States and churches face $4bn abuse redress pressure

By John Ferguson
December 11, 2017

Social Services Minister Christian Porter.

The states and churches will be told to sign up to the commonwealth’s $4 billion sex abuse ­redress scheme this week as the royal commission hands down a landmark final report that will back overhauling the way offending against children is handled.

Social Services Minister Christian Porter said yesterday he was hopeful the states and institutions would sign up “in the not-too-­distant future’’ and that as many as possible would agree to opt in to the national scheme.

The royal commission will hand its final report to the ­Governor-General on Friday, but a formal government response will probably not be known for months. The government has not announced when the report will be made public, but when that happens there will be immense pressure applied to the states and institutions to sign up to provide victims with another layer of ­financial and counselling support.

This week, victims and support groups will demand that the churches in particular detail plans to opt in to the new scheme.

However, there remains significant behind-the-scenes positioning over issues such as cost, governance, counselling and treatment of physical abuse.

The NSW government is still the clear frontrunner among the big states to opt in to the scheme while it appears there are too many points of contest for Vic­toria to sign up this year.

Mr Porter said his government was in constant discussion about the redress scheme.

“The scheme has been designed to ensure as many states and institutions opt in … to maximise the opportunity for redress for survivors,’’ he told The Australian. “Having introduced the legislation for the commonwealth scheme into federal parliament, I remain hopeful that in the not too distant future we will start to see positive decisions from a number of states and institutions.’’

The Australian understands that several church organisations are alarmed at the potential costs associated with joining up to the scheme.

While the Catholic Church is more broadly expected to join, churches and organisations with limited assets, such as the Salvation Army, are considered more exposed.

The Anglican Church has signalled it will opt in but has privately expressed concerns about the way the system will operate.

Some states believe it will be pointless having the scheme if there is not considerable buy-in from the churches.

The costs in some states will be big. It is estimated institutions face a bill twice the size of state governments, with most offending occurring beyond the states’ control.

The commonwealth’s scheme is before the parliament and if passed, will lead to thousands of victims receiving personal apologies and up to $150,000 compensation. To protect the scheme’s integrity, a key condition will be that sex offenders and anyone convicted of a crime with a sentence of five years or more will be excluded from compensation.

Victims will be judged independently according to the severity of their abuse. Cases will be tested on the “reasonable likelihood’’ that the abuse occurred.

A special voucher system is being planned so victims can ­access legal help to ensure they are properly informed of their rights.

The Turnbull government is under pressure to consult more widely with state-based church bodies to understand whether or not religious groups will be signing on to the scheme.

Many of the faiths are highly fragmented, making it difficult to determine how to read the final outcome of who will sign up to the scheme.


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