September 15, 2015
Jane Lee, Rachel Browne
Up to 60,000 people sexually abused as children in institutions should have access to a $4 billion redress scheme as early as 2017, a royal commission has found.
The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has stood by its call for the federal government to establish a single national redress scheme.
Compensation would largely be funded by institutions where abuse occurred, including schools, religious groups and government organisations, with federal, state and territory governments paying for any shortfall.
The commission's long-awaited report on redress and civil litigation on Monday estimated "last resort funding" would cost $613 million, about 15 per cent of the total cost of redress. It left it open to both levels of government to negotiate how much they would contribute to this.
It also recommended that states and territories pave the way for survivors to be able to sue institutions for child sexual abuse which care and supervise children including churches, schools and disability and health services from now on.
The commission gave the federal government a deadline of the end of 2015 to announce whether it will establish a national redress scheme.
The 589-page report, which involved submissions from more than 250 individuals and institutions, found that the courts had failed many abuse survivors: "In our view, the current civil litigation systems and past and current redress processes have not provided justice for many survivors."
It hit back at the federal government's previous rejection of a national scheme, rejecting its claims it would be complex and require too many resources.
While abusers and institutions bore the brunt of responsibility for sexual abuse, the report said this needed to be seen as part of a "broad social failure to protect children across a number of generations." Governments also were responsible as regulators and guardians of children.
A national scheme would achieve better outcomes and be more cost-efficient than separate state schemes. It was also "unlikely to be less complex" for the eight states and territories to establish them. NSW and Victoria had already expressed their willingness to discuss a national scheme, it said.
If the Federal Government was unwilling to support the recommendation, the royal commission has proposed each state and territory government establish separate redress schemes as the "next best option for ensuring justice for survivors."
"The scheme or schemes should be established and ready to begin inviting and accepting applications from survivors by no later than 1 July 2017," the report said.
There are an estimated 60,000 potential claimants, one-third of whom are in NSW.
The estimated total cost of redress, including administration fees, could top $4 billion with a minimum individual payment of $10,000 and a maximum of $200,000 for the most severe cases of abuse.
No time limitations would be placed on the redress scheme, which would also include unrestricted counselling and an apology from the institution where the abuse occurred.
The report also recommended that states and territories legislate to enable survivors to sue certain institutions for child sexual abuse that occurs there, including religious organisations, boarding schools, and those that provide early childhood education services. But this would not apply retrospectively, shutting out historical abuse survivors.
Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests leader Nicky Davis said this did not go far enough leaving redress the only option for victims: "This will not help the majority of survivors to go through the process of healing to the extent we need to."
The recommendations were a "long way from justice but they're a very good start."
The commission had placed too much emphasis on the affordability of the scheme for government and institutions and effect such measures on such bodies, and not enough on survivors for healing, who were "denied access to something we've always had a right to for so long."
The redress scheme did not provide enough options for high-risk survivors at risk of suicide, or provide for medical costs incurred as a result of childhood sexual abuse.
"It should be more of a rehabilitation model (directed to) their recovery rather than payment."
Chief executive of Care Leavers Australia Network, Leonie Sheedy, said the recommendations were disappointing as they only took sexual abuse into account.
"What about the emotional, physical and psychological abuse suffered by children in institutions?" she said.
Francis Sullivan of the Catholic Church's Truth Justice and Healing Council supported the report, saying "The ball is now well and truly in the government's court."
Five key recommendations:
1. A national redress scheme should be established to process compensation claims for about 60,000 child abuse survivors
2. Survivors with a "reasonable likelihood" of having been abused should receive at least $10,000, and up to $200,000 in the most severe cases.
3. Federal state and territory governments should pay institutions' shortfall, which will be about $613 million, or 15 per cent of total redress funding.
4. Religious organisations and residential facilities for children should be liable for child sexual abuse in civil lawsuits.
5. Unlimited counselling and psychological care should be available episodically throughout survivors' lives.
To View the Article on The Age NSW Website 'Click Here'