Child Sex Abuse Survivors May Get up to $150,000 in National Compensation Scheme

By Elle Hunt
The Guardian
November 4, 2016

Peter McClellan, head of the royal commission into institutional responses to child sexual abuse. Christian Porter says the compensation scheme for victims follows the commission’s recommendations. Photograph: Jeremy Piper/AFP/Getty Images

A new national compensation scheme for survivors of institutional child sexual abuse has been designed to have “maximum reach to Australian victims”, the social services minister has said.

Survivors may be entitled to up to $150,000 each under the scheme, which Christian Porter announced on behalf of the federal government in Perth on Friday.

States, territories and institutions , including churches and charities, will be able to opt in to the scheme, which will be run by the commonwealth.

Members of the scheme would opt in on the understanding that they fund the cost of their own eligible redress claims, in accordance with the recommendations of the royal commission into institutional child abuse made late last year.

There would be as few hurdles as possible to entering the scheme.

“The application process will be supportive, it will be simple, it will be flexible and as much will be done on the papers as is reasonably possible to avoid that process of retraumatisation,” Porter said.

The maximum payout would be $150,000, funded by the responsible entity. The estimated cost of cases in which that was the commonwealth was $550m to $770m over ten years.

If the institution no longer exists or has no capacity to pay, the commonwealth would step in, Porter said.

But he stressed the scheme also aimed to provide “emotional, mental and other support”.

Survivors would be offered trauma-informed counselling over the entire life of the scheme, as well as the opportunity to speak about the abuse they had experienced.

This “personal and direct contact” was something “that many redress schemes have not allowed for”, Porter said.

“To put that in more detail, it will be open for any survivor, if they wish, to be able to tell directly and in person a very senior and appropriate individual located in the appropriate organisation, their story and what occurred to them.

“That will be totally at their wish, but that will be available to them.”

An independent advisory council would be established to oversee the scheme’s rollout. It would begin in early 2018 and last 10 years, when it would be subjected to a review.

Porter said it was possible the scheme would be extended beyond 10 years “if it is obvious ... that we have not been able to service all of the people we expected to”.

He said the commonwealth would continue to encourage entities to join the scheme, but had been advised that it was “very, very unlikely that [it has] the power to establish a single scheme by compulsion”.

The commonwealth did have powers over the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory, which Porter said it reserved its right to use in the event that either should decide not to opt in to the scheme.

He said he understood South Australia had already indicated it did not wish to join, while Western Australia’s position remained “unclear”.

NSW and Victoria had yet to confirm whether they would opt into the scheme – as the federal government wanted – or form their own.

“Given that those two very large jurisdictions are yet to announce, the consultations and negotiations with them will be intense,” Porter said.

The attorney-general, George Brandis, is conducting those negotiations, which also include churches and charitable institutions.

Porter could not say whether any charitable institutions or churches had indicated they would not opt in, but he said he understood some had “shown enthusiasm” about the scheme on the basis of its “design principles”.

The Catholic church’s Truth Justice and Healing Council (TJHC) welcomed the announcement of the “fair, simple and generous” scheme and called on institutions to get onboard.

“This is by far the best chance we as a community, and particularly the institutions responsible for the abuse, will have to do the right thing,” said Francis Sullivan, the chief executive of the TJHC in a statement. “... It means that institutions such as the Catholic Church will no longer be in the business of investigating and determining claims against themselves.”

The Blue Knot Foundation, which supports the estimated five million Australian adults who are survivors of childhood trauma including abuse, called on states and territories to join the scheme, “to develop a signal national redress scheme without delay”.

Dr Cathy Kezelman, the president, said she was pleased that the 10-year end date would be subject to review, and that the Commonwealth had agreed to step in as a funder of last resort.

“The time it takes for survivors to come forward and different counselling needs at different times may mean a longer course. ... the essence of a fair scheme is that no survivor of institutional child sexual abuse misses out, even if their institution no longer exists.”

The Sydney Catholic archbishop, Anthony Fisher, also welcomed the announcement and said the church supported the scheme and was awaiting details on how it would be delivered.

He was joined by the church’s Truth Justice and Healing Council chief executive, Francis Sullivan, who said it was a great day for the survivors of child sexual abuse.

“The commonwealth and Prime Minister Turnbull should be applauded for taking a principled decision on this very important and difficult issue,” Sullivan said.

“For more than three years the Catholic church, survivors and others have been calling for an independent, commonwealth-run redress scheme that has the potential to respond to the claims of survivors consistently.

“Today’s announcement, which is consistent with the royal commission recommendations and submissions by the Catholic church, is the first step in delivery of such a scheme.”

The royal commission into institutional responses to child sexual abuse recommended a national redress scheme for victim compensation in September last year. It had recommended a cap of $200,000 for payouts to victims.

It estimated at the time it would cost $4.3bn over 10 years and be underwritten by the federal government.

The government had previously said it would work with states and territories to develop a nationally consistent redress scheme, with the main responsibility residing with the jurisdiction where the offence took place, not the commonwealth.








Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.