National Redress Scheme for Institutional Child Sexual Abuse (Commonwealth Powers) Bill 2018


MR RICH-PHILLIPS (South Eastern Metropolitan) (11:17:11) — I am pleased to make some remarks this morning on the National Redress Scheme for Institutional Child Sexual Abuse (Commonwealth Powers) Bill 2018. When I spoke on the Justice Legislation Amendment (Access to Justice) Bill 2018 several sitting weeks ago I remarked on the role that the work of the Family and Community Development Committee of the previous Victorian Parliament had played in exposing what had occurred in the area of child abuse in institutions and the way that had led to the subsequent commissioning of the federal royal commission and all the work that has flowed from that.

With this bill today we can again reflect that there is basically no precedent for an inquiry of a parliamentary committee to have reverberated around the nation and had as much impact on parliaments throughout Australia and on the community throughout Australia as the work of the Family and Community Development Committee in the 57th Parliament. Its Betrayal of Trust report, which started to unpack what had happened in institutions in Victoria, lifting a lid on something which had been a hidden secret for many decades involving many, many victims, was groundbreaking, and the effects of that are still very much being felt in Victoria and now by extension through the work of the royal commission and the work in other jurisdictions around the nation.

And so it is with the bill we are dealing with this morning for the national redress scheme. It flows from the work of the Family and Community Development Committee and the work of the royal commission. Indeed reflecting back on the recommendations made in the Betrayal of Trust report, which were responded to by the previous government and which have been picked up in large measure by the current government, there are a number of recommendations flowing from that report which go to the issue of compensation and support for victims of child sex abuse.

I will refer to several recommendations in the report. Recommendation 26.1 states:

That the Victorian government consider requiring non-government organisations to be incorporated and adequately insured where it funds them or provides them with tax exemptions and/or other entitlements.

Recommendation 26.2:

That the Victorian government work with the Australian government to require religious and other non-government organisations that engage with children to adopt incorporated legal structures.

Recommendation 26.3:

That the Victorian government consider amending the Limitation of Actions Act 1958 (Vic) to exclude criminal child abuse from the operation of the limitations period under that act.

Recommendation 26.4:

That the Victorian government undertake a review of the Wrongs Act 1958 (Vic) and identify whether legislative amendment could be made to ensure organisations are held accountable and have a legal duty to take reasonable care to prevent criminal child abuse.

And there is a recommendation in chapter 27:

That the Victorian government consider amending the Victims of Crime Assistance Act 1996 (Vic) to specify that no time limits apply to applications for assistance by victims of criminal child abuse in organisational settings.

All of those recommendations from the inquiry go to the issue of creating a mechanism by which victims of child sexual abuse are able to seek redress. While the specific recommendations of the committee have not necessarily been adopted in the form that they were recommended, such as mandating the incorporation of institutions that work with children — and the house considered those matters and alternative remedies on those issues in legislation it dealt with during the last sitting week — nonetheless it was very clear from that set of recommendations and from the committee's focus on things such as the Wrongs Act and statute of limitations that the committee recognised the barriers to accessing redress needed to be removed. Whether it was the statute of limitations relating to a person not being able to seek compensation for events which had occurred decades earlier, or whether there were limitations on recognising the liability of institutions for their actions decades earlier — that was something we dealt with in the access to justice legislation two weeks ago — the focus of the committee was very much on not only identifying what had occurred and providing a voice to the victims of child sex abuse, but also on identifying a pathway forward where those victims, where they felt able to come forward in their circumstances, were able to get redress.

What we now see is that as a consequence of that set of recommendations and as a consequence of the work of the royal commission the commonwealth government has taken a leadership role. I very much commend Dan Tehan as the responsible federal minister for his work in this area. Members of this Parliament who know Dan Tehan will recognise his genuine commitment to this area of policy reform and his genuine commitment to the several areas of policy which he has had carriage of as a minister in recent years. So I commend his leadership in putting together the national redress scheme for institutional child sex abuse, which provides access in a non-litigated environment to redress for people who are victims of child sexual abuse. The redress scheme provides for up to $150 000 in compensation and additional support in respect of counselling without the need for the victim to go through a full litigation process. That is a very positive step for people who have been victims of child sex abuse, and it is one which we think is a good way forward.

Questions have understandably been raised about the caps which exist under the national redress scheme. Of course, with the setting up of any scheme of this nature, there is a balance between moving out of the contested litigated framework and the redress which can be provided. While there has been commentary about the level of redress that is provided under the scheme, it is a positive step forward that victims will be able to access redress of up to $150 000 without having to go through a full litigated and contested trial, which obviously has the potential to involve a lot of trauma, a lot of unpleasant revisiting of the circumstances and a lot of disruption to the lives of victims, who understandably have already experienced great trauma through the offences which were committed against them.

An easy access 'pathway' to redress is a good thing. Delivering it on a national basis and on a consistent basis across the nation is also very positive. To do that of course the Victorian Parliament needs to provide referral legislation to the commonwealth Parliament. That is what the bill before the house today is. Inevitably when that takes place you have quite a complex set of arrangements. One of the areas that I would seek to clarify when the bill goes to committee is the operation of the technical referral. The bill is interesting in the sense that the Victorian element of the bill is only some 11 clauses but it then provides a schedule which is the commonwealth bill, which runs to a great many pages — in fact the best part of 100 pages for the commonwealth referral bill. The interplay of the Victorian parliamentary structure and the commonwealth parliamentary provisions is one that we should ensure in the consideration of this bill is clear to members of the house and clear as to how arrangements will work in the future as that scheme may be changed by the commonwealth Parliament and as the Victorian Parliament could in future want to consider its own redress scheme or alternatives to that.

On the whole the bill is a positive step. The leadership provided by the commonwealth in setting up the redress scheme is very, very welcome, and Victoria's participation in that is welcome. I understand New South Wales is on board, but we look forward to the other states and territories becoming participants in the national scheme, and of course the institutions that have been caught up in child sex abuse to also be willing participants. Mr Morris in his contribution referred to the positive contribution that so many of those institutions have made to our society over decades, and that of course is very true. Overwhelmingly the actions of community institutions have been positive for our community. That contribution from the Scouts, the Salvation Army, the YMCA and the churches has been very, very positive for decades, and we must remember that. But equally it does not excuse or make up for the failings to protect children that were in their care or were in their custody, as we have seen demonstrated all too often through the work of the Family and Community Development Committee and the work of the royal commission. This redress scheme does provide an opportunity for those institutions that have made a positive contribution and that continue to make a positive contribution to our community to also ensure that they act in a way which provides some redress for the people that they let down on the way through.

It was interesting that Mr Melhem, in concluding his contribution, spoke about the crimes committed in our name. It is an interesting reflection for the community, for this house and for the individual institutions because Mr Melhem's use of the term 'crimes committed in our name' does point to a collective responsibility for the institutions which had responsibility for those children and for the parliaments — parliaments in the sense of back over time — that had or should have had an oversight role in the care of those children.

This bill today is a step in the right direction in facilitating the national redress scheme. The success of that scheme will come down to the willingness of the institutions to participate and the willingness of the other states and territories to participate. But in terms of a path of less resistance for victims of child sex abuse, it is a positive step forward. We look forward to the national redress scheme being adopted on a national basis and being adopted by those institutions that bear responsibility for historic child sex abuse. We look forward to this scheme providing some comfort for those victims who have waited a long time for their circumstances to be recognised.
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