December 20, 2017 | Katie Burgess | The Canberra Times
ACT Attorney-General Gordon Ramsay says a national redress scheme to help victims of institutional child sexual abuse should not exclude survivors who have spent time in jail for serious crimes.
Under the draft laws introduced into the federal parliament in October, victims would be paid up to $150,000, given access to counselling and entitled to an apology from the institution where they were abused.
But the redress scheme excludes anyone convicted of sex offences, or sentenced to prison terms of five years or more for crimes such as serious drug, homicide or fraud offences.
Mr Ramsay said the federal legislation was a "good start" but the ACT were "continuing to negotiate" with other jurisdictions over the details.
"The ACT government believes that there aren't different classes of survivors," Mr Ramsay said.
"For people who have been affected, sometimes their lives have been most profoundly affected and we believe that anyone whose lives have been affected deserves to be a part of that redresss scheme."
The findings of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse were handed down last Friday after more than five years of hearings and deliberations.
But the ACT government will not commit to action until a public consultation on a discussion paper to be released in the new year is finished.
Mr Ramsay defended the delay, saying, "the ACT and the nation deserves us to take it seriously and appropriately and look at it in-depth".
"One of the reasons why we should consult more broadly as well is that it's part of the way of honouring the depth of the report itself, the evidence base and ensuring potentially as we make some substantive changes in the future, we're bringing the community with us all the way through," Mr Ramsay said.
Mr Ramsay pointed to steps the government had already taken to address preliminary findings of the royal commission, including introducing a reportable conduct scheme and legislation that would stop the good character of an abuser being used to push for a lower sentence, if that character gave them access to the child in the first place.
The government also introduced laws in November to create a new offence for engaging in a "sexual relationship" with a child, based on prosecutors specifying an overall period of the "relationship" and two cases of abuse within that period.
But those laws were criticised by the ACT Bar Association, who were concerned the new offence could jeopardise the right to a fair trial.
Currently, for an offender to be charged and convicted for child abuse, each act must be pinpointed in time or place.
Isolating individual acts over a sustained period of abuse can be difficult for victims but an absence of these details can potentially risk a defendant's right to a fair trial.
Mr Ramsay said that criticism was why consultation had to happen.
He said survivors would be the "focus of [their] attention" for any changes to ACT law brought about by the royal commission.
However he would not be drawn on whether he believed the seal of confession be broken in cases of child abuse.
"That's one of the recommendations from the royal commission and it's absolutely going to be one of the ones that we are looking at along with all of the recommendations," Mr Ramsay said.
However former social services minister, now Attorney-General Christian Porter said he was open to the idea.
"My personal tendency is to favour the protection of children over other values," Mr Porter told Fairfax Media.
As the architect of the redress scheme, to which he was trying to get all states, territories and institutions to sign up, Mr Porter said the government had made the "agonising" decision to exclude child abuse victims who themselves commit a sexual offence to protect the scheme's integrity.
He said that decision had been made with "almost unanimous" support from attorneys-generals from around Australia.
But Mr Ramsay said "strong conversations" about the scheme's exclusions were still taking place.
To view this article on The Canberra Times website "Click Here"