Federal Government ‘dragging Its Heels’ on Child Abuse Redress Scheme

By Christopher Knaus
The Guardian
November 24, 2016

Anti-child abuse campaigners have urged federal and state governments to avoid playing political games with the national redress scheme, after Victoria said the federal government for “dragging its heels” and keeping survivors in the dark.

The council of Australian governments meeting early next month could be critical to the future of the national redress scheme, which was a core recommendation of the royal commission in September last year.

Social services minister Christian Porter announced the proposed $4.3 billion model of redress earlier this month, which allowed states, territories, and institutions to opt in or out. But most states and territories remain cautious and are yet to fully commit.

This week, NSW, Queensland, Victoria, and the ACT told Guardian Australia they were still waiting on further detail from the federal government on how the scheme would work.

South Australia had previously ruled out participating, but now says it would consider a national scheme only if it was underwritten by the federal government.

South Australian attorney-general John Rau – whose government already operates a scheme of ex-gratia payments to survivors – said such an approach did not appear likely.

“[South Australia] has maintained the view that if the Commonwealth – which has a very limited exposure itself – is prepared to underwrite a national scheme, we will be happy to talk further,” he said.

“That does not appear to be what was put on the table by the Commonwealth earlier this month.”

But anti-child abuse campaigners are urging federal, state, and territory governments to avoid a stand-off, and instead work together before COAG to “honour the royal commission” and its findings.

Blue Knot Foundation president Dr Cathy Kezelman called on governments to “do the right thing”, and repay the faith survivors had put in the royal commission.

“So far, we’ve had the commonwealth announce a scheme for people who were sexually abused in commonwealth institutions,” Kezelman said.

“That’s a significant but small percentage of the 60,000 people that the royal commission predicts will come forward. So it’s really important that all the states and territories and relevant institutions sign up, so that it’s fair and equitable regardless of where a person was abused.

“It would be really critical for all governments to continue to honour the royal commission and its recommendations, and not play political games, and support a single uniform national redress scheme.”

Queensland already has its own redress scheme, and Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said her government was “seeking more detail and assurance [the national redress scheme] is in the best interests of Queenslanders”.

Palaszczuk said she had repeatedly called on the federal government to institute a national scheme, saying Queensland had pursued such a course itself following the state’s 1999 Forde inquiry into institutional abuse.

“My government will be seeking more detail and assurance it is in the best interests of Queenslanders who have suffered from child sexual abuse in Queensland institutions,” Palaszczuk told Guardian Australia.

“My government will be holding the federal government to account that they will meet their responsibilities, just as we did in the Forde Inquiry. This is a matter I have raised at COAG, and I will be seeking more information and assurances from the prime minister on behalf of Queensland survivors ahead of COAG’s next meeting in December.”

Victoria, meanwhile, has made urgent requests for more detail from the federal government. It has been working on its own state-based scheme, but prefers a national redress system.

The state government wrote to Porter two weeks ago, asking for more detail about how it would work, including what the federal government’s financial contribution would be.

It was yet to receive a response by Tuesday, and attorney-general Martin Pakula accused the federal government of “dragging its heels” and keeping Victoria and survivors in the dark.

“The Commonwealth is dragging its heels on implementing a national redress scheme,” he said.

“Survivors continue to wait for recognition and compensation while Mr Porter keeps Victoria in the dark.”

NSW and the ACT governments have voiced their support for a national scheme, but both want to see more detail before making any final commitment.

Others have cast doubt on whether a national redress scheme would benefit survivors.

Porters Lawyers principal Jason Parkinson, who has represented hundreds of abuse survivors in civil claims, said he feared the scheme would rob victims of their rights to full and proper compensation for what were, typically, serious psychiatric injuries.

The government’s proposal would see compensation capped at $150,000, which Parkinson said was far below what many survivors were entitled to, and were achieving in civil claims.

He said he feared participation in the redress scheme may, in some cases, prevent survivors from taking civil action, something he described as the Catholic church’s “dream”.

“The church will be saving money every time someone with a common law claim avails themselves of the scheme – that’s not right,” he said.

“The only one who profits from this is the church, or the abusers.”

Parkinson said he fully supported the scheme in instances where the responsible institution no longer existed, or where it could not pay.








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