Abused free to sue despite payouts under new Queensland law

By Michael Mckennar
November 8, 2016

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has been forced to widen sex abuse reforms.
Photo by Mark Calleja

Child abuse victims forced into meagre compensation settlements will have the chance to launch new legal action for the first time in Australia under legislation passed in the Queensland parliament.

Opposition and crossbench MPs secured passage last night of the pioneering reforms to abolish time limits on child abuse legal action.

The minority Palaszczuk government had introduced the legislation in response to recommendations of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse to allow people to sue regardless of when alleged abuse happened.

In Queensland, victims have had until their 21st birthday to sue institutions over their abuse.

But the Labor government had refused calls to extend the bill to children outside institutions, those who suffered physical and psychological abuse, or to pave the way for victims to take legal action if they had already ­received compensation.

Child protection advocates ­argued that victims had been forced into settlements after the time-limit defence was used against them.

Liberal National Party leader Tim Nicholls, who pushed the government to introduce the ­initial legislation, had also championed the right for victims forced into “unfair settlements’’ to be able to go before a judge to make a case to be allowed to take legal ­action.

The government warned of “unintended consequences” and voted against the proposal last night, but the amendments were carried with the support of crossbenchers in the hung parliament.

Earlier yesterday, the LNP and independent MP Rob Pyne also forced a government backdown, extending the legislation to cover children abused outside of institutions.

Mr Nicholls said it was “historic’’ legislation that ensured “we right the wrongs of the past’’.

“It ensures that all survivors have their day in court,’’ he said.

It was important for victims who had been forced into “unfair settlements’’ to be able to go ­before a judge to make a case to be allowed to take legal action, he said.

A victim of child abuse last night called on the rest of Australia’s states and territories to adopt the Queensland legislation.

“All survivors of abuse no matter where they live deserve the same rights,’’ he said.

Lawyer groups, victims and child protection advocates have consistently called for nationwide reforms to allow victims to overturn previous settlements in court.

Until last night, legislative changes have excluded victims who have already taken action and been forced into settlements after the time limit defence was used against them.

Some victims received as little as $10,000, a fraction of what churches, schools and governments now face in court-ordered damages.

Opposition legal affairs spokesman Ian Walker said the nature of sexual abuse meant its consequences were difficult to face.

“To those who have suffered some horrible forms of abuse, I hope this goes some way to allowing you to find peace within yourselves and justice within your own time,” he said.


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