Mark gave his strong support today for the Government's Bill to South Australia into the National Redress Scheme for victims of institutional child sexual abuse.
National Redress Scheme for Institutional Child Sexual Abuse (Commonwealth Powers) Bill
This bill has the effect of bringing South Australia into the National Redress Scheme for victims of institutional child sexual abuse. It brings us into line with other states and territories which have already, or are at least committed to, signing up to the scheme. For victims and survivors, this day has been a long time coming and it is very welcome. It would be a rare person indeed who has not been emotionally affected by the shocking and terrible stories that came out of the royal commission. Over a period of years we would learn as a society how some of our most trusted and respected institutions completely abandoned those children who were entrusted to their care. We heard of abuse and neglect and we heard of cover-ups and denial.
Finally, society is ready to at least start the process of making amends. For many of the victims it is too late. Some have died of natural causes, but many have died by their own hands, often as a direct consequence of what happened to them in institutions that were supposed to care for them. For those survivors, this bill provides an opportunity for redress and for support in recognition of how society and our institutions failed them as children. These institutions are responsible and they have an obligation to pay, while we, state and federal parliamentarians, have an obligation to put in place fair and just provisions for redress.
Too often, victims do not get fair access to redress. In some cases, the institution has disappeared. In some cases, it does not have sufficient resources, and in others, the institutions have tried every legal trick in the book over many years to avoid their responsibility. For a brave few, the legal system provided some justice, but the extreme cost, delay and anxiety of traditional civil legal proceedings has meant that many victims cannot get access to justice. We need a fair statutory scheme that will not expose victims to the uncertainty and cost of civil litigation. Some survivors may choose litigation, but this bill provides an alternative and the Greens are pleased to support it.
However, that is not to say that the National Redress Scheme is without its own problems. Some of the harshest critics have been the lawyers who have represented victims in legal proceedings. A couple of weeks ago, lawyer Dr Judy Courtin described the scheme as 'one that re-traumatises many victims and is a shamefully adulterated version of what was recommended by our royal commission.'
She points out, firstly, the royal commission recommended a cap of $200,000 compensation. However, this bill only delivers $150,000. Secondly, the scheme also fails to deal with situations where a person was abused in multiple different institutions, which effectively lets some institutions have to pay only a fraction of the compensation that they would if they were the sole cause of the abuse, regardless of its severity or impact. Thirdly, the so-called matrix, which will be used to determine compensation, also varies from the principles recommended by the royal commission and will result in many victims being ineligible for the maximum compensation, despite being able to show horrendous abuse often over many years. Dr Judy Courtin concludes by saying:
'The national redress scheme in its current form is unjust and damaging. To once again favour the assets of wealthy institutions over and above the welfare of victims of child sex crimes, is regressive and profoundly troubling.'
When this legislation passed through the New South Wales parliament earlier this year, my Greens colleague barrister David Shoebridge raised a number of other issues of concern that should be addressed. He referred to a number of exemptions that have been included in the scheme which will deny certain claimants from being able to access compensation. For example, victims of child sexual abuse who go on to commit other crimes themselves can be ineligible. He told the New South Wales parliament:
'It’s a tragic fact that almost a quarter of the victims and survivors of abuse who approached the royal commission had come into contact with the criminal justice system due to the impact of their abuse.'
The reason this exemption is unfair and harsh is that what too often happens in the life cycle of a victim of child sexual abuse is that their lives spiral out of control. That can mean addiction and serious mental health problems. They can be caught up in the criminal justice system and do serious time in gaol. A serious drug offence or a violent offence due to their mental health or addiction issues could lead them to receiving a sentence significantly greater than five years. These victims are expressly excluded from the scheme. I would submit that such automatic exclusion, regardless of individual circumstances, is unfair.
As I said at the outset, this bill and the Redress Scheme that it puts in place is long overdue. The Greens will be supporting the bill, and I would urge the Attorney-General and the government to seek further reforms over coming months and years to make it fairer for all victims and survivors of institutional child sexual abuse.