Aboriginal children from their families, the Bringing them home report, and now the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. It is so disheartening that, with so much knowledge about the issues and what needs to change, the situation for Aboriginal people is getting worse, not better. The numbers of Aboriginal people dying in custody is higher than at the time of the RCIADIC and the numbers of Aboriginal children being removed from their families and being placed in care is higher than the numbers of those considered to belong to the stolen generations. Now we wait to see if the recommendations made by this royal commission will be fully implemented, or will we be here again saying the same things, having witnessed another generation suffering the same fate as those we support today. Please do what you can to ensure that this is not the case and that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people of this nation finally get some justice. We have been waiting too long.

Thank you for this opportunity to share our experiences and concerns with you. I'm an Aboriginal woman, Yorta Yorta Dja Dja Wurrung, and it's important for me to be here on behalf of my tribes and my people but also broadly Victorians and national Aboriginal people. I'm very passionate about this cause, and I thank you very much for letting me speak today.

CHAIR: Thank you. Welcome, Ms Warner. You made it here.

Ms Warner : I did. Apologies.

CHAIR: Could you confirm that information on parliamentary privilege and the protection of witnesses has been provided to you?

Ms Warner : Yes.

CHAIR: Thank you very much. Would you like to make an opening statement now?

Ms Warner : I might keep—

CHAIR: A little bit more time. Mr McKeich, would you like to make an opening statement?

Mr McKeich : Firstly, I pay my respects to the traditional owners, the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin nations and traditional owners all around Australia. I also echo Megan's sentiments and pay my respects to the stolen generations and particularly survivors of sexual abuse in this context. Like VACCA, the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Services has been assisting members of the community who have been affected by not only sexual abuse but also psychological, physical and cultural abuse in these types of contexts. VALS' submission acknowledges that sexual abuse doesn't necessarily always occur in isolation. More often than not, it's accompanied by physical, very severe psychological damage and also cultural abuse, as Megan was saying. By cultural abuse, we also mean the cessation of language, denial of opportunity to participate in cultural practices, denial of access to land and language. VALS has always reiterated our understanding that the royal commission in this instance was specifically around sexual abuse, as is the redress scheme, but we will reiterate for the record that we still believe that compensation for the loss and denial of culture in this country to Aboriginal people of the stolen generations is yet to be addressed. It's been 20 years since the Bringing them home report and 10 years since Kevin Rudd's apology, and, in Victoria in particular, we're still fighting for redress for the elders of the stolen generation.

To get to some specific points about what we know of the proposal, as Megan has already stated, there are a number of things that aren't particularly clear and haven't been made public. It's very interesting to be sitting here being asked about a scheme of which we don't actually know the full detail, but we will do our best to make some types of responses. Particularly, the redress scheme should not exclude victim survivors with criminal records. As we know, often it is the abuse that occurred that led people to be in positions of extreme poverty, to be under-educated and have a lack of employment opportunities which, as we know, can lead to offending. We also know that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have much higher and extreme incarceration rates, so such an exclusion will specifically exclude Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people at much higher rates than the general population.

Furthermore, with regard to that, I would just like to point out that people were sexually abused when they were children. We're not redressing people's behaviour as adults; what we're actually doing is righting a wrong that happened to children. People weren't offenders when they were children; they were just children and they were sexually abused. People should still have the right to access justice on behalf of what happened to them as children. From a legal perspective as well, in my knowledge, there are no ex gratia type payments or VOCAT, victims of crime type payments, that just have blanket exclusion rules. We did some investigative research, and we couldn't find any type of scheme where that cohort of people cannot access any kind of compensation. Even with victims of crime, yes, they may take offending histories or behavioural histories into account, but it's done on a case-by-case basis, so I'd just like to point out that in our understanding there is no compensatory type processes that just say if you have a criminal record of X, Y or Z, you can't access it. There's always a way to understand those on the merits.

With regard to the payment, we understand that there's a matrix involved. We don't know what that matrix is. VALS is opposed to a matrix. We think that people should be able to access the full amount, which it says here is $150,000. My understanding is that the royal commission recommended $200,000. I don't really see how you can get a matrix happening of particular types of abuse. I know it's been done in Canada, for example, with the Indian residential school survivor compensation scheme. I was in Canada last year studying that and it was very damaging to the community over there, because basically what you are doing is ranking on a monetary scale various types of abuses. With Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community, people know each other, families know each other and so word will get around often how much so-and-so got, how much so-and-so got and you're basically making a valuation of people's extraordinarily harmful experiences, which again, has the potential to be very re-traumatising for the people who are subject to that. I don't think $150,000 is a great deal of money to the government or to some of the institutions involved in this so why not award it to the people who have suffered at the hands of these institutions?

My understanding is that there is a 90-day period to accept an offer of compensation and, after that time expires, it goes off the table. That is far too short an amount of time for a number of reasons. One is that for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, they are often transient communities. People may not receive correspondence, particularly in remote communities. And in urban communities as well, people move around. They might have medical appointments or they might even be locked up in prison so it is difficult to track down where people are.

The other side of it is the language barriers. If someone is receiving legal correspondence in Pitjantjatjara community, they are then going to have to find someone who can translate for them and someone who can translate correctly for them, so we need people with legal experience to be able to do that. A 90-day period is not enough in these instances given the reality of people's lives in receiving correspondence.

In my experience at the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service assisting people with other claims and other redress schemes, every single one has wanted VALS and myself in particular to be the point of correspondence for this reason. They know that they often don't get mail or they don't understand what is in the letters. We are talking about people who have low literacy because of the experiences they have gone through so to put a cap on it or a time limit, you are almost defeating the point of redress in and of itself.

We also understand and promote the fact that there should be legal advice provided to people. Again, this goes back to the 90-day period in which that can occur, particularly for people who may be locked up in prison, maybe in a remote community or have other things that affects their means to be able to access legal advice. Furthermore, we believe that the legal advice offered should not just be about what the redress offer is but should be able to explore other options as well including civil litigation. The cohort of people that we work with have a real lack of information around what legal options there are. They find the whole process overwhelming. Even redress process that are supposed to be quite simple are still very overwhelming for people, so any legal advice provided should give a variety of options. There is nothing wrong with doing that. If people want to choose civil litigation as an option, that should be allowed to be done so that information should be provided.

The other aspect is the review process. We believe that there should be an outside independent review of people's applications and a right of response. My understanding is there is going to be an internal review only and that applicants only really have one shot at being able to apply for this. We believe that there should be an independent right to review. The other aspect of that is often people find records that may assist their application down the track. Records aren't that easily accessed. Often it can take quite a long time to access the records that might be required to make a successful application so you need to allow time for people and access to find records that might assist in their application. If you have only got one shot at it, it needs to be the application that you can do. Often we get pages of records from church groups who can't find them somehow mysteriously and then they turn up at the last minute. That is again the reality of people trying to apply for these types of things.

We also believe that the government should, at least provisionally, ensure buy-in from the states, territories and major institutions. I don't really see the point of pushing ahead with a scheme that basically has the potential to exclude people in particular states or who were abused by particular institutions if there hasn't been the utmost effort from the government to ensure that there is buy-in. If the reason for states not buying into the scheme then they need to look at why the scheme is not sufficient.

Lastly, Aboriginal legal services, organisations like VACCA, Link-Up, the Victorian Aboriginal Health Service and our equivalents in other states and territories need to be funded to assist people with this scheme. I have just pointed out all the shortfalls and the barriers to this, and they can be overcome if the right Aboriginal organisations around the country are funded to assist the community. There will be interpreters required, and culturally appropriate legal advice. Megan has mentioned counselling and therapeutic support. Firstly, we already know that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations are best equipped to provide those services.

Secondly, understand that around 14 per cent of people who accessed the royal commission were Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander identified, and they're just the people that came forward. So we know there are huge barriers in language and also confidence in government systems and institutions that would have prevented certain Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities from coming forward. So at least around 14 per cent of people who came forward were Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander. This is of a population that makes up three per cent of this country. Furthermore, knowmore legal services have reported that around 24 per cent of their clients during that four-year period of the commission identified as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander. Again, they also acknowledged that that's probably not the whole amount of people that should be coming forward. So, out of a possible estimated 60,000 claimants, if you've got between 14 to potentially 25 per cent of claimants being Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, there will need to be specific services—Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander legal, community, cultural and counselling type services—funded to meet the needs of that cohort of people.

Ms Warner : Apologies for being later. I am a Palawa woman and I am off country today, so I acknowledge the traditional owners, the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin nation and their close neighbours, the Boonwurrung people. Thank you to the Senate Community Affairs Legislation Committee for inviting the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services here today to give evidence. I acknowledge our member organisation, the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service, and also my friends from VACCA.

NATSILS welcomes the opportunity to provide a brief submission to this inquiry. We are the peak body for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander legal services across the country and we bring together over 40 years of experience in the provision of legal advice assistance, representation, community legal education, advocacy, law reform activities and prisoner through-care to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in contact with the justice system. The ATSILSs are the experts on the delivery of effective and culturally competent legal assistance services to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and this role provides NATSILS, the peak body, with a unique insight into access-to-justice issues affecting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. We do represent the following ATSILSs: the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services Queensland, the Aboriginal Legal Rights Movement in South Australia, the Aboriginal Legal Service (New South Wales/ACT), the Aboriginal Legal Service of Western Australia, the Tasmanian Aboriginal Community Legal Service, the North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency and, as I mentioned before, the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service.

While NATSILS considers that the implementation of a redress scheme for institutional child sexual abuse is long overdue, the NATSILS welcomes the commitment made by the Commonwealth government to address atrocities of abuse that have been ignored for far too long. As Alister mentioned, there are significant numbers of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who are victims of institutional sexual abuse, and it is important to recognise the wider ripple effects of individual instances of institutional child sexual abuse and the intergenerational effects of institutional child sexual abuse. It is important to acknowledge and address the reality that, within many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and for many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander victims and survivors, institutional child sexual abuse is intimately connected to broader historical disenfranchisement; isolation and abuse as committed by state and non-state institutions; and the historical lack of accountability of such institutions. This is particularly so for those members of the stolen generations.

In our brief submission we raise concerns in relation to provisions contained within the Commonwealth Redress Scheme for Institutional Child Sexual Abuse Bill 2017 and relating to the identified monetary cap on compensation, the review process available to claimants, and a significant need to allocate resources to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services to ensure the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are provided with appropriate support and legal assistance regarding entitlements contained under the redress scheme.

We note the importance of resources to provide counselling access for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and for those assisting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people during the life of the redress scheme. We note the importance of resources to ensure Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services can provide financial counselling and holistic healing supports to ensure the safety of individuals and communities.

Our submission also sought to respond to indications made by the Minister for Social Services relating to proposed exclusion clauses. Given that various important aspects of the proposed redress scheme remain undetermined, including rules relating to the eligibility for compensation, the provision of legal services and circumstances in which a participating institution may be responsible for sexual abuse, NATSILS highlights that our submission was confined to only that information which has been made publicly available to date and concerning the Commonwealth Redress Scheme for Institutional Child Sexual Abuse Bill 2017. We will make further representations in the future when, we hope, that information is available.

In relation to the exclusion clause, the minister has indicated that persons who have been convicted of sexual offences or sentenced to prison terms of five years or more for crimes such a serious drug, homicidal or fraud offences will be excluded from accessing benefits under the redress scheme. Imposing an exclusion clause of this nature would seriously risk further trauma to survivors of child sexual abuse who, as a result of being deemed ineligible, are likely to feel as though their experiences of abuse have been invalidated, excused or dismissed. Such an exclusion clause will unfairly target survivors of institutional child sexual abuse who may come into contact with the justice system as a result of sustained and complex trauma. Each applicant's rights to redress should be dealt with on a case-by-case basis to ensure that no survivor of institutional child sexual abuse is unfairly excluded from this scheme.

In relation to the monetary cap, NATSILS agrees with the royal commission that monetary payment is an appropriate form of redress as a tangible means of recognising the wrong that survivors have suffered. NATSILS concurs with the commission that, in determining the appropriate amount of any monetary payment under the redress scheme, it is necessary to have regard to both the severity and the consequences of the abuse for the individual. NATSILS disputes the monetary cap of $150,000 under the current redress scheme and considers that it should be increased. In this regard it is important to learn from the experiences of Redress WA. Under this scheme the maximum payment amount for a successful claimant was initially announced at $80,000 but was subsequently reduced to $45,000. This decision caused a great sense of injustice for many actual and potential claimants. In order to guarantee that this is not repeated, processes must be employed to ensure that expected payment levels are not reduced during the operation of the scheme, as this would significantly undervalue the experiences of those survivors and victims. In relation to internal review, NATSILS agrees that a review process is necessary to ensure survivors are provided with an opportunity to have decisions made under the redress scheme reviewed where a claim is unfairly rejected, the monetary amount offered does not reflect the harm caused, or the redress is otherwise insufficient.

Our concern in relation to the absence of transparency and accountability available through the internal review process cannot be overstated. NATSILS considers that it is essential that the current redress scheme be accountable to survivors and instil trust in its process. The redress scheme should be accompanied by a redress complaints mechanism that enables applicants and others involved in the redress scheme to register complaints about the redress scheme itself and have them responded to appropriately.

We need to ensure that there is adequate funding for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders Legal Services throughout the life of the scheme. We recommend that the minister ensures that contained within the rules is a preference for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander survivors to be provided with access to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders Legal Services, who are uniquely placed to provide culturally appropriate legal assistance services. It is extremely important that a choice is provided.

We place emphasis on two urgent resourcing proprieties: legal assistance itself and community legal education and awareness training. As I mentioned, the ATSILS are the preferred, and in many instances the only, legal aid option across the country for many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and we provide a unique legal service that recognises and responds to cultural factors that may influence and/or affect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Acknowledging that many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander applicants live in regional and remote locations, adequate resources must be provided to each of the ATSILS to ensure that lawyers and support workers, including field officers and client service officers, which are unique to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services, are able to meet with applicants in person. Additional funding must be provided to ensure that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander language interpreters are available where the applicant speaks English as a second or a subsequent language. It is essential that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander lawyers and support staff working on the matters concerning redress be provided with adequate access to counselling services, and we recommend that vicarious trauma experienced by legal and other support workers be appropriately considered by the Senate and addressed through this, ensuring adequate access to counselling.

Community legal education and awareness training is a significant part of what we do as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services. As highlighted by the commission, it is vital that a scheme includes a comprehensive communications strategy for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. We strongly support the proposition that there should be specific strategies for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and for regional and remote communities. Additional funding for community legal education will ensure the development of effective and culturally appropriate written materials, websites, social media content, use of local radio, information, DVDs, community forums and, importantly, outreach. This needs to occur in regional and remote communities as well as urban areas. Specific funding to enable material to be produced in various Aboriginal languages would be an essential aspect of this education and awareness raising component. Thank you.

CHAIR: We will jump straight into questions.

Senator WATT: Thank you very much for each of your presentations. I want to begin by starting with one thing that Megan Van Den Berg mentioned in passing. I think you made reference to an issue that might arise in relation to wills for Aboriginal people. Could you elaborate a little bit more on that?

Megan Van Den Berg : Jeannie is going to.

Jeannie McIntyre : I don't know if you're aware of this but most Aboriginal people do not have a will. It's not a common practice within the Aboriginal community to have a will. So if the only way someone who passes through this process—remembering that so many elders now are at that point of dying, and they have been dying for the last several years. If it's insistent on having a will, then we need Aboriginal legal services to be funded to go out there and get everyone to have a will because the majority of Aboriginal people do not have wills.

Senator WATT: A number of you have talked about the importance of not only legal advice being provided to survivors but also, in particular, that legal advice coming from culturally appropriate services. What advice have you been given so far by the department as to any additional resources that might be provided so that you can provide that advice?

Mr McKeich : None, unless Karly's heard differently.

Ms Warner : No.

Mr McKeich : We have not heard anything with respect to additional funding for Aboriginal legal services.

Jeannie McIntyre : We've heard that there will be redress support services established in due course and that knowmore legal services is being funded for the next 10 years. However, that doesn't account for the need for Aboriginal-specific services. Whilst knowmore do a great job, they're not the be all and end all for our clients.

Ms Warner : We haven't been provided with any information. We've continuously offered our expertise in the relation to the existing culturally appropriate services that we have right across the country. As I mentioned, in terms of having field officers and client services officers who already exist within every Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island legal service across the country, there is already a mechanism to be engaging with the community to make sure that they're properly supported. We just need the resources to do that.

Senator WATT: Just remind me—we heard from knowmore at our Canberra hearing. They've been funded to provide legal advice to people who were going through the royal commission process, but Aboriginal legal services have done that as well—have provided advice to people to assist their participation up until now?

Ms Warner : Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander legal services were provided with a strict amount of funding to liaise with the royal commission, but that's the only funding that they were provided.

Senator WATT: Did that involve assisting individual survivors of abuse and their engagement with the royal commission?

Ms Warner : Yes.

Senator WATT: So effectively people had a choice as to whether they wanted to use knowmore or whether they wanted to come to an Aboriginal legal service as an alternative?

Ms Warner : In principle, yes.

Mr McKeich : For example, that was my role while the royal commission was on. There was one role per ATSILS. Victoria is difficult enough, but in Western Australia, with the size of the state and the variety of language groups and all the rest of it, one person is obviously not enough. That funding has now ceased altogether.

Senator WATT: Do you mean that, for instance, in Western Australia there was funding for one person that each of the WA ATSILSs had to share? I'm not sure how many ATSILSs there are in WA.

Mr McKeich : There's one.

Ms Warner : The same amount of funding was provided to each of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander legal services. That's why I suggested that in principle there was a choice; however, I would suggest that if you were going to a service and there was only one person who could assist you and they were busy assisting many other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, then there is probably a bit of a grey area about whether you actually do have a choice to use that service, if they don't have the resources available to assist you in the ways that you need.

Senator WATT: Beyond giving you evidence to this inquiry today, have you made any contact with the department or anyone in government to express your desire for funding to go to ATSILSs for these purposes?

Ms Warner : Yes.

Senator WATT: But with no real response as yet?

Ms Warner : Nothing conclusive.

Senator WATT: Is that the experience across the board?

Jeannie McIntyre : As a royal commission support service we have had some round tables. We were in Canberra a couple of weeks ago talking about the next stage of the support services. We reiterated—I don't know if the committee is aware of this, but there was no funding that went out to Aboriginal services when the royal commission began. VACCA was the only organisation that actually put in an application for funding, which we didn't get. After we kicked up a bit of a stink and got our state governments to support us, there was a view from the Commonwealth, 'Oh dear, we've made a blue.' They went to every link-up across the nation and provided one EFT for all the link-up services, VACCA auspices the link-up service in Victoria, so it actually came back to me and the program I run.

But again, on the back of what my colleagues were saying, one person funded in a link-up service is not nearly enough. We've heard the stats that have come forward to the royal commission. We're still getting people ringing and saying, 'We've just heard about this royal commission—can we tell our story?' The resources that went out to support services and legal services were totally inadequate for the numbers of Aboriginal people affected. But we are in communication with the Department of Social Services through our role as a royal commission support service, if that makes sense.

Senator WATT: A number of the questions that I had you've each covered in your opening statements. I want to explore a little further the issues around counselling. As you're probably aware, the proposal from the government at this point is to make I think a maximum of $5,000 worth of this counselling assistance available per survivor. You're probably aware that the royal commission recommended that counselling be made available for the life of the survivor, as opposed to this cap of $5,000. What are your views, and what impact do you think it would have on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people if it is set at a $5,000 maximum?

Jeannie McIntyre : It's not going to go anywhere. The other thing the royal commission recommended was that it acknowledged the intergenerational trauma of the survivors' experience and the need for families and communities to have access to counselling. Within our program we've been successful in getting some other funding to enable us to have some cultural healing activities. I can only describe the healing that goes on when you bring Aboriginal people together. One of those events we had was within a community in Bendigo. That involved descendants of the survivors. Part of it, as we said in our submission, is that you can't separate out sexual abuse from disconnection from land, community and culture. Many of our survivors are concerned that they can't pass on the cultural knowledge to their children and their grandchildren. These cultural healing opportunities provide some learning around those areas. They feel that they can then be the good parent, the good grandparent, the good great-grandparent. It's not going to fit. The one-on-one psychological care, through the Medicare system or whatever, is just not going to cut it, from Victoria's perspective.

Senator SIEWERT: Were any of you consulted—Ms McIntyre, you just said something about being consulted because you were involved in the process and funded, you have had a little involvement—but were any of you consulted about the drafting of this legislation?

Jeannie McIntyre : No.

Megan Van Den Berg : No.

Mr McKeich : No.

Ms Warner : No.

Senator SIEWERT: Are you aware of any Aboriginal organisations that may have been?

Jeannie McIntyre : In saying no, I should add that our CEO, Muriel Bamblett, was on the independent advisory committee. So in that respect I guess our organisation had some knowledge.

Senator SIEWERT: Are you aware of any other organisation beyond the independent advisory committee that was involved?

Megan Van Den Berg : No.

Senator SIEWERT: A lot of concern has been raised about the matrix. I should say that your submissions were very comprehensive—thank you very much. You raise specific issues around Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as well as some of the broader issues that come up. The matrix is one of them. Have you been consulted at all on the matrix?

Jeannie McIntyre : No.

Megan Van Den Berg : No.

Mr McKeich : No.

Ms Warner : No.

Senator SIEWERT: In terms of the exclusion of people who have been convicted of a sexual offence or five-year term, I think in every one of the submissions that we had today people have raised their concerns around that issue. Ms Warner, maybe I'll ask you, given that you're the peak organisation, but everybody can chip in—can you explain in more detail how this specifically affects Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, given the issues that you raise in your submissions around overrepresentation?

Ms Warner : I'll try and do that. I should say at the outset that this is going to affect every single person, non-Indigenous or Indigenous, in terms of how it's going to cause further trauma to the survivors of child sexual abuse. In relation to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people I think people on the ground could probably talk to it more than I can. But to come forward and actually make an application to redress is going to be difficult in itself; but to come forward and make an application for redress and then to be told that, as a result of the circumstances that you have now been forced into a result of that sexual abuse, you are not eligible for redress is going to be soul-destroying for people, particularly for many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who have waited so long this to occur—for their abuse to be recognised. For them to be told, 'We're actually setting up a scheme to recognise that you have a rights to redress' and then to be told that they cannot access that redress as a result of being involved with the criminal justice system is woeful.

Senator SIEWERT: I want to go back to the issue of the need for specific services and outreach. I am from Western Australia and I am aware that a lot of people are going to be living in fairly remote situations. So that we have a clear understanding when we are trying to represent this back in our report—I'm thinking specifically not only of people living in an urban environment but more of those that are living in regional and remote areas and the need for specific services and outreach, particularly cultural outreach. Can any of you expand a bit on that?

Jeannie McIntyre : This came up in the meeting in Canberra that I was at of a stolen generations group. They have one worker, and they happen to have employed a male worker. But as they said, this whole issue involves men's business and women's business. We've been lucky—we have a male worker as well as a female worker, so we've been able to give clients that culturally appropriate opportunity to talk with a worker of the same gender. It's really important within an Aboriginal context that all the services are funded so they can employ a male worker and a female worker and that there is a way of utilising all the services that are around. Because there are Bringing Them Home services in every community. I think it's incumbent on us as Aboriginal services to ensure that we use the existing network. But you still have to have a core number of staff that are then able to do that. You can't just expect the organisations with their limited funding to be able to do that without some sort of core responsibility. I don't know if that assists, but certainly that was one of the issues raised in the Kimberley.

Ms Warner : A range of options should be provided to people to have access to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island specific services, but also mainstream services. They need to have the choice of which service they would like. In smaller remote communities, particularly in WA but in many other areas, there is only going to be small numbers of support services available to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, perhaps even visiting services. We need to make sure there is a particular strategy to address both urban, rural and remote areas right across the country so that no-one is left out of the scheme. This is going to include access to support services, both legal and counselling support for many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people in remote communities.

They also—we touched on this before—need to consider that this is not just going to be support services for an individual; these are support services to their family and to the whole community. They should include things like counselling, group work and whole-of-community healing activities in order for this redress scheme to have its full effect.

CHAIR: As a follow-up to that, has there been any work done about the geographical distribution? I know that the 60,000 is a questionable number, but has there been any work done as to the distribution of the 60,000, particularly those in regional and remote areas? Do we know the scale of the issue?

Ms McIntyre : We kept asking the royal commission to do a breakdown like that, because we were interested in knowing, even for Victoria, how many Aboriginal people have come forward, but unfortunately the royal commission didn't release that level of breakdown. Whether they have it—I assume they do from the private sessions—but it hasn't been released, so I don't know.

Ms Warner : I am not aware of anything. We have argued many aspects of doing a full and comprehensive mapping exercise of the unmet legal and support needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people across this country.

Senator HINCH: Without trying to dilute the passion or the veracity of your opening statements, part of me says that you have almost been brought in today under false pretences, because the royal commission, this committee, and the joint committee I am chairing into financial redress and counselling, are only for victims of sexual abuse in institutions. I know where you are coming from, but I don't think our charter allows us to look at cessation of language or cultural damage or any of that. As I understand it, and correct me if I'm wrong, Chair, but this is what we have to find out. Do you understand where I am coming from?

Ms McIntyre : I would have thought that through the matrix—the royal commission talked about it and I'm not saying necessarily I am in favour of it—they found that one of those additional elements could be the cultural abuse, because many Aboriginal children were left with very isolated and therefore became targets in the different institutions they were in. So, I think cultural abuse should be considered as an additional element, if you are going with the matrix.

Senator HINCH: Those children who were then taken away and institutionalised and were then abused 100 per cent should be included and are included. But if you start looking at other things, like you were saying, Mr McKeich, such as cessation of language and things like that, that doesn't come under our charter and I don't think we can go there, sadly.

Mr McKeich : I would agree with Jeannie though. If you have a matrix that we are not privy to even have a look at why can't we then be advocating for additional elements to be on that matrix. Also, the point really was that sexual abuse—and this is for non-Indigenous kids as well—didn't just occur in isolation. Obviously, there were psychological and physical aspects and we are making the point that cultural abuse also occurred. So, understanding the terms of reference of the royal commission itself and the charter of the redress scheme, as advocates for the community that we represent we are still going to put that on the table.

Senator HINCH: I just wanted to make that point. On the actual money, Mr McKeich, I was speaking with Anthony Foster in my office only about 10 days before he died. We discussed the fact that the original ambit claim—an awful word—was $500,000. We brought it down to $250,000 to put to the royal commission and they recommended $200,000 to the government. The government, and I have raised this at estimates, somehow, by an amazing thing, came up with $150,000, which is the exact maximum, coincidentally, of the Catholic Church. I can assure you that the redress committee and this committee will try to get it back to $200,000. I am told that the average is about $77,000 or $78,000. I think that what the government has done by just arbitrarily cutting the royal commission is wrong. There are a lot of questions to be asked about it. We will try to push that one back for you.

Mr McKeich : That would be great.

Senator HINCH: On the five-year jail term, Ms Warner, I agree with you that a lot of those crimes have been facilitated by the abuse of those children, in the same way that you see young girls at Odyssey House who have been victims of incest to so many drug addicts. A hypothetical here: one point that has been put to me is that one of the arguments is that it would be terrible if the taxpayer had to pay somebody who is in jail for 10 years for something. What if the institutions were forced to pay the money and not the government? Would that nullify it—if the institutions themselves had to do it?

Ms McIntyre : But if the institution is a government-run institution—

Senator HINCH: But rather than it coming out of the general fund, whichever institution it was—whether it was a government-run institution, the Catholic Church, the Anglican Church or the Salvation Army—if it happened there and that person is now in jail for seven years they would have to pay him the same amount of money that other people would get? Or is that just splitting hairs?

Ms McIntyre : I think it is splitting hairs.

Ms Warner : I would probably go back a step and say that the taxpayer is already paying for this person who has been in prison for those five years—

Senator HINCH: That is true

Ms Warner : So why would they have an issue with redress?

Senator HINCH: That is a very good point.

CHAIR: Thank you all for appearing today. We really appreciate it.