Thursday 26th October, 2017 | Melissa Davey | The Guardian
Survivor advocates hail ‘momentous day’ as government introduces long-awaited legislation for national scheme that will also include counselling
The social services minister, Christian Porter, will on Thursday introduce long-awaited legislation to parliament outlining redress criteria for victims and survivors of child sexual abuse.
The proposed legislation will cap payments at $150,000 and will also allow survivors access to counselling. It will require institutions in which the abuse occurred provide a direct response to survivors if they request it.
The Care Leavers Australasia Network chief executive, Leonie Sheedy, who advocates for survivors of abuse in foster care and government-run institutions such as orphanages, described it as a “momentous day”.
“I was only sent the legislation about four hours ago so I still need to go through it, but this is a momentous day for Australia, with our federal government finally acknowledging the scale of the problem by introducing redress legislation,” she said.
“We never thought we’d get a royal commission, let alone national redress. But we need to remember this would never have happened without advocates and survivors lobbying for the past 10 years, lobbying outside courts and the royal commission in the rain, hail and heat. They’re the real heroes.”
The royal commission into institutional responses to child sexual abuse made 74 recommendations related to how a national redress scheme should operate. The government has fully accepted 63 of those recommendations. Six recommendations were partially accepted and the rest were rejected.
The redress scheme will not extend access to counselling services to the family members of survivors as recommended by the commission, nor will survivors have the recommended 12 months in which to consider whether they accept a redress payment. Under the proposed legislation survivors will have three months to decide whether to accept a redress offer.
The scheme will also bar survivors of child sexual abuse who have been found guilty of serious crimes such as sex offenders and homicide from accessing payments, a decision Sheedy described as “disappointing”.
“All victims should be recognised by the redress scheme,” she said. “We must acknowledge those who have gone on to commit crimes and punish them accordingly, but we must also acknowledge their sexual abuse when they were children. If the states and territories and federal government had taken better care of them then maybe some wouldn’t have gone on to commit crimes.
“I’m not saying they should get the $150,000 maximum but we should recognise all victims of child sexual abuse crimes, or else we are once again letting governments get away with crimes committed against children.”
Porter told the ABC’s AM program that some of the commission’s recommendations had been rejected in order to get all states and territories to opt in to it, and to give the scheme integrity. Without state and territory support, the proposed legislation would only cover those abused in commonwealth institutions, reaching about 1,000 of an estimated 60,000 survivors.
“To be frank, the royal commission is proposing a structure of a scheme in a courtroom,” Porter said. “I’m designing the structure of the scheme in real-world conditions; and to try and keep administration costs down and make the scheme as simple and legally noncomplicated as possible, we have taken some routes that were not part favoured by the royal commission.”
Porter said he was confident all states and territories would opt in to the scheme despite reluctance from the South Australian government. The South Australian premier, Jay Weatherill, has previously expressed concern about proposed compensation levels. South Australia has its own scheme in place that caps payments to survivors at $50,000.
But Porter said a nationally consistent scheme was essential, calling on churches and nongovernment institutions to also opt in and to publicly announce their intention to do so as soon as possible.
“South Australia has been critical and reluctant ... I dont think even there the case is entirely lost,” Porter said. “I’m very confident a large number of the nongovernment institutions will opt in.”
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