All victims of abuse sanctioned by the state deserve the same right to compensation

Sydney Morning Herald

November 29, 2015

George Williams
Professor of Law at the University of NSW

NSW and Victoria recently announced their support for compensation for the victims of child sexual abuse. If a national scheme is established, these states will contribute millions of dollars to cover the shortfall from the institutions responsible for the harm. NSW Attorney-General Gabrielle Upton has said this is “the best way to ensure consistent, accessible justice for survivors” and that governments have a “moral commitment to assist” people who have “suffered at the hands of Commonwealth and state institutions”.

This support is welcome, and follows the recommendation of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse that such a scheme is needed. Victims should not be left to pursue compensation through the courts. In many cases, time limits will have expired, and abuse will be impossible to prove, because of the death or absence of witnesses. Court processes are also likely to increase the trauma suffered by victims.

However, the terms of reference of the royal commission mean any compensation scheme will be limited. Many people hurt by other forms of state-sanctioned abuse will be left out in the cold. Indeed, the debate has exposed the reluctance of governments to provide redress to others deserving of compensation.

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