Turnbull Government Announces Massive Compensation Scheme for Sex Abuse Victims

By Tom McIlroy, Rachel Browne
Sydney Morning Herald
November 4, 2016

States, churches and charities are under pressure to support the federal government's national scheme to compensate victims of child sexual abuse with payments of up to $150,000.

Social Services Minister Christian Porter announced the national opt-in scheme on Friday, a key recommendation from the child sex abuse royal commission and a long-held demand of victims and advocates.

Advocacy groups have welcomed the announcement but slammed the "opt-in" element.

Care Leavers Australia Network chief executive Leonie Sheedy said states must be compelled to contribute and churches and charities should be penalised if they try to dodge their obligations.

CEO of the Catholic Church's Truth, Justice and Healing Council, Francis Sullivan has welcomed the announcement of a redress scheme. Photo: Rohan Thomson

"The redress scheme sounds wonderful until you read the fine print," she said.

"Allowing the states to opt-in is a cop out. It should be mandatory for all the states to contribute. The states cannot wash their hands of this.

"As for the institutions, many of them have a poor track record of supporting people who were abused. What if they say no, they're not going to contribute? If any charity or religious organisation refuses to contribute to the scheme they should lose their tax exempt status."

South Australia has indicated it will opt out of the scheme, while NSW and Victoria have previously indicated support.

Cathy Kezelman, president of advocacy group the Blue Knot Foundation, said states and territories must sign up.

Dr Cathy Kezelman, president of abuse survivors organisation Blue Knot Foundation, welcomed the announcement, but called for all states and territories to sign up.

"We are excited to see the Commonwealth showing leadership on this," she said.

Churches and charities which don't contribute should be punished according to Care Leavers Australia Network's Leonie Sheedy. Photo: Penny Stephens

"Now it is up to the states and the institutions to show similar leadership so we can see a fair and equitable scheme for survivors rolled out as soon as possible."

The federal government can't legally compel the states, churches or institutions to sign up, but will apply public pressure to force them to join voluntarily.

Justice Peter McClellan is the chairman of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse which recommended a national redress scheme. Photo: Jeremy Piper

Francis Sullivan, chief executive of the Catholic Church's Truth, Justice and Healing Council, said the church supported the scheme.

"This scheme will deliver a fair, simple, consistent and generous process for redress for survivors regardless of where abuse occurred, be it a church, a charity, a school, an orphanage or anywhere else," he said.

"It will mean the scheme will determine redress payments and that payment will be met by the institution responsible for the abuse."

The Catholic Church is expected to be one of the largest contributors to compensation under the scheme.

"We have taken every effort and care to design these principles to maximise our ability to have an organisation like the Catholic Church opt-in to the scheme," Mr Porter said.

"Obviously we will be directing enormous effort into making sure that that happens."

A spokesman for the Salvation Army said it would consider the announcement before responding.

The 10-year scheme, beginning in 2018, will see responsible groups opt-in to fund the cost of their own participation and compensation payments. The scheme could be extended past 2028 if required.

Compensation will be capped at $150,000 and the Commonwealth will foot the bill as a last resort for institutions such as charities and churches which no longer exist or have no capacity to pay.

The royal commission estimated the total cost of redress for 60,000 abuse survivors, including administration costs, at $4.3 billion, recommending minimum individual payments of $10,000 and a maximum of $200,000 for the most severe cases of abuse.

Andrew Collins, a survivor of sexual abuse by Catholic clergy in Ballarat, called for an explanation of why the maximum payment was capped at $50,000 below the commission's recommendation.

"No church or government could think that it's morally right to have children raped who then suffer lifelong effects and they could only be paid a few thousand," he said.

"It sends no deterrent to the organisations involved. The scheme should be funded entirely by those at fault."

The federal government's scheme has been designed to ensure redress and compensation is given to victims irrespective of where and when their abuse took place and regardless of the present status of the offending institution.

Preliminary estimates of the cost of compensating 3000 victims of abuse in federal government institutions is between $570 million to $770 million over 10 years.

The scheme will provide access to counselling and compel high-level representatives of offending institutions to be available to talk to sexual abuse victims, should they demand it.

Mr Porter said the federal government had no capacity to compel states governments to join the scheme but said it could compel the ACT and Northern Territory to join under the constitution.

The government will also establish an independent advisory council of specialists, including survivor groups, legal and psychological experts, to provide advice on the implementation of the scheme.








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