27 March 2018 | Michael Kozial | The Sydney Morning Herald
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has tried to pressure the major churches into circumventing the states and immediately joining the national redress scheme for survivors of child sexual abuse, telling them their "indifference and resistance" must stop.
Just two states - NSW and Victoria - as well as the Australian Capital Territory have signed on to the Commonwealth scheme, which would provide up to $150,000 in compensation for 60,000 survivors of abuse in government and non-government institutions.
States must commit to the scheme to enable institutions in their jurisdiction to formally sign on. So far, the major churches in NSW and Victoria have intimated they will join a fully national scheme but want to see the details.
In a letter obtained by Fairfax Media, Mr Turnbull urged institutions including the Catholic church, the Anglican church, Scouts Australia and the YMCA to opt into the scheme "as soon as possible" rather than wait for the holdout states.
"I am seeking your in-principle support to join the scheme, so survivors know your position as we continue to seek agreement from all state and territory governments," Mr Turnbull wrote.
"This is what the royal commission recommended and what the community expects, but it is only possible if states and non-government institutions make the decision to participate."
"More often than not, the victims of these crimes were not believed. The crime was compounded by indifference and resistance, by legal obstacles and by institutional denial. This cannot continue."
Queensland, Western Australia and to an extent South Australia have all resisted joining the national redress scheme to date, citing concerns about unresolved details.
Earlier this month, when NSW and Victoria officially joined the scheme, the major churches strongly indicated they would follow suit but held out from a formal commitment because they wanted to see the details.
Mr Turnbull's letter states the institutions have now been provided with an updated draft bill by the Department of Social Services "to give you further certainty" about the scheme's operation.
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has already said there are "no more excuses for any church, any charity or frankly any other government in this nation to not sign on to this proper, fair and balanced national redress scheme".
Since then, South Australia has had a change of government but new Liberal Premier Steven Marshall is yet to make an announcement about the scheme.
Survivors will be able to apply for compensation from July 1, subject to the legislation's passage, including an estimated 15,000 people who were abused in the care of NSW, Victorian, ACT and Commonwealth government institutions.
Earlier this month, Mr Turnbull said he hoped any church or institution that failed to sign up "will be shamed" by their parishioners, the public and the government.
"We’ll be using the megaphones we have to encourage them to sign up, and I hope you all are too," he told reporters.
"Now is the time for the churches to sign up and get on with it. Justice demands it."